Some therapists feel they're great couples therapy advocates. They can smoothly and eloquently "sell" their skills and the positive outcomes they've seen over the years. This may all be true but for someone not sure they want the marriage, you can bounce along for a few sessions until the reality of where they're at emotionally will halt the couples therapy.
Discernment Counseling often creates a visible sigh of relief from clients when told about it. When divorce is actively on the table, hovering over any work undertaken in therapy, discernment counseling is designed for that exact crisis in the marriage.
If someone is drowning, they want a flotation device,
not swimming lessons.
Discernment Counseling is a safe place for spouses who may be in very different places: one leaning out the door, potentially confused and feeling guilty, and the other spouse leaning into the marriage, perhaps frantic, angry, and dysregulated.
These discernment counseling sessions are like a flotation device where people can pause, reflect, look at themselves and their relationship, and then decide on a direction—whether divorce or serious couples therapy.
You may say you can go deep pretty fast with couples. This is a great skill and one we admire. But if someone is not sure they want to be married, and the other spouse is acting against their self-interest by freaking out, it's vital to have time with each alone. that Discernment Counseling offers.
Using the best of our relational therapy skills while focusing on each spouse separately, we go deep in a broad assessment of what has happened to get to this point, and their own personal contributions to the here and now. The work is for understanding at this point, not for fixing or changing—because there is no contract yet for change.
You may say you do this in individual therapy. The real difference and potency of the Discernment Counseling as a couples protocol is the fast depth with an individual who you then coach (and this is the moment that sometimes creates magic, but always creates a new experience for the other spouse) to give a "summary" of what they've just learned from their time alone with you, the therapist, while they were in the waiting room for 30 or 40 minutes. Each spouse gets a summary to the other, each giving and getting some very powerful in the same moment.
These spouses are both drowning and each deserves a life vest, but we cannot forget they are ultimately drowning together as a couple. By creating an experience of individual time and couple sharing, Discernment Counseling takes the heat off and re-engages each person in their own role and their own work needed, whether it's in this marriage or any future marriage.