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  • jane@northside

Imago Relationship Therapy - a great model for couples therapy

Updated: Feb 27

Couple holding hands across a table

What is Imago Relationship Therapy?

Ian Tomlinson, our couples therapy specialist trainer, is passionate about the Imago Relationship Therapy. So passionate, he has trained as an Advanced Imago Relationship Therapist. Very much putting his money where his mouth is! But, what is Imago Relationship Therapy exactly?

Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT) is a model of couples work and relationships developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt in the 1980s. The imago therapy model focuses on transforming conflict into healing and growth through relational connection.

IRT is based on the theory that feelings you experienced in your childhood come up in your adult relationships. Common sense suggests that it could very well be the case. IRT works on the premise that understanding how negative experiences and feelings from childhood carry over into adult relationships, you can better understand your reactions to your partner. Furthermore, you can develop the skills and empathy necessary to transform your individual self and your relationship.

With the goal of helping couples to stop blaming or reacting negatively to their partners and, instead, become more understanding and connected, IRT can be a really helpful tool within couples counselling.


Join the next 'Getting Started in Couples Therapy - Imago Foundations' course here.


Key Tools - The Imago Dialogue

One of the areas that Imago Relationship Therapy seeks to address is the issue of communication. By using the ‘Imago Dialogue’ as a tool, the therapist helps to restructure the way couples communicate with each other. In effect, it is made up of 3 stages: mirroring, validating and empathizing.

Mirroring – In stage 1, mirroring, one partner will listen to the other and mirror what the speaker has just said. Exactly what the other person has said, not an interpretation of what they think their partner has said.

Validating. Stage 2 - The partner that has been listening validates what the partner has said to show that they can see where the speaker is coming from.

Empathising. In the third stage, the listener feeds back some understanding of feelings. Its about creating a connection. The speaker may disagree with the feelings put forward but it doesn’t matter at this point.

Using the Dialogue method may feel uncomfortable initially but with a little practice it can be an a great experience for both parties. They begin to feel heard and, more importantly, understood.

Using the Dialogue model can help partners develop awareness that there will always be two realities in the relationship. They can come to understand, accept and value their partner’s reality without needing it to be the same as theirs.

Training in the Imago Relationship Therapy model

Training in the Imago Relationship Therapy model starts with the 2 day Imago Foundations; Getting Started with Couples Therapy. This is also the first two days of the 12 day full training to become a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist .

The course is for counsellors and therapists who are looking to learn the basic theory and clinical skills of Imago Relationship Therapy. It is also perfect for trainee counsellors and therapists.

The Imago Foundations course trainer at Northside Training is Ian Tomlinson, PTSTA (P). He works with both individuals and couples and is an Advanced Imago Relationship Therapist. He is an Imago Workshop Presenter and Associate Member of The Imago International Training Institute.

Click here to find out about the next Imago Foundations course.


Harville Hendrix and his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt have developed several resources for the model. These include Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples.

Find out more about Ian Tomlinson and training in Imago Relationship Therapy after the Imago Foundations course here.


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