Thursday, December 17, 2020

Dr. Alan Singer Achieves Certification As a Discernment Counselor

Discernment counseling is a protocol for treating mixed-agenda couples where one is leaning out of the relationship and is reluctant to work on it in therapy, and the other wants to save the relationship. Studies suggest that as many of 30% of couples presenting for couples therapy fall into the mixed-agenda category, and they present a significant challenge for couple’s therapists because our models assume a basic willingness to try therapy and to stay in the relationship for the time being. Discernment counseling is intended for couples who once made a lifetime commitment, whether legally married or not. It’s not for couples considering whether to commit.

Goal: greater clarity and confidence in their decision making about the future of their marriage, based on a deeper understanding of what’s happened to their marriage and each person’s contributions to the problems.

2. A clear distinction between discernment counseling and couples therapy. No couple interventions occur in discernment counseling and no experiential enactments during sessions. The “deeper” work occurs during one-to-one conversations with each partner.

3. Distinctive structure: • Short term: 1-5 sessions. Preferably weekly. A decision made each time whether to meet again. • Two hour opening session. 1.5 hour follow up sessions. Both partners come for all sessions. • Session flow: first part with the couple, then separate conversations with each partner followed by a brief sharing of something learned during the individual time, and then couple together at the end. Confidentiality guideline for individual conversation: the discernment counselor does not share the specifics of what each spouse says, but is free to share impressions and reactions to each spouse when talking to the other. • Insist that both spouses come for each session, even though they each spend part of the session in the waiting room.

4. Focus on decision making about three paths: the marriage as it has been (path one), separation/ divorce (path two), or a six month reconciliation period with an all-out effort in couples therapy (and using other resources), with divorce off the table—and then a decision about the long term future (path three)

5. Use different approaches with leaning in and leaning out partners • Leaning out: Help them make a decision based on more a complex understanding of the marriage and their own role in its problems and potential future • Leaning in: Help them bring best self to the crisis, not make things worse, get what the other spouse is saying, and work on self. 

6. Outcomes: Path three: launching couples therapy (usually but not always with the discernment counselor); Path two: move towards divorce; or Path one: stay on hold for now—neither divorce nor start couples therapy 

7. Study of 100 consecutive discernment counseling cases: 48% chose path three, 42% path two, 12% path one. About 40% of the total sample were still married two years after discernment counseling. Ref. Doherty, Harris, & Wilde (2016)