IMAGO THERAPY: What is Imago Therapy? (+ Detailed Guide)

Imago Therapy

Imago relationship therapy (IRT) aims to provide couples with the tools they need to relate to each other in healthier ways, as well as to reveal the emotional pathway formed in childhood that has led them to their current situation. Imago Therapy therapy combines spiritual exercises and behavioral techniques with Western psychological methodologies to help couples uncover their unconscious components.

Also, Imago’s relationship therapy entails viewing a conflict between couples as the result of specific circumstances rather than the cause of disharmony. A couple can reach a satisfying solution, heal, and grow together by examining the conflict itself. However, there have been some limitations and criticisms about Imago Therapy. Read on to learn more.

What Is Imago Therapy?

Imago is the Latin word for “image,” and it refers specifically to an unconscious, idealized concept of familiar love that an individual develops during childhood and retains in adulthood in Imago Relationship Therapy. Early interactions with one’s parents or other significant adults in early life play a significant role in the development of the image. Because of a child’s unique conception of what love is, he or she will develop specific behaviors or “survival patterns” (either by expressing or inhibiting personality traits) to obtain love and remain safe.

Even the best parents, however, are unable to meet their child’s every need and expectation. As a result, an individual’s image will include both positive and negative behaviors associated with his or her ideal loved one. As we seek love consciously in adulthood, we unconsciously seek out people who are similar to our image and who will allow us to develop qualities that we either inhibited or were not allowed to express as children.

Imago Therapy’s History

In the late 1970s, Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., and Helen LaKelly Hunt, MA, both divorced from previous spouses, shared an interest in understanding their failed marriages. Due to a lack of literature relevant to their previous marital experiences, they decided to use their own relationship, both before and after their 1984 marriage, to investigate the dynamics of intimate relationships.

They proposed in 1977 that the emotional and psychological wounds experienced as a kid as a result of interactions with one’s parents could only be fully handled in an environment that reactivated those scars. They argued that only another committed connection, such as marriage, might provide the variables required to facilitate healing and progress. In his clinic, Hendrix taught couples tactics like “mirroring” and “containment,” and the couples reported considerable changes in their relationships. Hendrix and Hunt determined that the most effective form of treatment is a married partnership based on mutual healing.

Despite his success in his own practice, Imago Relationship Therapy was not widely known until the publication of Hendrix’s seminal book, Getting the Love You Want, in 1988. IRT evolved over the years as Hendrix and Hunt refined and enlarged the key procedures of the therapy. There are currently around 2000 skilled imago therapists globally.

Types of Imago Therapy

There are two ways to use Imago therapy. While predominantly used with committed relationships, it can also be used in individual therapy.

Imago Therapy for Relationships

The concept of Imago as an image of familiar love implies that your early relationships teach you something about love and yourself. Through these early experiences, you form a sense of identity-related to love, such as what love is and what you must do to experience love from others and feel safe.

In your early relationships, you begin to establish a sense of self-worth depending on how you are treated by important people in your life.

You begin to form attachment patterns and gain a sense of how you think people should treat you.

For example, if, as a child, you only received praise and feelings of love from your caregivers when you performed well at a task, you may enter adulthood believing that you must perform well to deserve love and receive care and comfort from your partner.

If your partner turns away or shuts down on you, leaving you feeling unloved, you may quickly begin to reflect on your own behaviors, replaying things and searching for what you may have “done wrong” to cause the person to behave you this way.

Our intimate relationships are prime grounds for bringing up raw spots, old wounds, and patterned behaviors. These connections can make us feel close and cared for or lonely and abandoned. It is not unexpected that our intimate relationships often reopen old, familiar emotional wounds, given that Imago therapy suggests picking partners who feel “familiar” to you.

IRT believes that when these old wounds surface in relationships, they can provide us with an opportunity to heal and grow. In his best-selling book “Getting the Love You Want,” Dr. Hendrix wrote,” “We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we can be healed in relationship.”

Imago for Individuals

Although Imago relationship therapy is a counseling model meant to be helpful with couples in committed relationships, you do not have to be in an active relationship to benefit from it. In fact, many people who are dating may find this form of therapy beneficial for looking into their personal history and how it may influence their dating patterns and partner selection.

By engaging in Imago therapy on your own, you can learn about some of your previous scars or emotional raw areas that may be affecting your relationships. Finding a sense of healing around these raw spots might help you move forward with more confidence and learn how to be a great, caring partner in your next relationship.

5 Principles of Imago Therapy for Couples

Imago relationship therapy is based on five fundamental ideas. They are as follows:

  1. Imagine your partner as a wounded child.
  2. Re-romanticize your relationship via pleasant surprises, gift-giving, and expressions of gratitude.
  3. Change your complaints into requests to restructure your disappointments and frustrations.
  4. Getting rid of feelings of great rage.
  5. Reimagining the relationship as a source of enjoyment, fulfilment, and security.

What Can Imago Therapy Help With?

Imago therapy was developed primarily to help people understand and heal their relationships. Imago therapy can help with several issues, including:

You do not need to be in distress to participate in Imago Relationship Therapy. Couples who are not in crisis can benefit greatly from participating, learning about the dynamics of the relationship, and developing a deeper understanding of themselves and their partner.

Problems with Conflict and Communication

Conflict frequently emerges from an underlying emotional dissatisfaction felt within the setting of the partnership. It manifests itself in the form of criticism, rage, and unhappiness. Imago relationship therapy assists a couple in determining what factors create those issues to appear as stressful and negative statements, feelings, and actions by assisting them in exploring the base of the emotional hurt or need.

Mirroring, Validation, & Empathy in the Intentional Dialogue Process

The most crucial part of Imago Relationship Therapy is the intentional discussion approach. This structured discourse employs speaking and listening methods that aid with contingent communication. Contingent communication happens when one partner expresses vulnerability, and the other party validates and expresses empathy.

Mirroring is the first phase in deliberate discourse, and it entails repeating your partner’s (the Sender’s) words until both parties hear and grasp the Sender’s expressions.

During the validation phase, the listening partner (the Receiver) summarizes and expresses knowledge of the points expressed by the Sender. Importantly, the Receiver must explain why the Sender’s experience makes sense, even if the Receiver disagrees with it.

Empathy is the final step in the communication process, and it encourages each person to try to appreciate the event in question from the perspective of his or her partner.

Lowering one’s emotional defenses can lead to repeated suffering in other circumstances. However, it can also lead to the creation of very personal connections in a therapeutic situation. The Imago dialogue encourages and teaches couples how to engage in deep communication until it becomes routine and feels natural.

Read Also: How to Fix a Relationship: Simple effective steps to follow

Imago Relationship Therapy Criticisms

Because Imago Therapy focuses on re-establishing loving relationships and developing personal connections, it may not be appropriate for couples dealing with domestic violence, gambling problems, substance abuse, or other health and relationship issues. Imago Relationship Therapy may be successful only after such immediate dangers to the relationship have been addressed. When designing a treatment plan, therapists will consider the specific causes, including any mental health disorders.

Exercises for Couples Imago Therapy Sessions

The following Imago relationship therapy exercises expand on the empathy and emotions of safety stated in the preceding techniques

#1. The position of holding

Imago therapy exercise considers a pair to be surrogate parents at times. It means that everyone can receive what they were denied as youngsters.

Holding each other physically can be a significant exercise in developing empathy and trust.

One person sits at the end of a sofa, with their head on their lap, holding the partner. The person being cradled is then asked to describe their childhood experiences.

As the holder feels a sense of care for the companion held, the activity creates an ever-increasing attachment.

#2. Little surprises

The tiny things we do for each other are extremely precious, yet they rapidly become regular. The morning cup of tea becomes less of a treat and more of a necessity.

Instead, a list of firsts can help a relationship. An unexpected dinner, a note left on the fridge door, or reacting to something expressed earlier in the week demonstrate that you are listening to your partner’s needs and keeping them on the verge of happiness.

#3. Exercising belly laughs

Having fun may enhance all relationships, but it is easy to overlook.

Luquet (2015) suggests the following amusing activities induce “sustained belly laughter” and the release of feel-good endorphins:

#4. The butterfly kiss

The couple moves their faces close together so that their eyelashes tickle each other as they blink.

The couple is facing each other. One partner does a movement and says, “I can do this, can you do this?” The other acts again and adds a fresh one.

The game continues until both players are unable to add to the pattern, which frequently results in laughs.

In the end, the game is unimportant. What is important is that everyone laughs, has fun, and learns to have fun together.

How Do I Locate an Imago Therapist?

Many therapists who work with couples have undoubtedly received some training in Imago Relationship Therapy and have a basic grasp of it. Sites like Imago Relationships International can help you identify services in your region, such as qualified and even fully certified Imago relationship therapists.

There, you can search a database of trained Imago therapists from all over the world by area and relationship need. You can also find places for a range of workshops based on the ideas of Imago Relationship Therapy.

The Advantages of Imago Therapy

Imago Relationship Therapy has a number of major advantages that may make it a smart choice for troubled couples.

#1. Recognizing Early Attachments

Although these concepts are used in various types of dynamic psychotherapy, Imago therapy stresses that your early attachment experiences with caregivers may have a direct influence on your adult relationship choice. You may meet someone who feels all too familiar and easy to connect with while you date, almost as if you have known them previously or for a long time.

According to Imago therapy, these people feel familiar because they mirror the relationship dynamics you have had with caretakers in your early childhood experiences. When you feel at ease and familiar with someone, you begin to relax your guard and become closer, making it simpler to develop a love relationship.

As you grow closer to a love partner, you may notice past emotional wounds resurfacing in your relationship and wonder what is going on.

#2. Conflict as a Growth Opportunity

Another feature that distinguishes Imago therapy from other types of therapy is its emphasis on using conflict and suffering as chances for healing and progress. Rather than just teaching people how to “fight better” or avoid conflict in their relationships, Imago therapy encourages couples to lean into those times of discomfort and utilize them for inquiry, curiosity, and learning.

#3. Treatment Methodology Based on Collaboration

Imago therapy is collaborative, which means there is no defined position of a therapist as an advice-giving authority; rather, the therapist collaborates with the couple to examine what is going on for them and heal the relationship as a whole. The therapist lets the couple be the experts on their relationship. Thus, they foster the discourse in such a way that partners can learn from each other.

Imago Relationship Therapy Limitations

Because Imago Therapy focuses on re-establishing loving relationships and developing personal connections, it may not be appropriate for couples dealing with domestic violence, gambling problems, substance abuse, or other health and relationship issues. IRT may be successful only after such immediate dangers to the relationship have been addressed. When designing a treatment plan, therapists will consider the specific causes, including any mental health disorders.

Who Created the Imago Dialogue?

The Imago Dialogue is a one-of-a-kind and powerful communication tool developed by Dr Harville Hendrix and his wife, Dr Helen Hunt that has been used by thousands of couples for over 25 years.

What Is an Imago Match?

We hunt for someone who is an “Imago match,” or someone who resembles our primary caregivers’ composite image. This is significant because we marry or commit in order to heal and complete the unfinished business of childhood.

What Is the Imago Theory?

The Latin word for “image” is imago. Imago is a term used in Imago Relationship Therapy to describe an individual’s unconscious, idealized sense of familiar love that emerges during childhood and remains unchanged in adulthood.

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