couple disconnected

It has been estimated that at least one third of couples are not on the same page about attending couples counseling. One partner is hopeful the professional counselor will give them a ticket to marital bliss while the other would rather be doing anything, literally anything, than sitting in a counseling office. If you identify with being in a relationship that fits this description, you should know that individual or couples counseling may further damage your relationship or leave you feeling more confused and frustrated. There is, however, a third choice that combines the best of both approaches, Discernment Counseling.

I work a lot with couples who don’t know what they need. Maybe there has been an affair, addictions, high conflict or living like strangers in the same house. All they know is that they no longer feel much like a couple. At lease one of them, sometimes both, doesn’t want to be there. When they finally enter the door to my office, it doesn’t take long before I feel the familiar tension in the room. Of course, I give the traditional “disclaimer” and try to reassure each partner that counseling is not a magic cure for every couple. On the other hand, I try to make my office a place where the reluctant partner, or partners by this time, discover a safe place to explore and express his/her feelings and make a connection much better than they ever imagined. But it is often a “hard sell” particularly for the one who comes “kicking and screaming” to counseling or feels like they need to try couples counseling before saying, “it didn’t work for them”.

I am so thankful for Bill Doherty and his excellent training in what he calls Discernment Counseling. I first heard him speak about this approach with “mixed agenda” couples in 2006 when the St. Louis American Marriage & Family Therapists arranged for Bill to speak at Maryville University. A group of us could not wait to hear one of the best known marriage therapists talk about his work helping couples “on the brink”.

Discernment Counseling was in its infancy in 2006. More recently, I found out that Bill has dedicated his life’s work to these mixed agenda couples. If you have an interest in the research, you can read about the Minnesota Couples On The Brink Project, aptly named, here: Years of work, research, and a few missteps, led to a way of working with thousands of couples that is respectful to both parties.

Today, if you’re in a troubled relationship, you no longer have to go to Minnesota for the help. As a professional counselor, I can get the training and support I need without leaving my busy St. Louis practice for a week.

For several months now, I’ve been studying how to bridge the gap between individual and couples counseling. I’ve discovered that Discernment Counseling is structured with both couple and individual time with the therapist in the same visit. Basic training, and seeing how it has played out in my practice, made me voracious for advanced training. It has been my magic ticket for an approach that truly respects both parties. In one to five sessions, they each discover how their contribution to difficulties in the relationship. They develop confidence and achieve clarity in whether they want to keep things as they have been, separate or work on the marriage.

Though still an option, I have yet to find a couple who concludes that they want the relationship to stay the same after completing Discernment Counseling. It simply puts us all on the same page. The couple is a lot happier if they choose to move toward healthy separation or couples counseling with greater commitment to the process. Find out more at or call me to start Discernment Counseling today.