- Imago Therapy was developed to help couples heal and grow together.
- Couples can use dialogue to restore and repair the sense of emotional safety.
- This therapy is not only useful for couples experiencing conflict but to new couples who want to build a safe and loving foundation as well.
Many people are familiar with the process of psychotherapy, but very few know about a very powerful type of relationship therapy that was developed for couples struggling to resolve conflict.
Imago Therapy was developed by Dr Harville Hendrix and Dr Helen LaKelly Hunt to help couples heal and grow together, moving from a place of conflict and despair to a place of compassion and hope. Hendrix’s bestselling book, Getting The Love You Want has become the foundation of Imago therapy.
The book explores the idea that couples can use the wounds of the past to understand the present and to find a more compassionate way of dealing with conflict.
The experiences we have during childhood and in our formative years stay with us and often become wounds and patterns that are triggered by our romantic relationships.
Helen Anderson, a Durban-based psychologist and certified Imago therapist explains that, "Our unmet needs from the past (primarily our formative childhood years) still need to be healed when we find a romantic partner. When our partner fails to meet these needs (i.e. repeats the wounding of the past) we become reactive and conflict occurs".
She further explains that this leads to us seeing our partner as 'the enemy', rather than understanding that we are two wounded people, merely trying to get our needs met. This understanding can lead to a greater level of empathy and compassion in the relationship.
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Through the process of Imago therapy, we can consciously choose to meet our partner's needs. The word 'conscious' is often used to describe Imago therapy and the ideal that couples work toward when signing up for the therapy.
Helen Anderson says: "A conscious partnership involves an awareness of the wounds of self and other. In addition, very importantly, it involves a definite decision, based on this awareness, to behave in ways that will heal each other. And as we choose to behave differently, we move away from our old ways of being and experience growth, connectedness and a wonderful sense of being joyfully alive in the relationship (just like it was in the early days of romantic love)."
Unlike traditional therapy, Imago therapy shows the couple how to create a dialogue with each other rather than talking about their surface frustrations to the therapist. Dialogue creates a sense of safety, equality and connection. It enables couples to find a new way to communicate with each other.
They learn to become more curious about each other's internal worlds, understanding each other in ways that they didn't before. According to Helen Anderson, couples can use this dialogue "to restore and repair the sense of emotional safety - something that has been broken in the conflict".
The benefits of Imago therapy are numerous. A recent clinical trial has shown that there is far greater satisfaction in the relationship when couples engage in this type of therapy. Anecdotal evidence also supports this.
This therapy is not only useful for couples experiencing conflict. It is also beneficial to new couples who want to build a safe and loving foundation in the early phases of their relationship.
Imago therapy is less about fixing problems but more about creating a beautiful space within the relationship.
Conflict in a relationship is inevitable and Imago therapy equips couples with the tools to deal with anything that life throws at them. It helps couples to use conflict to deepen their relationship and to grow as individuals and as a partnership.
As Dr Hendrix states in 'Getting The Love You Want', "We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we can be healed in relationship".
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