What is Discernment Counseling and Is It Right for You?

what is discernment counseling

By Erin Birt, J.D., CADC, Divorce Attorney, Divorce Mediator

Relationships are complex journeys, often marked by twists, turns, and unexpected crossroads. Whether you’re facing doubts, uncertainties, or contemplating major decisions, including divorce, about the future of your relationship, it’s essential to have the right guidance and support to navigate these challenging moments. This is where Discernment Counseling comes into play. What is discernment counseling? A process and unique approach designed to help couples gain clarity and insight into their relationship dynamics, and figure out which path to take: stay together or get divorced.

What is Discernment Counseling?

It is not traditional couples therapy. Instead, it’s a short-term, highly focused form of counseling specifically designed for couples on the brink of separation or divorce. The primary goal of Discernment Counseling is to help couples explore their options and determine the best path forward, whether that’s reconciliation, separation, or moving towards divorce with clarity and understanding.

The Three Paths Of Discernment Counseling

During Discernment Counseling sessions, couples are guided through three distinct paths:

1. Path of Status Quo: This path involves maintaining the current status of the relationship without making any immediate changes. It allows couples to take a step back, reflect on their feelings, and gain a deeper understanding of their concerns and desires.

2. Path of Separation or Divorce: For some couples, the best course of action may be to separate or divorce. Discernment Counseling provides a safe space for couples to explore this option without judgment or pressure, helping them navigate the emotional challenges associated with such a significant decision.

3. Path of Reconciliation: In certain cases, couples may decide that reconciliation is possible and desirable. Discernment Counseling helps facilitate honest communication, identify underlying issues, and develop strategies for rebuilding trust and intimacy.

The Role Of The Discernment Counselor

Central to the success of Discernment Counseling is the role of the counselor. Discernment Counselors are trained professionals with expertise in helping couples navigate complex relationship dynamics. They provide a neutral and supportive environment where couples can openly discuss their concerns, fears, and hopes for the future.


Birt Family Law - Restorative Divorce


Key Principles Of Discernment Counseling

In further understanding what discernment counseling is, here are some key principles guide the Discernment Counseling process:

Non-Blaming Approach: Discernment Counseling focuses on understanding rather than assigning blame. It encourages couples to explore their individual experiences and perspectives without judgment.

Respect for Autonomy: Each partner’s autonomy and agency are respected throughout the counseling process. Couples are empowered to make decisions that align with their values and priorities.

Focus on Clarity: The primary objective of Discernment Counseling is to help couples gain clarity about their relationship and the options available to them. This clarity enables informed decision-making and promotes a sense of empowerment.

The Benefits Of Discernment Counseling

The process offers several benefits for couples facing relationship crossroads:

1. Improved Communication: Through guided discussions and exercises, couples learn to communicate more effectively and empathetically, laying the groundwork for healthier interactions moving forward.

2. Enhanced Understanding: Discernment Counseling provides couples with insights into their relationship dynamics, helping them better understand the root causes of their conflicts and challenges.

3. Empowerment: By exploring all available options, couples feel more empowered to make decisions that are in line with their individual needs and aspirations.

Is Discernment Counseling Right For Your Family?

Relationship crossroads can be daunting, but they also present an opportunity for growth, reflection, and transformation. Discernment Counseling offers a valuable roadmap for couples navigating these challenging moments, providing them with the support, guidance, and clarity needed to move forward with confidence – whether together or separately.

If you find yourself at a relationship crossroads, consider exploring the power of Discernment Counseling. It may just be the catalyst you need to embark on a path towards greater understanding, fulfillment, and happiness – whatever that may look like for you.

Not sure if it is right for you? Contact our firm for a divorce readiness questionnaire and consult with our mediator and attorney, Erin Birt, to create a path forward that considers each party’s level of divorce readiness and attitude towards a divorce.

Erin Birt
Erin Birt, Divorce Attorney, Mediator, Founder, Birt Family Law Restorative Divorce


Since 2003, Erin Birt has focused her practice of mediation and legal services in the areas of parent separation, child centered divorce, and parenting matters.

In 2010, Ms. Birt opened The Law Firm of Erin N. Birt, P.C. (known as Birt Family Law) to provide her clients a variety of alternative dispute resolution and divorce options. Prior to starting the firm, she was employed by several prominent family law firms including Fortunato, Farrell, Davenport & Arnold, Ltd. and Roberts and Associates, P.C. She clerked at Mayer, Brown & Platt, n/k/a Mayer Brown, Earl L. Neal and Associates, LLC, n/k/a Neal & Leroy, LLC, and the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Ms. Birt is also a certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor. Her clinical addiction counseling experience includes DUI risk education and counseling at The Family Connection and inpatient addiction counseling at Adventist Glen Oaks Hospital. Erin now uses her addiction counseling skills and experience to help separating parents, families, and teens effected by drugs or alcohol.  Erin has been a presenter and trainer for the DuPage County Bar Association, International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, Mediation Council of Illinois, and various mediation, counseling, or collaborative practice groups within Illinois and beyond. 

Like this article? Check out: “My Ex Has a New Girlfriend. Tips on Parenting and Coping”

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