Imago Relationship Therapy is a form of marriage relationship therapy synthesized and created by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., who co-authored with his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D., the NY Times best sellers:
Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples. Keeping the Love You Find: A Personal Guide. Giving the Love that Heals: A Guide for Parents
Imago therapy integrates and synthesizes the insights of the major western psychological systems, behavioral science and spiritual disciplines into a uniquely comprehensive and systematic theory of primary love relationships.
The “Imago” is a composite image in the unconscious of the significant character traits and behaviors of childhood primary caretakers. By pairing us with an “Imago match” — an individual who is like our caretakers in emotionally significant ways — our unconscious drives us to re-create our childhood psychological dynamics in an attempt to heal the central wounds we carry. The process of Imago Relationship Therapy is aimed at using this context to transform relationships into a therapeutic encounter and fuel for each partner’s psychological and spiritual self-completion.
Imago Relationship Therapy utilizes a variety of clinical processes to teach couples, and singles desiring an intimate union, to identify their defenses against intimacy and to understand the unconscious forces that influence partner selection and contribute to difficulty in relationships. Goals of the therapy include: identifying the frustrations rooted in primitive and illusory ideation of one’s love partner; recognizing the failure of archaic behavior to gratify needs and achieve self-completion; and perceiving one’s partner realistically without the encumbrance of one’s own unconscious projections. Other aspects of the Imago process involve learning new skills and changing hurtful behavior, in the course of which partners consciously aim to meet one another’s needs and thereby restore the lost and denied parts of themselves. A core skill set is a three-part dialogue that breaks couples out of defensive and symbiotic relating and promotes differentiation and compassion for the other. Therapy is ultimately made obsolete as each partner becomes a skilled advocate and “container” for the other’s growth process. The Imago process, when consistently applied in any relationship, has the potential to be a transformative journey toward mutual healing and maturation.
The basic premises are as follows:
- We were born whole and complete individuals. We became wounded in relationships during the early nurturing and socialization stages of development by our primary caretakers (usually inadvertently, in relationships with parents who were doing their best).
- We developed a composite image of all the positive and negative traits of our primary caretakers deep in our unconscious mind. This we call our “Imago.” It is like a blueprint of the one we need to marry someday.
- We marry someone who is an Imago Match; that is, someone who matches this blueprint of the composite image of our primary caretakers. This is important because we marry for the purpose of healing and repairing the unfinished business of childhood. Since we were wounded in relationship we need to repair in a relationship.
- Romantic love makes the selection and is nature’s way of connecting us with the perfect partner for our eventual healing.
- We move into a power struggle as soon as we move into a committed relationship. The Power Struggle is necessary, for imbedded in a couple’s frustrations lie the information for healing and growth. The struggle, however, is supposed to end.
- The first two stages of marriage, “Romantic Love” and the “Power Struggle,” function at an unconscious level. For growth and change to take place, a couple needs to move into a conscious level of functioning.
- Inevitably our love partner is incompatible with us and least able to meet our deepest needs which results in re-wounding us again and again.
- The goal of Imago Relationship Therapy is to align our conscious mind (which usually wants happiness and good feelings) with the agenda of the unconscious mind (which wants healing and growth). Thus the goal of therapy is to assist clients develop conscious, intimate, committed relationships.
- The transition to conscious behaviors requires both psycho-education and the establishment of specific skills that honors the connection.
The aim of Imago work is:
- To help couples create conscious relationships
- To help couples identity their unconscious emotional injuries that impact relationships negatively
- To help couples become aware of underlying needs that are needing attention
- To help couples exchange desired behaviors that will meet these needs.
Imago Relationships International
The Institute for Imago Relationship Therapy was founded in 1984 by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. In 2002, the Institute evolved into Imago Relationships International, a non-profit organization with the following mission statement:
Committed love relationships are the most powerful and prized of all human experiences and have the potential for the deepest personal and social healing. The mission of Imago is to create a new way to love and to transform the world one relationship at a time. To this end, Imago Relationships International develops and supports a global network of professionals and volunteers who are committed to using Imago theory and practices to help all interested persons create and sustain mutually fulfilling, healing, and egalitarian love relationships and to help parents rear whole and loving children in the service of improving the quality of society.