Discernment counseling was developed by Bill Doherty, as part of his work at the University of Minnesota. While it is common for couples to go to therapy with one partner leaning toward breakup or divorce and the other hoping to stay together, there have been few techniques specifically designed for such couples. Discernment counseling was developed specifically to help people in these types of relationships, who are often referred to as “mixed agenda” couples.
While not considered a treatment, discernment counseling can be seen as an assessment process that helps partners determine the next steps in their relationship. In discernment counseling, couples consider three possible options: ending the relationship, establishing a 6-month period in which both partners commit to making the maximum effort to save the relationship (often while participating in couples therapy), or postponing the decision.
There are four core questions that are asked of couples during the initial session:
The therapist/coach meets individually with each partner to discuss their feelings and agenda. Afterward, the couple meets jointly with the therapist again for the conclusion of the session, and the therapist/coach summarizes and arranges another session if both partners want one.
Discernment counseling differs from other types of couples counseling in a few important ways. First, the goal of this type of counseling is not to solve relationship issues or concerns but to determine whether any problems are able to solved. To help couples make a decision, a discernment counselor/coach may spend more time individually with each partner rather than meeting with both at once, as is typical in couples therapy.
An additional difference between discernment counseling and other types of couples therapy is that discernment counseling is often brief: it typically lasts from one and five sessions.
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