The Center for Growth provides Imago Therapy in Philadelphia
Imago Counseling is a style of couples counseling therapy that was founded by Harville Hendrix. The book, Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples (1988) popularized this theory.
The guiding principles of Imago Therapy are:
- Imago therapists believe people are born whole and complete.
- During childhood, everyone becomes ‘wounded’ by our primary caregivers. The wounds that children experience are typically unintentional. Imagine an infant crying because they are hungry, cold, or tired. The way in which a parent responds (or doesn’t respond) contributes to the ‘wounding’ process. Now imagine, as the child becomes a toddler how the parent responds to the child’s temper tantrums could also contribute to the person’s development. And in the older years, what were the needs of the child versus the needs and expectations of the parents. How were conflicts handled? How were rules created and / or negotiated? What were safe topics to discuss, what was taboo? In other words at every stage of life parent’s influence their child’s development. This does not make the parent good or bad rather it makes the parent human. Children and primary caretakers are intimately linked and no one individual can meet all of the needs of a child one hundred percent of the time.
- Our parents / primary caregiver’s positive and negative qualities help to shape our basic love map, or an Imago Match. In other words we are attracted to people who are like our parents because they feel familiar. Sometimes the attraction stems from positive traits such as loving, caring, safe, nurturing, comfortable, and funny and other times the unconscious attraction stems from negative traits such as absent, cruel, invasive, neglected, mean, disrespectful, narcissistic and compulsive because the person is used to being treated this way and on some levels knows how to cope with the experience. This attraction is not literal. Rather, imagine a composite match, meaning the person you are attracted to have a combination of the traits that your parents / primary caregivers had.
- We are attracted to our Imago Match. The reason we are attracted to people like our parents and / or primary caregivers is an unconscious desire to heal our childhood wounds by getting the love you want that your parents were unable to give. No one wants to repeat the negative experiences of childhood. The attraction happens at an unconscious level. Often an individual will report feeling “a zing” or “an attraction” with someone without knowing any details about the person’s life. Typically only the positive characteristics are apparent. Only with time, do the negative interactional styles familiar from childhood become evident.
- Marriages are built on romantic love. Only through the right partner are we able to access the romantic love and eventually experience healing growth from our childhood wounds.
- Ironically, as soon as we find our Imago match and make the emotional commitment to this person, we enter into what is called the “Power Struggle.” Another way of imagining this power struggle is that at the point one is actually in love, or are at least committed to the relationship, then the issues that are present in all relationships matter and one begins to try to “fix” the situation. The key to emotional growth lies in the couple’s frustrations that they have with each other. How each person is able to overcome their differences is the key to each of their own personal emotional growth and healing from ones childhood wounds.
- Through the use of the Imago Dialogue couples begin to make their unconscious choices conscious choices and learn to resolve the issues of self-wholeness. Also known as re-connecting with ones partner and making the necessary changes to enable each person to grow from the experience.
- The Imago Dialogue is tightly structured and consists of mirroring, empathizing and validating each person’s perspective. The goal is to help each person see the world from the other person’s perspective. This process is harder than what it sounds like because it essentially means that you have to step outside of your world and your perspective to hear what your partner is saying. Doing so requires you to quiet your inner voices long enough to be fully present for your partner.
- Lastly, helping your partner to heal his or her childhood wounds, almost by default requires you to experience personal growth. This part of you that has experienced growth is often connected to the part of you that needs the most emotional development. Thus, almost by default both individuals in the couple are moved closer to becoming whole and complete again.
Explorations of relationship dynamics and childhood issues, while important, are not always helpful to fixing sexual problems. Talking about your feelings, while useful isn’t going to teach you how to last longer in bed, or become orgasmic. Sometimes a more direct behavioral approach is needed. Frequently, sexual issues are best resolved by teaching sexual communication skills (imagine learning how to read your partner’s body without words) and actual sexual techniques. Sometimes the sexual problems are more a reflection of the couples dynamics in which case, this approach can be very useful!
The founder of the organization, Alex Caroline Robboy, CAS, MSW, LCSW is a certified Imago Therapist and ABS and AASECT certified Sex Therapist. As a result all of the other staff at the organization have been deeply influenced by an Imago approach to relationship issues. With that being said, there are many approaches to effective couple’s therapy. Not all couples benefit from this style of couples counseling and thus there are times that a different approach will be used. A skilled therapist is often schooled in several competing styles of therapy so that when they are with an actual client they can adapt their style to better fit the individual needs of the client.