Skip to the main content.

4 min read

What is Imago Relationship Therapy?

Imago relationship therapy (IRT) is a lesser-known form of therapy that was developed in the 1980s by psychotherapist Harville Hendrix and his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt and made popular by the 1988 New York Times bestselling book "Getting the Love You Want."

While Imago therapy still needs more research and isn't as common as some other forms of therapy like the Gottman method, there is some evidence that can be beneficial.

Let's learn about this form of therapy and determine if it's right for you.

Imago therapy information on this page:

What is Imago Therapy?

Types of Imago Therapy

How Can Imago Relationship Therapy Help Couples?

What Techniques Are Involved in Imago Relationship Therapy?

How to Get Started With Imago Relationship Therapy

What is Imago Therapy?

Imago therapy is based on the idea that early childhood experiences with emotion can affect adult relationships. This therapy combines spiritual and behavioral practices with psychological methods to bring healing. The word imago is the Latin word for "image" and points toward the basis of the Imago theory, which is that childhood feelings of familiar love will remain with them into adulthood.

Because any parent will fail to meet every single expectation and need in childhood, a person's imago will take on both positive and negative traits learned from their experiences. Using early relationships with significant adults in their lives, an individual will develop what experts in the field call "survival patterns," a series of behaviors that allow them to stay safe and loved.

Types of Imago Therapy

Initially conceptualized as a form of therapy for couples, Imago principles can be applied one-on-one. Here is a breakdown of the benefits of both imago therapy for individuals and imago relationship therapy.

Imago Therapy for Individuals

While the imago concept was developed for use in couples therapy sessions, imago therapy can be beneficial in an individual therapy setting as well. Often, people who are interested in forming loving connections with others will use imago therapy as a way to better understand their own relationship history, choice of partners, and dating patterns.

Individual therapy sessions using Imago principles are essentially a more in-depth version of the old adage "work on yourself before you get involved with someone else." Using imago therapy techniques, a person may uncover emotional rough patches and heal themselves, making them better, more compassionate partners in their next relationship.

Imago Therapy for Relationships

One of the concepts of Imago relationship therapy is that your sense of self worth is based on your early childhood experiences with the important people in your life. Different events and childhood wounds can set the pattern for how you give and respond to love from a partner.

According to imago theory, we all tend to consciously seek intimate relationships with those who have a similar imago to ourselves. That is, we choose our adult relationships based on people that feel familiar to us--people who we interact with in ways that mirror our relationships from those in our early lives.

Imago relationship therapy is designed to identify old wounds and determine how they shape our thoughts and behaviors within a committed relationship.

How Can Imago Relationship Therapy Help Couples?

Imago relationship therapy, despite looking into the past to determine present behavior, is not about reliving and examining old trauma. Rather, the focus is on how early wounds shaped our present patterns and using imago techniques to work as a couple toward mutual healing.

While Imago therapy has not had a robust scientific research history, some initial peer reviewed studies show that it can be effective, at least in the short term. Imago therapy is not recommended for those who are experiencing domestic violence, abuse, or drug addiction. These issues should be resolved prior to beginning this type of therapy.

Different Types of Imago Relationship Therapy

Imago relationship therapy may be used in couples therapy led by an imago therapist, or it can be presented in a group therapy setting with other couples. Imago therapy techniques can be applied either way with success.

What Techniques Are Involved in Imago Relationship Therapy?

A trained imago therapist will work within the five basic tenets of Imago therapy. These include:

  • Re-imagining your partner as a wounded young person
  • Re-romanticizing your relationship through fun surprises such as giving gifts or displays of affection or appreciation
  • Restructuring disappointments by changing complaints into requests
  • Resolving feelings of anger
  • Re-visioning a relationship as a source of security, happiness, and satisfaction

To apply these concepts, Imago couples therapy uses a specific technique called imago dialogue. Imago dialogue uses mirroring, validation, and empathy to truly gain understanding of each partner's point of view.

Why does falling in love go wrong?

According to the principles of imago therapy, love goes wrong because we lack understanding of why we act in certain ways toward our partner. Through imago, we achieve deeper and more loving connections by understanding why we follow certain relationship patterns.

Benefits of Imago Therapy

Imago therapy can be helpful in understanding your current behavior based on the negative relationship experiences from your past. You can also learn how to better understand the behavior of your partner in a romantic relationship through their own unconscious image. Your therapist will help facilitate healing through this understanding, as well as educate you on more healthy communication patterns.

Understanding Early Attachments

According to Imago therapy, the marital relationship, as well as other intimate relationships, are built upon strong mutual understanding. For many, this can be difficult without first understanding how early attachments not only shaped their own adult life but that of their partner as well. Imago relationships are built on mutual understanding and strong communication patterns based on the imago dialogue concept. Without understanding our pasts, this type of communication can be difficult.

How to Get Started With Imago Relationship Therapy

Imago therapy can be a good way to strengthen committed relationships and increase marital satisfaction. To get started, look for a licensed and experienced couples therapist who has specialized training in imago therapy. Couples counseling may be done online, in-person, or in a group setting.

How Can I Find an Imago Therapist?

Imago therapy can be found almost anywhere, with thousands of therapists available globally. Simply search Imago relationships worldwide or Google "couples therapy in my area" to find a counselor near you.

Williamsburg Therapy Group offers doctoral-level evidence-based couples therapy to Austinites who need it. Give our patient coordinator a call to get matched with the right therapist for you and your partner.

Book a Therapy Session in Austin Today

 a gay man

Exposing Mental Health Disparities for LGBTQ: Understanding the Gaps and Seeking Solutions

Understanding LGBTQ Mental Health Challenges When it comes to mental health challenges, individuals that are a part of the LGBTQ+ community...

Read More
A man dealing with some emotions

What Is Emotional Rational Therapy: Understanding the Science Behind Emotional Balance

An Introduction to Emotive Rational Therapy Developed by psychologist Albert Ellis in the 1950s as an alternative to psychotherapy, rational emotive...

Read More

How to Tell If Therapy Is Working: The Ultimate Guide

When it comes to therapy, it can be difficult to know if you're making progress...especially if you're new to the process. Changes happen gradually,...

Read More