Relationship Crossroads: The Power of Discernment Counseling

Posted by Erin Birt | Feb 19, 2024 | 0 Comments

Relationships are complex journeys, often marked by twists, turns, and unexpected crossroads. Whether you're facing doubts, uncertainties, or contemplating major decisions 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 – offering a unique approach designed to help couples gain clarity and insight into their relationship dynamics.

Understanding Discernment Counseling

Discernment Counseling 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:

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.

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.

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 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.

Key Principles of Discernment Counseling

Several 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.

Benefits of Discernment Counseling

Discernment Counseling offers several benefits for couples facing relationship crossroads:

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

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

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. Read on to learn about our firm's perspective on the promise of Discernment Counseling.

Birt Family Law's Perspective in Bridging Divorce and Mental Health: The Promise of Discernment Counseling

In the realm of divorce and family law, the paths of legal professionals and mental health experts often run parallel, rarely intersecting. Erin Birt, a seasoned mediator and divorce attorney with a background in counseling, recognized the need for a bridge between these disciplines. Her journey led her to discover Discernment Counseling, a transformative approach to help couples navigate the complexities of relationship crossroads.

Erin's unique background, coupled with her commitment to holistic client care, spurred her interest in Discernment Counseling. Unlike traditional legal proceedings that often lead straight to divorce, Erin saw the potential for a more nuanced approach that prioritizes clarity and understanding. Through her involvement with a group in California and subsequent training as an attorney in Discernment Counseling, Erin became a champion for this innovative method.

Understanding the Ambivalence

At the heart of Discernment Counseling lies the recognition of ambivalence – the uncertainty and mixed feelings that often accompany relationship struggles. Many of Erin's case results shed light on the common scenario where one partner may be ready to end the marriage while the other remains hesitant or hopeful. This dynamic presents a challenge for both legal professionals and mental health practitioners, highlighting the need for a collaborative approach.

The Role of Discernment Counseling 

Discernment Counseling offers a structured yet flexible framework for couples to explore their options without the pressure of immediate decisions. As stated above, it provides a safe space for couples to voice their concerns, fears, and hopes while guiding them through three distinct paths: maintaining the status quo, pursuing reconciliation, or moving towards separation or divorce.

Erin emphasizes that the goal of Discernment Counseling is not to push couples towards reconciliation or divorce but to facilitate clarity and informed decision-making. By addressing ambivalence head-on, couples can gain a deeper understanding of their relationship dynamics and explore alternative pathways with confidence.

Navigating the Divorce Landscape

In her presentation to the Illinois Counseling Association in November 2023, Erin delves into the evolving landscape of divorce, citing statistics and research to illustrate the prevalence of ambivalence among couples. She highlights the distinction between "soft" reasons for divorce, such as lack of connection or compatibility, and "hard" reasons like abuse or addiction. Regardless of the underlying reasons for divorce or divorce ambivalence, Erin emphasizes the importance of providing couples with resources and support to navigate their journey with clarity and intention.

The Promise of Collaboration

Erin's advocacy for Discernment Counseling extends beyond her legal practice, emphasizing the need for collaboration between legal professionals and mental health experts. By bridging these disciplines, she envisions a future where couples facing relationship crossroads receive comprehensive support tailored to their unique needs. To this end, you can read more, here, about how divorce counseling can help make your divorce process easier should that be the chosen path. 

Empowering Couples to Navigate Relationship Crossroads

Erin Birt's journey from divorce attorney to advocate for Discernment Counseling before starting a divorce reflects a broader paradigm shift in how we approach relationship challenges. By recognizing and addressing ambivalence, we can empower couples to navigate their journey with clarity, compassion, and informed decision-making. As we continue to bridge the gap between legal and mental health domains, we pave the way for a more holistic approach to supporting families in transition.

Our firm welcomes you to schedule a meeting with Erin to learn how the above can apply to your situation and help you create a more reasonable divorce process.

Recent Posts

Recent Case Results

  • In a challenging divorce, Attorney Erin Birt resolved parenting conflicts for the best interests of a teen daughter. Mother Sarah was concerned about father John's disinterest, while John felt Sarah was controlling. Erin, serving as GAL (Guardian ad Litem), utilized mediation skills and investigation protocols to prioritize the teen's well-being, prevent litigation, and repair co-parenting harmony. Read On

  • Successfully resolved custody dispute for a child with a first responder father and full time working mother, prioritizing child's well-being and fostering co-parenting harmony. Read On

  • In the face of financial turmoil due to her husband's gambling addiction, a young mother sought to relocate with her children for family support. With strategic negotiation, a divorce attorney secured their move while preserving father-child bonds, all while keeping costs low and achieving client satisfaction. Read On

About the Author

Erin Birt

Since 2003, Erin N. Birt, J.D., CADC has focused her practice on parenting time, divorce, mediation, and substance abuse issues. Ms. Birt's unique background in both family law and addictions counseling help her clients successfully navigate the complex issues of coparenting and divorce. Ms. Birt also devotes her time to presenting at continuing education seminars for attorneys, mediators, and counselors.


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Birt Family Law is the family centered law and mediation practice with a focus on Restorative Divorce; offering creative and supportive legal and mediation solutions with one goal: keeping the separating family out of court and working together towards a positive resolution.

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