Imago Couples Therapy vs Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT)
EFT might be gaining popularity these days due to recent research that proved its efficiency. In this article I am going to compare its methods to Imago Relationship Therapy.
About Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)
Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) is a short-term form of couples therapy developed in the 1980s. It has also been adopted as family therapy.
EFT is based on the Attachment Theory developed by British psychologist John Bowlby. According to this theory, we naturally pursue relationships corresponding to our childhood needs of safety and comfort.
Our behaviours follow the same patterns developed in childhood, and we might get into bad relationship habits because of “insecure attachment” and similar problems from our youth.
Emotionally focused therapy seeks healing based on the belief that emotions are linked to our identity. EFT assumes that emotions guide us entirely in every daily decision, and therefore:
· If we don’t become aware of our feelings, we will hurt
· Avoiding our feelings can lead to negative consequences, such as the inability to process emotions
· We need to develop strategies for coping with emotions
About Imago Therapy
Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT) is intended to help solve relationship conflicts. The term “Imago” comes from the Latin “image”, and it refers to our unconscious image of love, developed in youth.
Imago Relationship Therapy was developed in the 1970s by Harville Hendrix and Helen La Kelly Hunt.
The concepts behind Imago Relationship Therapy have some common links with EFT.
Imago is based on the idea that we develop a sense of self-worth based on how people treat us throughout our life, starting from childhood. We establish specific attachment patterns and gain a sense of how we believe we should treat and be treated by others in our relationships. When these patterns collide, conflict arises.
Imago Relationship Therapy is centred around the technique of Imago dialogue. This is a method with a well-defined structure that allows both partners engaged in a relationship to better understand themselves and one another and increase empathy.
In Imago Dialogue, there is always a sender and a receiver. These roles are very clear. When one is the receiver, he/she listens. When they become the sender, they share.
The dialogue is structured on 3 straightforward steps:
1. Mirroring – repeating back what you have heard your partner say to fully understand their point. No blame, shame or criticism is involved. The therapist will make sure of that and keep both parties ‘safe’.
2. Validation – the receiver tries to make sense of what they hear through the eyes of the other.
3. Empathy – the receiver shares what he/she thinks the other might be feeling.
Emotionally focused therapy as compared to Imago Therapy
Unlike Imago Therapy, the EFT therapy techniques have a structure that’s somewhat centred on the individual rather than the couple. There are three main stages to EFT.
1. The Cycle De-escalation where the therapist helps the individuals identify their fears and negative emotions by reframing key issues.
2. Changing the interaction patterns where the couples are encouraged to voice their attachment needs and emotions. However, unlike Imago therapy, there is no real emphasis on dialogue and how the two partners should describe their feelings and needs
3. The Integration and Consolidation of new healthy patterns. This is where the therapist will teach the couples ways of communicating and interacting with each other in the future.
However, unlike in Imago Therapy, in EFT, couples don’t build dialogue skills or get more insights into their relationship patterns together as this is not part of the work.
Both Imago and EFT are based on couple’s communication. However, EFT has a less structured communication technique compared to Imago. In Emotionally Focused Therapy, the therapist does most of the work and asks most of the questions, whilst in Imago, the therapist is a guidance voice that leads the couples to their own discovery.
EFT provides the space for fresh, emotional experiences with a therapeutic effect.
While in Imago, couples can solve their problems by facing their differences in an open dialogue often becoming closer as a result.
Imago therapy is also beneficial for people who are just dating, as a first step to examine their common grounds and validate their experiences so far in their relationship.
Couples who are thinking about marriage can go through Imago therapy to discover their dating patterns and self-images and how they can influence their perspectives later in their relationship.
EFT can help partners become more perceptive and sympathetic towards each other.
Imago gives a couple tools for life with which they will eventually learn to use without the necessity of a therapist and the confidence to work out difficult situations themselves…at home!
Both modalities are aimed at helping couples connect, which one you choose may be down to the style of therapy you want.