Trellis Counseling

  An introduction to Discernment Counseling

Discernment Counseling is a couple’s therapy option for those couples who have a mixed agenda and for those who have tried traditional counseling and been unsuccessful. It offers a chance for couples where one individual is leaning out of the relationship, and the other is leaning in, to reach a decision together about what to do.

This protocol is a relief for these couples, who are reaching the end of their patience. It provides each of them a way to be honest about what they are going through, what they want, and in therapist Libby Collins’ experience, they are incredibly grateful for a path to making a decision.

For those not seeking traditional couples or marriage counseling

A person is not likely to seek, or even be open to, traditional marriage counseling if they have already decided they don’t want to continue in the marriage. If they insist that it’s too late, it probably is.

If, however, they are willing to review how they got there, what role they played in the marriage to this point, and a willingness to review the pathways open to them, then Discernment Counseling can help.

The practice serves those who are not supported by traditional marriage counseling. When one spouse is not sure they want to stay married and doubts that therapy can help, Discernment Counseling provides the pathways not present in traditional couples and marriage therapy. It supports a spouse that believes the marriage may be over, as well as for the spouse who wants to work on the marriage. It allows for each individual to commit to what they need to do right now, with purpose.

Reaching a tipping point

Often, for couples who enter Discernment Counseling, one individual has reached a tipping point. Perhaps one of the partners has expressed that they can’t live like this anymore. Maybe they have talked to friends who have encouraged them to move on. Sometimes a tipping point is an event:

  • A death
  • A health scare
  • An affair

Grief, loss, and change can trigger the urge for one or both partners in a marriage to leave, to check out emotionally or physically. It can be difficult to come into counseling with an open mind, especially if they think their spouse is going to leave them. It can also be difficult for the spouse who thinks counseling will not help, but this is exactly the kind of couple that can benefit.

With Discernment Counseling there is a chance to re-engage, re-commit, or re-evaluate. It can be enough to help the couple make a decision.

Time commitment

For couples in committed relationships, especially for those who are married, Discernment Counseling offers a short-term (not more than 5-7 sessions) couple’s therapy approach, during which each individual in the couple will reach a decision.

Discernment Counseling goals

In Discernment Counseling, the goals are to make clear decisions for the marriage, to better understand what happened to the marriage, and to understand each person’s participation in and actions that led to the present state of the marriage. is for each spouse to decide among 3 distinct paths:

  1. Return to the marriage as it was
  2. Pursue marriage separation or divorce
  3. Commit to 6 months of marriage counseling with separation/divorce off the table

The process

The process of Discernment counseling involves the couple meeting with the therapist. Then one spouse meets with the counselor individually, before meeting again with the other spouse and counselor together again. Then the second spouse also meets with the counselor on their own, and also again the 2 spouses and counselor meet. The process leads to both introspection for the individuals and can lead to a different experience of couple’s therapy for the 2 spouses together.

Emotions and relief

Discernment Counseling can be incredibly emotional. It is intense to reach a decision about a marriage, either to commit 100% to move forward or that it is over. Some couples may enter Discernment Counseling after years of living in a kind of limbo, unable to move forward and unable to end the marriage. When the work starts, as well as when decisions are made, anger, fear, grief and sadness may emerge. Hope and joy and elation can also appear - especially if each individual in the couple decides to work on the marriage. In any case, it helps get everything on the table and often provides an amazing sense of relief.


When both individuals have made their choice, there are repercussions. If the couple decides to stay together, the counselor will help them chart a course, if they are open to it. If they decide to move toward ending the marriage there are also repercussions. The couple must consider their future and its impact on any children, the family’s finances, housing, and more.

A brief interview with Libby Collins, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)

Q:  What is your education and professional counseling background?
A:  I am a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a degree in Psychology and Social Work. I attended the Adler Graduate School of Psychology, and received my Master of Psychology degree in 2000. I became a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in 2006 and have continued in the field ever since. Every 2 years, I complete 40 hours of continuing education units, and am licensed in the state of Colorado. I work with adults and couples, about 50/50. I practice couples, marriage, and individual counseling and specialize in Discernment Counseling.

Q:  What brought you to the practice Discernment Counseling?
A:  I learned about Discernment Counseling from the work that Bill Doherty of the University of Minnesota was doing.

Q:  How might a couple begin working with you?
A:  I invite couples to meet with me for a 30-minute free consultation. During our time together I’ll share more about my background, about practical matters like insurance and the counseling process. I invite them to describe their issues and goals. There are no boundaries during this initial consultation, so it’s not a good session to start any actual therapy. If the couple wishes to pursue Discernment Counseling, we’d likely schedule our first actual therapeutic session. I facilitate discussion and help them explore their options.

Q:  If, after they enter Discernment Counseling, each of the spouses commits to 6 months of marriage counseling with separation/divorce off the table, and wants to continue to work with you, what happens next?
A:  The couple works on goals that will serve as building blocks toward trust. They focus on learning greater communications and more active listening skills. The couple will also learn how to pause and reflect before acting or reacting. There are research-based methodologies we can try. If these things resonate, that’s great. Otherwise, we can try different approaches that we can fit back to the couple’s goals.

Q:  Is there any particular area of focus or kinds of people you usually work with?
A:  I am open to working with any adult, or with any couples. For those couples who feel they are out of options, independent of race, faith, or sexual orientation, Discernment Counseling can help them make a decision about the future of their relationship.

© Trellis Counseling, LLC 2024