About the Founder – Citizen Therapists for Democracy

About the Founder

Citizen Therapists Bill Doherty

If you’re on this page, it’s likely for one of three reasons.

You’re a member of the media looking for a line or two about my credentials, you’re a therapist wanting to make sure I’m legit before you join Citizen Therapists for Democracy, or you’re a member of the public or professional who’s interested in what this organization is up to. I'll try to meet all three needs!

Really Brief

William J. Doherty is a professor in the Department of Family Social Science in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota, where he directs the Citizen Professional Center and the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project. He has practiced as a therapist for over 40 years.


In addition to the above: Bill is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed psychologist in Minnesota, with special clinical interests in couples therapy and medical family therapy.

Over an academic career following his Ph.D. in 1978 from the University of Connecticut, he has published over 200 articles and book chapters, along with 16 books for professionals and the lay public. (Here’s his academic CV.)

His two most recent books are Medical Family Therapy and Integrated Care (with Susan H. McDaniel and Jeri Hepworth), published by the American Psychological Association; and Helping Couples on the Brink of Divorce: Discernment Counseling for Troubled Relationship (with Steven M. Harris), to be published by the American Psychological Association.

Bill has presented training workshops to therapists all over the U.S. and in other countries.

He is a past president of the National Council on Family Relations, the oldest interdisciplinary family studies organization in North America. Along with other awards, he has received the Award for Significant Contribution to the Field of Marriage and Family Therapy from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and in June 2017 will received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Family Therapy Academy.

Project Work

After connecting with democracy theorist and activist Harry Boyte in the mid-1990s, Bill has pursued public engagement work, leading in 2010 to the creation of the Citizen Professional Center, with a mission to prepare professionals for effective democratic engagement with communities and generate community-based research to advance knowledge and solve local problems.

This work led him to see the deep connection between the public sphere of democratic action and the personal sphere that has been the traditional domain of therapists.

His projects have engaged communities across ethnic and social class lines on issues ranging from the challenges of urban single fathers to the problem of overscheduled kids in suburban families, from diabetes mentoring to the formation of a health-promoting community around a medical clinic. Some of his work can be characterized as “cultural organizing” to generate local and national conversations around issues of importance to families. For that work, he has done loads of media interviews.

Bill’s latest citizen therapist project is the Police and Black Men Project, which involves a group of police officers and African American men meeting in a small group every other week for a year to develop relationships of trust and then decide how to make a difference together for community safety and law enforcement.

Bill brings these organizing skills to Citizen Therapists for Democracy, which he hopes can be a seedbed for more public work by therapists. The organizational ownership and future 501C3 plans can be found here.

His other great passion these days is the development of a clinical protocol called Discernment Counseling for couples on the brink of divorce, and the training of therapists in a new way of helping couples who are often not good candidates for traditional couples therapy (because one is leaning out of the relationship and the other is leaning in). His two main collaborators in this work are Steve Harris and Bridget Manley Mayer at the University of Minnesota.

In addition to research and protocol development work through the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project, Bill has teamed up with his therapist and internet-marketing-savvy daughter Elizabeth Doherty Thomas to form The Doherty Relationship Institute to disseminate Discernment Counseling training nationally and internationally and to help couples therapists link with couples who need their help.


Bill has been married since 1971 and has two grown children and four grandchildren. He is a complete extrovert (unusual for a therapist) and loves Qigong meditation, exercise walking, and surviving cold Minnesota winter evenings in an outdoor hot tub with his wife. He is a former Catholic seminarian and now a practicing Unitarian Universalist who sees value in every religious tradition (and humanist ones too) that he has encountered. He is a natural optimist who takes no credit for his temperament; he likes to say that he inherited the optimistic Irish genes, not the depressive ones.