What Is Imago Relationship Therapy?

Relationships are challenging. However, the right counseling helps to gain the tools needed to reduce conflicts. Additionally, it helps to solve misunderstandings and create a stronger bond with a partner. That is where Imago Relationship Therapy comes in.

Harville Hendrix Ph.D. and Helen LaKelly Hunt PhD. created Imago Therapy in 1980. It was inspired by their own relationship history. The primary premise of Imago Therapy, often called Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT) or Imago Couples Therapy, is to transform conflict into an opportunity for relationship connection, growth, and healing.

The term Imago is the Latin word for image. So in Imago Therapy, Dr. Hendrix uses it to reference the unconscious image of familiar love developed in early childhood experiences and, therefore, present in adult relationships. For example, if you have experienced abandonment, suppressed emotions, insecure attachment, low self-esteem, or self-worth, they can show up in committed relationships in adulthood.

If you have not heard of this therapy for relationships and you desire to build strong relationships in your life, you’ll want to stay with us till the end to learn more about it.

What is Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT)? 

Imago Relationship Therapy is primarily used with couples. However, it is also leveraged in individual therapy for those who want to improve communication and develop a deeper connection with relationships in their life.

Imago Relationship Therapy (aso known as Imago Couples Therapy) is an opportunity where couples relate to each other more healthily and effectively. As a result, Imago Therapy turns misunderstandings into opportunities to know each other in a better way and strengthen the relationship.

One of the premises of Imago Relationship Therapy is that your early childhood experiences impact your adult relationships and teach you things about yourself. Therefore, those early experiences mold your sense of identity and self-worth when it comes to love and being loved. For example, have you ever noticed that when you experience conflict in a relationship that it brings up some familiar emotional wounds? That is because Imago suggests that you choose partners who feel familiar to you. However, by learning the techniques of Imago Relationship Therapy, you have the opportunity to heal and grow together.


What are some ways that Imago Relationship Therapy can help? 

It is important to say that your relationship or life doesn’t have to conflict in order to receive Imago Relationship Therapy. That is to say, it has the power to increase self-awareness, strengthen relationships, and develop skills that will help deal with conflict in a healthy way. Some of the ways that Imago Therapy can help with include:

  • Develop effective communication grounded in connection
  • Learn how to be more empathetic
  • Gain skills on how to deal with conflict in a way that promotes healing and growth
  • Increase self-awareness about behavior patterns
  • Build trust and safety in relationships
  • Develop relationship satisfaction
  • Improve your interpersonal skills
  • Develop conscious and authentic relationships
  • Change behavior that does not serve you
  • Understand early attachments and how they impact your adult relationships

What are the techniques of Imago Therapy or Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT)?

The primary technique used in Imago Therapy is the Imago Dialogue. To learn this technique effectively to then use it in relationships, a trained Imago therapist best facilitates it. The imago dialogue is a three-part conversation process about safety and connection. As a result, the main rule is that during Imago Dialogue, one person speaks (sends) while the other person listens (receives).

A suggestion that Dr. Hendrix gives is to start by asking for the time to talk. This helps lower any defenses. Example: “Is now a good time to talk about _____?” If the other party says that it is not a good time, it is important to receive feedback on when a good time will be rather than leaving you hanging.

The dialogue goes through the following steps:


This step aims to listen to understand through the process of repeating back what you heard for clarification and understanding. For example, if the listener adds in, “Is there more about that? (said with interest),” it tells your loved one that you’re interested in what they are sharing.


This step is crucial to know that just because you validate does not mean that you agree. In other words, each individual possesses their own inner logic. However, the wonderful thing about validation is that it allows the relationship to become a safe space for problem-solving. Therefore, being present with your loved one with safety and no judgment creates a sense of trust and understanding.


This is the part of the dialogue where there is an opportunity for deeper connection through empathizing with your loved one. The receiver shares what they think their loved one may be feeling from an emotional standpoint. By doing this, they are letting their loved ones feel heard. Additionally, at the end of the dialogue, the sender (person talking) could increase the connection even further by asking for one small positive request. An example that Dr. Hendrix provides is “It could be something as simple as ‘could you give me a hug’ or ‘could you say something that you love about me’”

How Imago Relationship Therapy is used in Individual Therapy.

For individuals, Imago Relationship Therapy can help in many ways, and here are a few:

Understand Relationship Patterns Better

It can allow you better to understand your childhood relationships on a deeper level. By doing this, you will be able to learn skills that result in healthier relationships.

Entering The Dating Scene

It helps if you consider to enter the dating scene and don’t want to repeat old patterns of attracting partners who are more familiar with your childhood wounds. It allows you to have a greater sense of awareness of your dating patterns and choices in relationships. As a result, you will have greater success in establishing a healthier relationship and having greater compassion for your partner.

If You Have ADHD

This therapy is beneficial for clients who are suffering from ADHD. Adults with ADHD experience relationship challenges, especially with communication. For example, impulsivity often leads to interruptions, and the difficulty in focusing can cause their mind to wander during important conversations. Additionally, adults with ADHD are often hyper-sensitive to negative comments and have difficulty self-regulating their emotions which results in relationship conflicts.

Are you in Illinois and looking for Imago Therapy Near Me?

You don’t have to deal with relationship challenges alone. We are here to help. If you’re in Illinois and looking to explore imago relationship therapy, we have over 30 therapists in Champaign, IL, and Urbana, Mattoon, and we offer Teletherapy in Illinois. In learning the process and seeing results, there has been great success with doing approximately 12 sessions of Imago Relationship Therapy.

It is important to say that Imago Therapy will not be effective if you are in a relationship where domestic violence, substance abuse, or addiction are present. However, we have therapists skilled in those areas that will be happy to help work through those issues.

“We are born in relationships, we are wounded in relationships, and we can be healed in relationships.” Dr. Hendrix

Contact us to set up your appointment.


About the Contributor

Mandy Paysse

Proofed and Verified by: Erica Aina, LCSW

Erica is the Clinical Supervisor and one of many therapists at Elliott Counseling Group. As the Clinical Supervisor she supports clinical growth, oversees protocols, and provides mentorship, monitoring, support, and supervision to therapists. As a therapist, she specializes in trauma work, depression, children/teen issues, and crisis management.


We offer medication management, therapy, and counseling services in Champaign, Urbana, and Mattoon. There are no long wait lists and we are accepting new clients. We would love to see if we fit your needs well. Contact our client care team to get started.