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In traditional marriage counseling, the goal is to improve the marriage. The therapist works with the assumption that both people in the relationship have this as their goal. Often, though, a marriage reaches a crisis point – sometimes after years of emotional distance, financial problems, sexual problems, or constant arguing. Sometimes it's a more recent crisis like an affair or an illness.
When this happens, it’s not unusual for just one person in the relationship to decide that divorce is the only option. This can lead to a new crisis and more emotional pain. Once the legal divorce process begins, the alienation and conflict can escalate, and before long all hope for the marriage or for a constructive divorce is gone.
In discernment counseling, we don't assume that you both want to preserve the marriage, only that you are both willing to take a look at what's happened to your marriage and decide whether to break up or to try to repair it.
If you and/or your spouse are considering divorce, discernment counseling may help you:
Understand what has happened to your marriage to get you to this point.
Look at the problems from both your point of view and your spouse’s.
Evaluate how helpful past counseling, if any, has been.
Take a realistic look at the possibility of solving your problems and staying together.
Make an informed decision about whether or not to move towards divorce.
Move ahead with clarity and confidence about what happens next in your relationship.
Discernment counseling is a short term therapy that focuses on determining if your marital problems could potentially be solved. It can often lead to traditional marriage counseling, which is generally open ended in length, and aims to help people solve their problems and restore their marriage to health, but not always.
Ultimately discernment counseling helps people decide whether to work on their marriage or move towards divorce.
There are several indicators that it may be a good choice for you:
You and/or your partner are considering divorce but are not convinced it’s the right solution.
You want to be absolutely sure that divorce is the solution you seek, before making a permanent decision with long-term consequences.
You hope to give your marriage one more chance, even if your spouse is leaning towards divorce.
The discernment counselor helps individuals and couples decide whether to try to restore their marriage to health, move towards divorce, or take a time out and decide later. The sessions include conversations with the couple together and individual conversations with each spouse. The reasons for considering divorce are respected, while the possibility of restoring the relationship to a healthy place is opened.
Emphasis is put on the importance of each party’s contributions to the problems and their possible solutions. Even if this marriage ends, this type of practice will be helpful in future relationships. Ultimately, successful discernment counseling provides the participants with clarity and confidence in their decision, whatever that decision may be.
When a decision emerges, the counselor helps the parties either to find professionals who can help them have a constructive divorce or to formulate a reconciliation work plan to create a healthy, successful marriage. In some cases, couples decide to take a time out from the discernment process and return later.
Discernment counseling involves a maximum of five counseling sessions. The first session is usually two hours, and subsequent sessions are one and a half hours.
Discernment counseling is not advised:
when one spouse has made a final decision to divorce and wants counseling to encourage the other spouse accept that decision
whenever there is a danger of domestic violence
if there is an Order of Protection from the court
if one spouse is coercing the other to participate in any way.
At NCCT we have several clinicians who have been trained by Dr. William Doherty and approved to conduct his work by the Couples on the Brink Project, the group that originated this groundbreaking approach. Contact Us for more information about this approach.