Overview, advantages, types and more
Imago Therapy, also known as Image Relationship Therapy (IRT), is a form of relationship therapy. It aims to help partners listen carefully to each other’s concerns and needs, develop empathy and understanding, and heal together from past experiences.
Based on the premise that people reflect childhood experiences of love in their adult relationships, the idea is that imago therapy can aid in communication, increase positive feelings between partners, and enhance intimacy.
Although couples experiencing conflict were the motivation for developing Imago Therapy, people who are not in a relationship can also benefit from trying this therapy.
This article explains what Imago Therapy is and how it can help people. It looks at the types, techniques, benefits, and limitations of therapy.
1980dr Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt developed Imago Therapy after her own experience of divorce. imago is Latin for image, and imago therapy is rooted in the idea that the images people develop in early childhood play a significant role in their choice of mates and the relationships they form with them.
The theory suggests that conflicts between partners can sometimes be at the root of early childhood experiences.
For example, a person may feel that their parents or caregivers did not listen to their feelings or problems in early childhood. When their partner behaves in a way that they perceive as distant or indifferent, it can provoke a strong emotional response.
In some cases, a person may not even be aware that these experiences are still affecting them. Imago therapy aims to make both parties aware of their early childhood experiences and each other’s and how to deal with conflicts they experience in their adult lives.
If neither person is aware of the cause or motivation behind the actions of the other, the conflict can repeat itself. Imago Therapy aims to help people overcome these issues by addressing childhood issues and promoting healing and growth within the relationship.
Imago Therapy aims to promote understanding and healing in relationships, and it can help couples in a number of ways.
A Study 2021 found that Imago Therapy helped couples improve the quality of their relationship in the following areas:
- relationship satisfaction
- repeated conflict
- physical and emotional intimacy
- relationship burnout
Learn more about what makes a relationship healthy.
Imago therapy is primarily intended for couples who are experiencing conflict and want to resolve problems in their relationship.
However, it can also be beneficial for other couples as it can help them understand how their childhood relationships may have affected their current relationship.
Individuals who are single or in the early stages of dating can also benefit from Imago Therapy, which can provide them with tools to form healthy connections with potential partners.
Learn more about how relationships can affect a person’s mental health.
In imago therapy sessions, a therapist guides couples through a structured conversation to help them gain understanding and empathy and minimize hurtful comments and judgments.
The couple alternately acts as “sender” and “receiver” and works through three steps:
- Reflection: The first step in the conversation is mirroring. The sender expresses a feeling or concern, and the recipient echoes the concern in the same tone, without judgment.
- Validation: The next step is validation, where the recipient puts themselves in their partner’s shoes and explains why their feelings make sense, even if the recipient doesn’t necessarily agree.
- Empathetic: After mirroring and validating their partner’s concerns, the receiver empathizes and tells the sender how they envision what they must be feeling. For example, a recipient might say, “If I don’t text you when I get home late, I hear that you feel like I don’t care how you feel. I can imagine this must make you feel very worried and alone.”
This technique, known as couple dialogue, is intended to create a feeling of security even in conflict situations.
Other imago therapy techniques contain:
- Parent-child dialogue: This involves the sender telling the receiver about their early childhood and identifying their feelings towards their caregiver. This allows the recipient to better understand what needs were unmet in the sender’s childhood and how this may affect their current relationship.
- Behavior change request: The sender expresses a frustration they have in the relationship and explains how it relates to their previously unmet needs. The sender then suggests three small changes, and the receiver chooses one to try. This promotes conflict resolution with an atmosphere of empathy and goal-oriented problem solving.
- The imago processing: This reappraisal involves each partner identifying positive and negative characteristics that their partner has shared with a caregiver since childhood. This educational exercise can help uncover potential sources of friction in the relationship.
Imago Therapy aims to use conflict as an opportunity for a person to learn more about their partner and gain an understanding of their feelings and life experiences. It can help couples grow together.
Imago therapy involves a therapist, but their role is not to offer advice or control the conversation. Instead, they aim to structure the conversation and create a collaborative environment where all members of the session work together. This can make couples feel like their conversations are more authentic to their own dynamic, making them feel more in control.
A Study 2022 found that imago therapy was more effective than cognitive behavioral therapy in increasing fault tolerance and positive feelings between partners and reducing marital boredom.
research also shows that imago therapy is effective in improving a person’s attitude towards love, for example by helping them to address and manage expectations created by past experiences.
A Study 2017 found that after eight sessions of imago therapy, couples reported an improvement in their intimacy and a lower level of intimacy
A Study 2018 found that Imago Therapy helped improve couples’ mental health by giving them the tools to meet their emotional, physical, and intellectual needs together.
Further research shows that imago therapy can help with communication patterns between couples.
While research shows that imago therapy can help couples in a number of ways, it may not be right for everyone.
Imago therapy follows a very structured conversation and may not be the best therapy for someone who desires a more fluent conversational style.
In some situations, e.g. For example, in the case of substance abuse or severe mental health problems, individual therapy may be more appropriate than relationship therapy.
Couples therapy can be useful for abusive relationships inappropriate. If a person knows or suspects they are in an abusive relationship, the National Domestic Violence Hotline offers anonymous help to people in the United States via phone, text message or online chat.
Learn how to find other types of relationship therapy online.
Imago Therapy aims to explore the roots of conflict within a relationship and create a dialogue that can help partners heal together from early childhood experiences.
There is evidence that imago therapy techniques can help improve many aspects of a relationship and lead to greater levels of empathy.
Although imago therapy has great potential for improving relationships, some situations may call for individual therapy or other forms of support instead.