What is the Imago therapy technique for couples, and how could it help you and your partner?

Advice Centre  >  Family Therapy  >  Couples Counselling  >  Types of therapy techniques  >  What is the Imago therapy technique for couples

What is the Imago therapy technique for couples, and how could it help you and your partner?

Imago relationship therapy is a type of couples therapy that aims to develop the tools required to relate to each other in healthier ways. It involves uncovering the emotional pathway from childhood that has led to the current situation.

Conflict between partners in a couple is viewed as the outcome of a set of circumstances rather than the cause of disharmony. By examining that conflict, the couple can heal and grow together. Many couples are uncertain of what Imago therapy is and what’s involved, so we have compiled this guide to help you feel more prepared.

What is Imago couples therapy, and what does it consist of?

‘Imago’ means ‘image’ in Latin, and imago relationship therapy is all about people’s unconscious and idealised idea of familiar love. This idea is developed in childhood and often goes unchallenged in adulthood and often involves early interactions with parents and other significant adults in early life.

No parent can meet a child’s every need and expectation. This means every individual’s ‘Imago’ includes both positive and negative behaviours associated with the ideal partner. The Imago theory is that, in adulthood, we unconsciously seek out a partner that allows us to develop those qualities we felt were inhibited in childhood.

This Imago Dialogue involves the following three steps:

  • Mirroring: repeating your partner’s words until both partners hear and comprehend the other’s expressions.
  • Validation: the listening partner expresses their understanding of the things the other partner said.
  • Empathy: each partner must try to appreciate the experience in question from the other’s perspective.

What are the aims of Imago couples therapy?

The key aims of Imago couples therapy are to help both partners unveil their relationship images and to comprehend how these unconscious expectations are impacting the dynamic of their current relationship. In doing this, each partner will gain a better understanding of the other’s history and perspective.

Conflict often manifests as a consequence of an underlying emotional discontent in the context of the relationship. On the outside, this comes across as criticism, dissatisfaction and anger. Through Imago relationship therapy, we can explore the roots of this emotional pain and determine what causes it to bring up negative feelings, comments and behaviours.

What issues and aspects of a relationship can be improved by Imago couples therapy?

Every couple’s situation is different, so it is the job of the therapist to determine the most appropriate method of treatment. Imago will only be recommended if the trained therapist believes this is the best method for you. Imago couples therapy can help with a wide range of relationship issues, but it generally most effective for:

  • Improving communication skills: this can help partners express what they are thinking/feeling in a healthy, constructive way. Find out more about how couples therapy can improve communication here.
  • Developing closeness and intimacy between partners: if barriers to this closeness have arisen due to each partner’s Imago, therapy can help bridge gaps to grow closer together.
  • Helping partners to understand each other’s perspective: one of the core causes of conflict is lack of empathy and understanding, and Imago therapy can help with this.
  • Encouraging openness and honesty: hiding or repressing feelings can lead to resentment and create distance in a relationship. Imago can help empower both partners to feel able to be honest with each other.

Find out how British CBT & Counselling may be able to help you overcome relationship issues here.

What tasks might be recommended to you by your therapist?

Any therapy requires work, and Imago relationship therapy is no different. Therapists will often set tasks to be attempted between sessions, giving couples something to work on together.

“Homework” tasks might include:

  • Talking about experiences in childhood.
  • Reflect on interpersonal issues that existed in the family household.
  • Talk about traumatic events. This can include things like domestic violence or even moments like getting lost/separated from your parents on a day out.
  • Practice empathy with your partner, trying to understand their experiences in the context of the childhood issues unveiled in therapy.

How effective is Imago couples therapy?

Some studies have explored how effective Imago therapy is. A small study in 2011 indicated couples saw improved self-awareness and understanding of their partner’s childhood experiences. Another study from 2017 suggested that Imago therapy helped improve empathy levels in relationships.

How do you prepare for your first therapy session?

Before starting couples therapy, it is important to consider your goals and gain an understanding of what to expect when therapy starts.

As previously stated, Imago therapy is likely to involve one or two joint sessions followed by a couple of individual sessions before returning to joint ones. In the early stages, the Imago relationship therapist will touch on the following questions:

  • What are the relationship problems that led to you seeking therapy?
  • What goals do you have for counselling?
  • What obstacles can you see to these goals?

Find out more about what to expect from your first therapy session here.

Do you have any worries with regards to couples counselling?

The individual sessions are all about letting the trained Imago therapist gain a stronger understanding of what each partner contributes to the relationship and what the individual concerns are. You may be asked to answer questions about your key problems in the relationship.

How British CBT and counselling can help

We specialise in a range of couples therapy techniques – one of which is Imago relationship therapy. Our therapists will assess what therapy technique is the best option for you depending on your problems and circumstances. To find out more about how we can help, please get in touch or read more about our couples counselling services here. We understand that this can be a difficult time for you, so we will show care and compassion throughout any communication with you.

Related content

What is emotionally-focused couples therapy?