Devised by the husband-and-wife team of Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt, the Imago technique is distinguished from other models of therapy by the Imago concept. Hendrix maintains that people develop an unconscious image of who they want as romantic partners. This Imago, or image, is influenced by your childhood caretakers and embodies both their good and bad traits. You seek out partners—Imago matches—who replicate this image, which can lead to relationship problems down the road as old childhood issues resurface. The Imago model assumes you’re most likely to be attracted to someone who models the unfavorable qualities of your early caretakers. This predilection reflects your desire to be healed, become whole, and reach maturity. Imago therapy lets you and your partner achieve these goals together.
Imago Relationship Therapy Techniques
The Imago concept serves as the basic principle behind the Imago model, while the driving force of therapy is the Imago dialogue, and this technique will guide your sessions. It aims to:
- Remove negative, hurtful language
- Create a safe environment for mutual communication
- Eliminate power differentials that give precedence to one person’s feelings
Your therapist may also employ the behavior change request dialogue in an attempt to produce concrete behavioral changes. You’ll be asked to channel the negative emotions attached to your childhood experiences and communicate them to your partner. Your counselor will help you frame your general needs as small requests that your partner can easily fulfill. Your partner will be guided to see these requests as gifts. Imago emphasizes the importance of positive, loving, and mutually respectful dialogue at all times.
Imago Relationship Therapy Exercises
Harville describes the Imago dialogue as a three-step process that involves:
In the first exercise, you repeat back what you hear from your partner, unclouded by judgment or personal interpretations. Then, when everyone’s comments have been received and acknowledged, validation is given, even if you disagree with your partner. When everyone feels validated, it’s time to empathize by sharing in your partner’s emotions. Clear phrasing is key to getting your message across in each step, and misunderstandings and miscommunications need to be clarified before progressing.
These therapy exercises lend themselves to use outside of the office, and you’ll most likely be encouraged to practice them at home. The behavior change request dialogue can also be performed abroad. Instead of succumbing to frustration, this dialogue advises you to turn your negative emotions into a simple request, such as asking for a hug or kiss.
Benefits of Imago Couple’s Therapy
The benefits of Imago marriage counseling are manifold, ranging from improved communication to a feeling of fulfillment. For most couples, creating a sustainable, mutually loving relationship represents the ultimate benefit. You’ll learn to put to rest childhood grievances and feelings of self-hatred stemming from childhood experiences. Imago lets you embark on the healing process as a group unit, thereby strengthening your relationship. Hendrix believes one of the primary goals of Imago is unconditional love, both for yourself and those around you. This model of therapy also equips you and your partner with a dialogical technique for airing and resolving grievances without antagonism or judgment.
Imago for Individuals
You don’t need to be in a relationship to pursue Imago. Many therapists are open to seeing single people, and the goal of therapy remains more or less the same—to work toward a loving, respectful, and committed marriage or partnership. For single people, self-examination during therapy helps them realize the benefits of Imago in future relationships. The basic principles of Imago still applies:
- Therapy may revolve around revisiting your childhood experiences and how they determined your growth.
- It may also focus on your history of romantic partners, why you gravitated toward them, and how your unconscious image influenced these relationships.
- Therapy may also enlighten you to behavioral habits that impede a healthy relationship.
What to Expect at Therapy
Imago is available all around the world, through group workshops and individual counselors certified by the Imago International Institute. During sessions, you’ll face your partner, not the counselor. This aids in communication, the bulk of which will take place between you and your partner. Imago diminishes the role of traditional counseling somewhat. Instead, your counselor acts as a coach or guide who helps you learn the ins and outs of the Imago dialogue, while the healing power is vested in your partner. At ninety to 120 minutes, sessions last longer than typical counselling sessions. The first visit is an opportunity for your counselor to learn about you and your partner and to teach the basics of the Imago dialogue. You’ll most likely have a chance to engage in the dialogue and see if it’s a good fit. Most importantly, the Imago dialogue will feature prominently in each session.