Discernment Counseling in Couple and Family Therapy
Discernment counseling is a short-term intervention for “mixed-agenda” couples where one partner is leaning out of the relationship and is ambivalent about doing couples therapy, and the other partner wants to preserve the relationship and start couples therapy. Therapists often struggle with these couples because there is no common commitment to therapy (Crosby 1989). Discernment counseling is a “pre-therapy” protocol in which the goal is to help the spouses develop greater clarity and confidence about a direction for the marriage, based on a deeper understanding of what’s happened to the marriage and each partner’s contributions to the problems. It is intended for couples who are married or have otherwise made a permanent commitment. The focus is not whether to divorce or stay married for life, but whether to divorce or carve out a 6-month period of all-out effort in couples therapy to restore the marriage to health, with divorce off the table during that time.
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