Making a Referral to Discernment Counseling

There are two occasions you may find a great way out of clinical situations that just repeat and don’t gain traction.

One is with individual clients who are considering a divorce but are not certain it’s the right step now.

The couple may have tried therapy together and it didn’t help, and your client’s energy for more couples therapy is low. Or perhaps your individual client is plunging into a not-well-considered divorce and could benefit from slowing down and learning more about what’s happened to the marriage, their own role, and its prospects for healing. In either case, you can recommend the option of Discernment Counseling.

The other referral occasion is with couple clients who are on the brink of divorce.

Perhaps you never got traction in the therapy because one of them came hopeless and ambivalent about working to save the marriage.  Or perhaps you’ve worked hard with a couple over a period of time and one of them suddenly puts divorce on the table.  You’ve exhausted what you know how to do for the couple in therapy, and you can suggest a referral to Discernment Counseling before the leaning-out spouse makes a final decision. Again, you are suggesting a “pause for reflection” before a life-altering decision.

Here’s how you can frame the referral to clients:

“We’ve been talking about your feeling of hopelessness and your uncertainty about whether you want to be in your marriage. There is a specialized service for couples in your situation, called Discernment Counseling."

It’s an time out from either pursing divorce or trying to work on the marriage. The goal of this short-term work is clarity and confidence on a direction for your marriage, based on a deeper understanding of what’s happened to your marriage and each person’s contributions to the problems. You get to have individual time with the Discernment Counselor, as well as couple time, in order to help each of you sort out your feelings and figure out how to move forward. 

Couples find this service very helpful. There is a limit of five sessions, and you sign up for just one session at a time.  

The discernment process focuses on three paths: 

Path 1 is staying the course – neither working on the marriage nor pursuing divorce.

Path 2 is separation or divorce. 

Path 3 is giving your marriage a last-ditch, full-out effort, with six months of couples therapy with divorce off the table and with a clear agenda of what you are each going to work on.  

If you are working with a couple, sometimes the leaning-in spouse may feel upset that you are suggesting suspending the therapy.  It’s important to clarify that if their spouse isn’t on board for more couples therapy, Discernment Counseling can be a more fruitful use of their couple work, and if they chose to work on the marriage, they can return to you, or they can choose to work with another couples therapist if they like.

What if you do get trained in Discernment Counseling?

The short answer is that you can refer to yourself for Discernment Counseling. This process is covered in the training.  

Here are the two most common scenarios:

  • You do an intake with an individual spouse in an on-the-brink marriage and believe that Discernment Counseling would be helpful. You can propose this to your client, who can then approach their spouse about it. 
  • You are working with a couple and you realize that they are on the brink, with one of them highly ambivalent about starting or continuing couples therapy.  We train you in a smooth way to propose a switch to Discernment Counseling, with the option of returning to couples therapy.  Bottom line: once you are trained in Discernment Counseling, you never again have to slog through couples therapy when one of the spouses has just a toe in the water.

We also have Discernment Counselors who are looking for referrals for Path 3 couples therapy. You’re free to see if there are any near you and let them know you could be a referral to some of their cases if they don’t have space to see them long term. 

Some of our therapists love Discernment Counseling so much that they rarely do the couples therapy.

It offers them a chance to be uniquely helpful to couples in their community while keeping their calendars more open, since Discernment Counseling is only 1-5 sessions whereas couples therapy can go 3-12+ months and can easily fill up a calendar.