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Discernment Counseling

White Sheet

Cycles of Distance and Conflict

Are you and your partner stuck in a cycle of emotional distance and conflict? Does it feel like something has to change but you aren’t sure where to start? More importantly, does it feel like you differ in terms of your motivation to repair your relationship? 


Perhaps you’re the partner considering separation or divorce while simultaneously doubting yourself and feeling anxious about the long term impact of that choice. Or, you might be the partner who is motivated to start couples counseling but you feel anxious and discouraged because your partner seems less motivated.


If you and your partner have mixed thoughts and feelings about your relationship, I’m glad you’re here. This page contains information about discernment counseling, a unique approach to working with couples who differ from one another in terms of how they’d like to move forward.

Clarity About How to Move Forward

Imagine clarity, confidence, and change. Starting with yourself. Yes, before talking about your relationship with your partner, imagine learning more about your thoughts and feelings about relationships and your characteristic ways of relating to others. Learning about ourselves can be daunting, but ultimately liberating. Now, imagine these insights help you feel clearer about what you want and confident in your ability to move in that direction. 


Imagine making a decision about your relationship by choosing one of three paths. You might choose Path 1, which is deciding to accept your relationship as it is for the time being. You might choose Path 2, which is separation or divorce. You might choose Path 3, which is a commitment to six months of couples therapy and an effort to give your relationship everything you’ve got. After that six month period, you see where you and your partner are and each of you can make a decision from a place of greater understanding about your relationship. Throughout all of this, imagine feeling supported by a neutral and empathic therapist who helps you talk honestly with your partner about the path that feels best for you. 


Whichever path is chosen, couples can continue working with their therapist to make the most of that path. For couples who choose Path 1, your therapist can help you clarify what it means to accept the status quo and for how long that decision makes sense. For couples who choose Path 2, your therapist can help you separate or divorce compassionately and with consideration for children and loved ones. Your therapist can also provide resources and recommendations for legal professionals who would support your efforts to separate amicably. Finally, for couples who choose Path 3, your therapist can help you mend past hurts, communicate on a deeper emotional level, and protect your connection with one another over time.  When couples therapy goes well, you not only remember what you loved about your partner in the first place, you discover and fall in love with who they’ve become. 


What to Expect

Prior to starting discernment counseling, each partner schedules a 30 minute phone consultation with Dr. Casey.  This allows her to hear from each partner privately and determine if this approach is appropriate. Again, couples who differ in terms of how they’d like to move forward in their relationship, with one partner leaning in and the other leaning out, are great candidates for discernment counseling. 


Assuming discernment counseling makes sense, you and your partner would then attend an initial assessment with Dr. Casey, which can take place in the office or on a video visit. During this appointment Dr. Casey will meet with you and your partner together and then meet with each of you separately. Before ending the appointment, Dr. Casey will meet with you and your partner together to talk about the trajectory of counseling moving forward. 


Once you and your partner have completed the consultation and assessment you can choose to begin discernment counseling. Couples agree to schedule at least two counseling sessions, more as needed. Ideally, discernment counseling results in couples selecting a path (status quo, separation or divorce, or a commitment to couples counseling) after 4-5 counseling appointments. 


Discernment counseling appointments are unique in that the majority of your time with Dr. Casey will be spent without your partner present. This allows both partners to feel comfortable being honest about where they are in the decision making process. It also allows Dr. Casey to work with each partner individually to strengthen that person’s awareness of their own thoughts and feelings, how their past might influence current patterns, and what their future self needs in order to feel good about one path over another. 


Once couples make a decision about which path to pursue, Dr. Casey can help you and your partner make the most of that path. If you and your partner agree to Path 3 (six months of couples counseling) she can continue working with you and your partner. If you decide on Path 1 (maintaining the status quo), she can help you make the most of that path. Finally, if you decide on Path 2 (divorce or separation), Dr. Casey can work with you and your partner to identify how to make the process easier on one another and loved ones. She can also connect you with attorneys who would support your desire to divorce amicably.

Reasons to be Hopeful

It Works for Both Partners

When couples disagree on whether or not to pursue couples counseling, they often enter couples counseling to begin working on their relationship. While this works for the partner who wants to repair the relationship, it may ultimately backfire for them if their partner feels coerced into staying in the relationship. Discernment counseling works for both partners, even when they disagree about their hopes for the relationship. When both partners feel heard and understood, they are more likely to make sound decisions about their relationship.

It's a Brief Approach 

Ideally discernment counseling is completed within 4 to 5 sessions. This allows each partner to get started on the process of change, whatever that may be, in a shorter amount of time.  Without the clarity that comes from discernment counseling, couples can waste time by spending months in couples counseling and sometimes still walk away feeling confused about what they want and need from one another. 

It Stops the Cycle of Ambivalence

Ambivalence is feeling more than one way about something. It’s a common human experience, and it’s agonizing when it’s about something as significant as our relationships. People often hope they’ll suddenly feel clear about what they want. Unfortunately, it doesn’t often work that way. When left to our own devices in a state of ambivalence, we end up walking ourselves in circles. It’s like trying to find your way out of the woods without a guide, and you notice you’re passing the same landmark repeatedly. Discernment counseling can help both partners feel clearer about what they want so the process of moving forward, whatever that may be, can begin.

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Our Experience

Dr. Casey is a licensed psychologist with years experience treating individuals, couples, and their families. She has completed all three levels of advanced training on the Gottman Method, one of five validated treatments for couples therapy.  Dr. Casey specializes in the assessment and treatment of substance use disorders and she is uniquely suited to help couples who are distressed by one or both partners' relationship with drugs or alcohol. Dr. Casey uses a balanced approach when working with couples; she helps partners develop concrete skills to use in and outside of session while also helping partners to develop a richer understanding of themselves and the deeper issues within their relationship. 


Interpersonally, Dr. Casey is open-minded, nonjudgmental, and warm. She is also compassionately direct when needed. She truly believes that the most significant contributor to a person’s mental health is the quality of their relationships, and she particularly enjoys helping couples strengthen their bond and find ways to grow alongside one another.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Will discernment counseling get my partner to agree to couples counseling?


Perhaps. If this is your concern, it may be helpful to know that pushing your partner into couples counseling can ultimately backfire. Only when your partner feels free to be honest about their thoughts and feelings can therapy stand a chance of being helpful. While it might feel counterintuitive to pursue counseling that allows your partner to voice concerns about staying in the relationship, doing so actually increases the chances of your partner considering repairing the relationship. 


Will discernment counseling help me break up with or separate from my partner?


If you already know, with certainty, that you want to end your relationship, it’s best to be honest and direct with your partner up front. If you are the partner who leans more toward separation or divorce, discernment counseling is intended to help you think through your thoughts and feelings in greater depth, learn more about yourself and your relationship patterns, and strengthen emotional coping and communication skills so you can move forward on the path you eventually choose with greater insight and compassion for yourself and your partner. 


One of us has already consulted with an attorney about divorce. Are we still good candidates for discernment counseling?


You and your partner are still appropriate for discernment counseling if you continue to have doubts about your decision. If divorce is eventually pursued, Dr. Casey can help couples prepare for that process and make recommendations for attorneys who would support an amicable divorce.

If nothing changes, 

~ Quote from a Wise Person

Image by Khamkéo Vilaysing
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