Imago Relationship Therapy

Conflict is an invitation to grow.

Elaine Horigian, MA, LPC, LLP, certfied Imago Relationship Therapist Home

Based on research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and human relationships, human beings, by nature, have a need for emotional contact and responsiveness from significant others. This survival response starts in infancy, and continues throughout life. Being connected, or attached, to another human being provides a sense of safety and security (and in our early years, actually helps the brain to develop). Imago theory believes that the unmet needs and conflicts (disconnection) of childhood, as well as a variety of positive experiences with our early caregivers, has direct impact on our selection of a committed partner in adulthood.

Harville Hendrix, PhD, and his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD, incorporated these ideas in Imago Relationship Therapy. The word imago is derived from Latin, and means "image." We form a composite of the positive and negative images of our early caretakers which we store in memory primarily in the "unconscious" part of our brain. As adults, this same part of our brain guides us to look for someone who is our "Imago match" for the purpose of healing and growing up. However, here is where things become (tr)icky and painful. Counterintuitively, a good Imago match means that we select, marry or become committed to a partner who has the same wounding (types of disconnection) and unmet needs. But our partners usually have very different styles of defending themselves. And these differences, on the surface, make our partners seem totally incompatible. For example, when there is an emotionally laden argument, one member of the couple may want to discuss it immediately and get it resolved, while the other member gets silent and withdraws in order to think.

In Imago Therapy, knowing the stages relationships go through is part of learning, as is knowing about how the mind and the brain are involved. In the early part of relationships, romantic love draws us together and is nature's way of connecting us with the "perfect partner" for our healing. This is called the "romantic phase." As we become closer and more committed, we move out of the romantic phase and into a phase of power struggles, which is a necessary phase. Embedded in a couple's frustration lies the information for healing and growth. Thus, Imago views conflict as growth trying to happen. The power struggle is inevitable. It is, however, a stage. It can start anywhere from two months to two years into the relationship. If left unattended, it can last for years. This is often a time of heated arguments, icy silences, a lot of discord, and it can really hurt. Couples feels very disconnected from each other, and are often very scared. It is here when many couples choose to end the relationship.

The goal of Imago Therapy is to restore and maintain conscious, committed connection. Imago Therapy emphasizes understanding our impact on the relationship; it encourages people not to shame or blame the other person. Through a process known as conscious dialogue, people can learn to restore connection. Conscious dialogue allows participants to truly hear, understand, and connect with each other. They learn to make unconscious patterns conscious, and therefore empower themselves with awareness necessary to make long-lasting, fulfilling relationships. Imago therapy is not just for couples; it also is applicable to individuals.

As an Imago Therapist, Elaine helps individuals, couples and family members to:
  • Understand how the mind and brain work in relationship
  • Develop communication skills that will impart safety, connection and well-being
  • Establish and/or strengthen trust
  • Add excitement and deepen true intimacy
  • Learn skills for maintaining relational and brain health.
Elaine has been a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist for more than a decade.

Elaine uses the Imago approach in many applications: in pre-marital counseling, couples' and individual counseling.

Reference Material

The definitive Imago reference text is "Getting the Love You Want", by Harville Hendrix.

Visit the international Imago Relationships Website for more information.

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