Discernment Phase of Couple Therapy

William Doherty brings a wonderful insight into Couple Therapy. The video shows the nature of the problem he addresses. The article in the Psychotherapy Networker brings forward his way of attending to that problem.

With the thorough and useful Imago dialogue approach there are a few things I find myself bringing from other modalities to the work. Warm up – from psychodrama is one. I work for a while with the couple in the warm up phase so that the dialogue topic is related to what the couple together agree is of value to work on in the relationship. This is a bit different from what can happen where the topic is the frustration one partner has with the other – dialogues about that may get there the long way around, a good warm up, which may include some psych ed, from me can be circumvent the potentially derailing process.

But that is not the main idea of this post.

William Doherty’s idea of the Discernment Phase of therapy creates a much larger space for a warm up with clients who may not be in agreement on what is needed. He gives me as the therapist permission – in a relational way – to see each party on their own if that is needed in a phase that is not yet couple therapy. I love the word discernment here. It is so much more engaging of the client therapist relationship than assessment.

This paragraph sums up the essence.

A central strategy of this work is that although the couple comes in together each time, most of the work goes on in separate conversations with each spouse. In the first 40 minutes of the initial session, I see them together and get both their stories and perspectives on the marriage. After asking what they hope to get from seeing me, I inquire about their divorce narratives (how they got to this point), their repair narratives (how they tried to solve their problems and what outside help they sought), and a question about the best of times in their relationship history. I then spend more than an hour seeing each of them separately. During that time, I focus on each one’s agenda (leaving or saving the marriage, along with other agendas) and try to open up a deeper understanding of each one’s contributions to the marital dynamics and areas of potential change. At the end of each individual conversation, I help the partner prepare a summary to be shared with the other partner at the end of the session.

Here is a pdf of the Psychotherapy Networker article.


Thanks Yvonne for pointing this article out to me.

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