William J. Doherty is the developer of Discernment Counselling. He is professor and director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Center at the University of Minnesota & founder of the Doherty Relationship Institute.
Watch the 3:38 minute video below with Bill explaining how Discernment Counselling is NOT Couples Counselling or Couples Coaching. There’s more information under the video too.
What does discernment counselling involve?
As a Discernment Counsellor I help individuals and couples decide between three things:
- whether to try to restore your relationship/marriage to health
- move towards separation/divorce
- take a time out for a specified period of time and decide later.
The sessions are divided between conversations with both of you together and individual conversations with each of you. I respect the reasons for separation/divorce while trying to open up the possibility of restoring your relationship/marriage to health.
I emphasize the importance of each of you seeing your own contributions to the problems and the possible solutions. This will be useful in future relationships even if this one ends. Discernment counselling is considered successful when you have clarity and confidence in your decision.
When a decision emerges, I help you to find:
- professionals who can help you have a constructive separation/divorce or
- to formulate a plan to create a healthy, successful relationship/marriage.
In some cases, couples decide to take a time out from the discernment process and return later.
How many sessions are there?
Discernment Counselling occurs over one to five counselling sessions only, where we explore which path to take. It never goes above five sessions. The aim is to avoid making hasty decisions to either separate or to try reconciliation. A decision may sometimes be clear after one to three sessions.
When one or both of you are unsure or reluctant to try & save the relationship in therapy, it is best that counselling be short-term. The goal is to achieve greater clarity & confidence about whether to try to restore the relationship or continue towards separation. The immediate decision is whether to carve out a three to six month period of an all-out effort to restore the relationship to health. If you decide to make an all-out effort, you make a clear commitment to keep separation off the table for three to six months. At the end of three to six months, you can put the separation talk back on the table, based on what you’ve learned about the possibility of successfully rebuilding your relationship.
I don’t claim to be doing couples therapy until I have an informed agreement with both of you to work on the relationship. That way, if the unsure partner says that the relationship counselling isn’t working, I can point out that you haven’t tried relationship counselling yet. You’ve been doing Discernment Counselling which is only about helping you decide whether to try relationship counselling. It’s like saying to a doctor the antibiotic isn’t helping to clear up your infection if you haven’t taken it yet.
Discernment counselling is NOT suitable when
- one partner has made a final decision to separate and wants counselling to encourage the other partner to accept that decision
- there is a danger of domestic violence
- there is an Order of Protection/AVO from the court
- one partner is coercing the other to participate
- there is abuse, addictions, unmanaged mental health issues or serious irresponsibility.
Retrieved & adapted from http://www.cehd.umn.edu/fsos/projects/mcb/couples.asp