With all of the choices of marriage counselors practicing different kinds of therapy modalities out there, how can you know what is the best marital therapy and most importantly, what is the best marriage help for your unique situation?

Let’s talk about the differences between Gottman therapy and Imago therapy as those are two very popular forms of counseling methodologies.

John Gottman is known best for his research on marriages and his ability to “predict” divorces. In 1986, John Gottman and his colleagues built an apartment laboratory at the University of Washington that was dubbed the “Love Lab” by the media. This is where they discovered the basis of friendship and intimacy and its relation to conflict in their Bids and Turning Coding System.

Gottman has created tools that couples can study on their own or, with a Gottman therapist if they choose, to consciously work on improving things at home through the use of understanding what creates contempt or negativity and building trust.

Gottman is very different from Imago therapy. How so?

  1. Imago therapy has a structure that certified Imago Relationship Therapists follow during a session. That is where one person “sends” and the other person “receives”, serving as a mirror to reflect back what the sender is saying without any excuses, interjections, apologies, or the like.

This structure is not only helpful for the couple to curb any reactivity or talking in therapy the way you’d maybe talk at home- (telling the therapist all about your partner and what he/she does to upset you), but the structure is also helpful for the therapist to be able to “contain” any potential reactivity (i.e., yelling, shouting, blaming) in session which is a HUGE relief for couples and their therapist 🙂 How emotionally safe those sessions go is the difference in how effective couples therapy will be for you.

Imago sessions consist of the couple talking to each other, not the therapist, with the therapist there just to ensure there is no blame or shame throughout the dialogue.

This is radically different than any kind of Gottman therapy or any kind of therapy where you are given tools, advice, or solutions from the therapist that you need to implement in order to be successful.

Imago is about making sure that you feel heard and understood on a deep level.

2. In Gottman therapy, there is little to no emphasis placed on the childhood and past trauma. Perhaps the Gottman approach felt that it was enough to teach people how to change based on their research findings (they discovered what it takes to have a successful relationship, so as long as you follow their advice they feel it will work for you!)- but in Imago therapy, we believe that the trauma from childhood and past unmet needs in relationship is precisely the reason it’s so hard for people to actually change! Gottman doesn’t deal with the resistance that might come from childhood issues that are getting in the way.

Without validating and empathizing with the pain of childhood, our partners walk around sometimes with a “gaping hole” in their life that stems from deep pain and their unresolved feelings about their primary caretakers. You as a spouse get the opportunity to help your spouse heal and grow, serving to fulfill your partner’s unmet needs from childhood, finally making real, long lasting progress towards a whole healed self.

That is one of the most beautiful and fulfilling parts of Imago therapy.

3. In Gottman or other instructional type of marriage therapies, the focus is on the therapist giving solutions or problem solving.

What happens if a couple does or does not follow that advice?

What if you don’t agree with their assessment of the situation?

Or you are not willing to do what they suggest?

In Imago therapy, the couple is considered the “expert” on their relationship. Meaning, the therapist is not there to problem solve, mediate, or give advice. The couple sits face to face and the therapist facilitate their safe conversation which ultimately allows for the couple to hear each other deeply, which invites change to occur naturally.

We’d love to be able to share our experience of Imago therapy with you and answer any questions that you might have about working with your current therapist and how one of our Imago based couples retreats can complement any of the work you are currently doing in therapy.

Schedule a time to speak with us here or fill out the form below.

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