For Therapists

Gain Confidence and Effectiveness When Working with Divorce Ambivalent Clients

You’ve worked with these couples: one partner is not sure they want to be in the marriage anymore—let alone sitting in your office—and the other partner is desperate to have you help save the marriage. It’s a big chunk of a couples therapy practice, and until now many therapists have been flying blind in working with them. These couples are also a blind spot for our models of couples therapy which assume some degree of interest by both partners to make the marriage better.

Here’s the challenge: how do you avoid taking sides when they want different things? Or do you say you can’t help them until they decide what they both want? Or do you just start couples therapy in the hope that the leaning-out spouse will come around?

Inspired by the work of Betty Carter decades ago, Bill Doherty has been refining a protocol for working with these mixed agenda couples (one leaning out and one leaning in). It’s called Discernment Counseling, with different forms for therapists and divorce professionals (and one for clergy too). .

Discernment Counseling is quite different from couples therapy because there is not yet an agreement to start couples therapy. The goal is clarity and confidence about a direction for the marriage, based on a deeper understanding of the relationship dynamics and each person’s contributions to the problems. Outcomes are framed in terms of three paths: continue with marriage as it has been, separation/divorce, or a six month reconciliation period in couples therapy (and perhaps with other help) with divorce off the table—and then a decision about whether the marriage can be made healthy for both parties…

The sessions are carefully designed to take each partner where they are, with an emphasis on individual conversations and carefully structured couple sharing. The sessions do not look like traditional couples therapy. Discernment Counseling is short term—a maximum of five sessions—and the couple are told that it’s not aimed at solving their problems but at determining whether their problems are solvable. There is a big emphasis on what each partner can learn about self from the problems that have befallen the marriage.

If they both decide to work on the marriage, then the discernment counselor shifts gears into couples therapy—or refers them to a colleague who might be a better fit. If they decide to divorce, the discernment counselor helps them decide on what kind of professional help the need to have a constructive divorce, and refers them to appropriate mediators or attorneys.

Discernment Counseling has a protocol you can start with immediately.

In just over 4 hours, online, you can be trained enough to start your first session with a couple!

Then you can deepen and refine your skills with the advanced material, webinars, Q&A calls, and library of material we develop over time.

Even beginner and pre-licensed couples therapists can be more confident and effective when they use the Discernment Counseling protocol instead of stumbling in the dark as often happens now.

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