If you or your spouse are considering divorce but you are not sure if it is the right path, it is a difficult place to be. Discernment counseling is designed to help you slow down, take a breath, and consider your options before making a decision. 

This short-term approach is different from marital therapy, and helpful when one spouse is "leaning in" to the marriage with a desire to preserve the relationship, while the other spouse is "leaning out" of the marriage towards ending it. Sessions are not focused on immediate change, but on seeing what change may be possible and choosing a path forward. 

The goals of discernment counseling are to develop a deeper understanding of what has happened to your marriage, to identify what might be possible for the future, and to gain clarity and confidence about what path to take. 

Three Paths

Path 1: Staying the course with the marriage as it has been

Path 2: Separation or divorce

Path 3: Six months of therapy and other resources to work on building a better marriage

Since you may be starting out in different places, I will respect your reasons for considering divorce, while exploring the possibility of restoring your marriage to health. I will emphasize how important it is for each of you to recognize your contributions to the problems in the marriage, as well as identifying possibilities for growth. 

Session Structure

Discernment counseling is generally completed in 1 to 5 sessions. You decide each time whether or not to come back for another session. Every session begins with both of you together, followed by individual conversations with the therapist, sharing with each other what you are learning and finishing up together in the session. 

Getting Started

Phone Consultation: Each of you schedules a phone call with the therapist to determine if discernment counseling is a good fit. Phone consultations are 30 minutes.

First Session: Both of you meet with the therapist at the same time to begin discernment counseling. The first session is 2 hours.

Additional Sessions: Each of you will decide whether or not to come back for another session, generally up to four times. Additional sessions are 90 minutes. 

    Discernment counseling is not appropriate in the following situations:

    • One spouse has already made a decision to divorce and only wants counseling to encourage the other spouse to accept that decision
    • One spouse is coercing the other to participate in counseling
    • There is danger of domestic violence in the relationship
    • There is an Order of Protection in place from a court


    Source: "Helping Couples on the Brink of Divorce: Discernment Counseling for Troubled Relationships" - William J. Doherty and Steven M. Harris