Imago therapy is a form of couples therapy that aims to help partners heal their emotional wounds, improve their communication, and deepen their connection. It is based on the idea that we unconsciously choose partners who resemble our early caregivers, and that we can use our conflicts as opportunities to grow and heal together. In this blog post, I will explain what imago therapy is, how it works, what are its benefits and limitations, and how you can try it with your partner. The content is related to the following topics: “Imago therapy definition”, ‘imago therapy benefits’, ‘imago therapy techniques’, ‘imago therapy examples’.
What Is Imago Therapy?
The term imago is Latin for “image,” and it refers to the unconscious image of familiar love that we form in childhood based on our interactions with our parents or other significant adults. According to imago therapy, this image influences our choice of partners and our expectations of relationships in adulthood.
Imago therapy was developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt in the late 1970s, after they both experienced divorce and sought effective ways to understand and improve their relationship dynamics. They combined elements of classical psychotherapy, such as attachment theory and object relations theory, with the idea of a natural healing process that occurs in relationships.
Imago therapy suggests that we are attracted to partners who have both positive and negative traits of our early caregivers, because they trigger our childhood wounds and offer us an opportunity to heal them. However, this also leads to frustration and conflict in our relationships, as we often feel hurt, disappointed, or misunderstood by our partners.
Imago therapy aims to help couples overcome these challenges by developing a deeper understanding of each other’s emotional experiences and needs, by learning to communicate effectively and compassionately, and by creating a safe and nurturing environment for their relationship.
How Does Imago Therapy Work?
Imago therapy involves a structured process that is usually conducted in sessions with a trained imago therapist. The main steps involved in imago therapy are:
- Imago workup: This is an assessment phase where each partner fills out a questionnaire about their childhood experiences, their current relationship issues, and their goals for therapy. The therapist then helps them identify their imago, or the unconscious image of familiar love that they seek in their partner.
- Dialogue: This is the core technique of imago therapy, where one partner expresses their feelings and thoughts about a specific issue, and the other partner listens without interruption or judgment. The listener then repeats back what they have heard, using their own words, to show that they have understood the speaker. This is called mirroring. The listener then validates the speaker’s perspective by acknowledging that it makes sense given their background and experiences. This is called validation. The listener then empathizes with the speaker’s emotions by imagining how they would feel if they were in their shoes. This is called empathy. The dialogue process helps the partners develop mutual respect, understanding, and compassion.
- Behavior change request: This is a technique where the speaker expresses a frustration they have in the relationship and explains how it relates to their unmet needs from childhood. They then make a specific and positive request for a behavior change from the listener that would help them meet their needs. The listener then decides whether they can agree to the request or negotiate a compromise. The behavior change request helps the partners meet each other’s needs and create more harmony in the relationship.
- Appreciation: This is a technique where the partners express gratitude and admiration for each other’s positive qualities and actions. They also acknowledge each other’s efforts and achievements in the therapy process. Appreciation helps the partners increase their positive feelings and reinforce their bond.
What Are the Benefits of Imago Therapy?
Imago therapy can offer several benefits for couples who want to heal and enhance their relationship, such as:
- Improving communication skills and reducing misunderstandings
- Increasing empathy and understanding for each other’s feelings and needs
- Healing childhood wounds and fostering more secure attachment styles
- Enhancing intimacy and passion by creating a safe space for sharing deep feelings and desires
- Strengthening trust and commitment by resolving conflicts constructively
- Promoting personal growth and self-awareness by reflecting on one’s own patterns and behaviors
What Are the Limitations of Imago Therapy?
Imago therapy also has some limitations that should be considered before trying it, such as:
- It may not be suitable for couples who have severe mental health issues, substance abuse problems, or domestic violence in their relationship
- It may not be effective for couples who are not willing to commit to the therapy process or follow the therapist’s guidance
- It may not address individual issues or goals that are not related to the relationship
- It may not be compatible with some cultural or religious beliefs or values
- It may not be affordable or accessible for some couples who cannot find a qualified imago therapist near them
How Can You Try Imago Therapy?
If you are interested in trying imago therapy with your partner, you can take the following steps:
- Find a certified imago therapist near you by using the online directory on the official website of Imago Relationships International
- Contact the therapist and schedule an initial consultation to discuss your expectations and goals for therapy
- Attend regular sessions with your partner and follow the therapist’s instructions and exercises
- Practice the dialogue technique and other imago skills at home between sessions
- Give feedback to your therapist and partner about your progress and challenges
- Celebrate your achievements and appreciate your partner’s efforts
If you cannot find or afford an imago therapist, you can also try some self-help resources, such as:
- Reading the books “Getting the Love You Want” and “Keeping the Love You Find” by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt
- Taking the online courses “Safe Conversations” and “Start Right Stay Connected” offered by Imago Relationships International
- Joining a local or online imago community or support group
- Watching videos or podcasts featuring imago therapists or experts
Imago therapy is a form of couples therapy that can help you heal your emotional wounds, improve your communication, and deepen your connection with your partner. It is based on the idea that we unconsciously choose partners who resemble our early caregivers, and that we can use our conflicts as opportunities to grow and heal together. Imago therapy has many benefits, but also some limitations, so it is important to consider if it suits your needs and preferences. If you want to try imago therapy, you can find a certified imago therapist near you, or use some self-help resources to learn more about it.
Hannah, M. T., Luquet, W., Hendrix, H., Hunt, H. L., & Mason, E. (2005). Imago relationship therapy: Perspectives on theory. Jossey-Bass.
Hendrix, H., & Hunt, H. L. (1988). Getting the love you want: A guide for couples. Henry Holt and Company.
Luquet, W. (2015). Short-term couples therapy: The Imago model in action. Routledge.
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