Traditional Marriage Counseling Versus Discernment Counseling 

78465602There are certainly other options besides marriage counseling when couples are having problems. And one of these options that has gotten a lot of press lately is discernment counseling. Although some people find discernment counseling to be controversial, many people find it to be a welcomed change from traditional marriage counseling options.

What is Discernment Counseling

Discernment counseling varies from traditional marriage counseling in several ways. Where traditional marriage counseling helps couples stay together, discernment counseling helps couples decide if they want to stay together or not. Discernment counseling can help couples weigh the pros and cons of staying together versus divorcing. 

Discernment counseling doesn’t necessarily try to solve the marital problems but instead helps couples see if the problems are even worth solving. Counselors help couples identify their problems and discuss what would need to be different in order for them to work through these issues.

Discernment counseling is usually very short-term. Often, five sessions or less are all that are needed. The counselor often meets with the couple together and sometimes meets with each person individually.

Then, they discuss whether or not to continue the marriage, get divorced, or wait on making a decision. Sometimes couples are not ready to make a final decision one way or another and discernment counseling is suspended until they want to return to discuss it again. The counselor maintains an open and respectful attitude toward any of these options.

Why Some Counselors are Choosing Discernment Counseling

Some counselors are opting to do discernment counseling over traditional marriage counseling. One of the most common reasons counselors offer about why they prefer discernment counseling is because they find that it eliminates hidden agendas.

Sometimes people enter into marriage counseling, already planning to get divorced. However, they want to ensure they “did everything they could” before filing the paperwork. Although they attend counseling, they have no intention of really working through marital problems. When people already have their mind made up and aren’t putting a genuine effort into counseling, it makes it very unlikely that marriage counseling will be effective.

Discernment counselors say they want to get everything out on the table up front. That way, if people say they are pretty certain they want to get divorced, they can discuss the realities of divorce. This can help people make an informed decision about divorce versus staying married.

Sometimes people have a fantasy that divorce will offer them more freedom and fewer problems. However, the reality of divorce can mean that kids struggle, parents have less freedom as they function as a single parent, and they have more problems as they have less income and more responsibility.

Discernment counselors say they make sure people know what they are getting into if they are getting divorced. Meanwhile, they try to keep an honest discussion going about what they are in for if they stay married as well.

Sometimes when couples decide they want to work on the marriage, they are then referred to traditional marriage counseling. But only, after they both agree that they really want to work on the marriage, without any hidden agendas.

Who May be Appropriate for Discernment Counseling? 

Not all couples who want to get divorced are appropriate for discernment counseling. If someone has made up their mind  that they definitely want a divorce, discernment counseling won’t work. It’s only helpful when couples are straddling the fence.

Both partners don’t need to be interested in divorce, however. If one person wants to keep working on the marriage and the other person isn’t certain, discernment counseling may be appropriate.

Both partners must be willing to suspend any decision making until they’ve started discernment counseling. This may mean putting things on hold or calling a halt to meeting with a lawyer or a traditional marriage counselor.

Discernment counseling is not appropriate for couples where domestic violence is present. It also is not going to be helpful if only one partner wants to participate in discernment counseling. Coercing the other person to attending isn’t likely to yield any helpful results.

Finding a Discernment Counselor

Not all counselors do discernment counseling. In fact, the vast majority of marriage counselors still do traditional marriage counseling. If you think you’d like to try discernment counseling, you’ll need to search for a counselor who specializes in it.

A good place to look for a discernment counselor is the internet. Most counselors have a website that lists the types of services they provide. Marriage counselor directories also offer information about various counselors and their expertise. You can certainly call around to various counselors and health centers and ask for information on counselors who conduct discernment counseling.

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