Making a Clinically Smooth Referral

to an Individual Client for Discernment Counseling

Welcome! You may have been sent here by us or by a colleague.

If you got a postcard, you already have a local discernment counselor interested in engaging with you. This therapist can answer your questions and can give you print material that you could hand out to clients.

Here is what we know to be true:

  • Divorce decisions are usually not linear but up and down, approaching and backing off.
  • It’s a complex emotional journey, with one spouse almost always out ahead of the other. Rarely do both people in a marriage follow the same trajectory—there is usually a leaning-out partner and a leaning-in partner.
  • Looking back, a lot of divorced people (according to surveys) have regrets about how they handled this phase of their lives.

One member of this “mixed-agenda” couple comes to you for individual help. Your leaning-in client wants to save the marriage, something you don’t feel able to directly help with. Your leaning-out client wants individual help, not couples therapy, to cope with the marital crisis and to work through a painful decision about whether to let go of a marriage or keep trying.

For both kinds of individual clients, there is now a resource that can complement your individual therapy, one designed specifically for mixed-agenda couples with a leaning-in and a leaning-out partner. Discernment counseling is a research—based way to help both spouses engage this marital crisis in a constructive way and decide whether to divorce or make a last all-out effort to restore their marriage to health.

Here’s how you might bring up the discernment counseling resource:

  • To a leaning-in spouse: “If your spouse is not open to couples therapy, there is a new type of help that he/she might be open to. It’s called discernment counseling. The goals are for you both to have more clarity and confidence about the next step for your marriage, whether that is divorce or doing couples therapy to try to get back on a good track. Discernment counseling is short term, from 1-5 sessions. An advantage right now for your situation is that it’s not couples therapy aimed at solving problems in the marriage, something your spouse is not interested in, but it will give both of you more perspective on your marital problems with the idea that maybe you’ll both decide to work on them. Does this sound like it might be useful?
  • To the leaning-out spouse: “As you work through this really hard decision, there is a resource I’d like to tell you about. It’s called discernment counseling, and it’s specifically designed for couples in your situation, where one spouse is leaning towards divorce but has not make a final decision, and the other spouse is against a divorce and wants to try to fix things. The goals of discernment counseling are for you both to develop clarity and confidence about a direction for your relationship, whether that’s to divorce to try to work on it in couples therapy. It’s short term, 1-5 sessions, and you only commit to attend the first session and then decide if more might be useful. Does this sound like it might be worth learning more about?

If your client is interested in learning more, you can refer them to our new listing site, Modern Commitment, for a written description. This client can suggest their partner look at the same information and decide whether to move forward with discernment counseling.

Leaning-in spouses are usually eager to try discernment counseling, and leaning-out spouses, assured that they are not entering couples therapy to make the marriage better, usually find these sessions beneficial even if they ultimately decide to go ahead with the divorce. In our research about half of discernment cases lead to couples therapy and about half lead to a divorce decision.

For your own clarity about discernment counseling, keep mind that this is not couples therapy to work on problems but a process of helping both partners ultimately see if they want to work on the problems in couples therapy, or proceed now with divorce.

Along the way, they learn a lot about themselves and their relationship, and they each get support for their own goals. The process looks different from couples therapy because most of the intensive work occurs in one-to-one conversations with the counselor, with sharing of learnings with the other spouse. There are no couple-level interventions because there is no contract for couples therapy. Read our homepage for more information about the process.

If your client accepts the referral to discernment counseling, you can continue your individual work and also support the discernment process by helping your client focus on personal issues that need work whether or not the marriage endures.