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Seven Questions for Harville Hendrix

A talk with the founder of Imago Relationship Therapy.

The Seven Questions project welcomes the perfect guest for Valentine's Week: Dr. Harville Hendrix, author of the international bestseller Getting the Love You Want and founder of Imago Relationship Therapy.

Harville Hendrix (Ph.D. University of Chicago), in partnership with his wife, Helen Lakelly Hunt, Ph.D. created Imago Relationship Therapy and co-founded Imago Relationships International, an international non-profit organization that offers training, support and promotion of the work of 2000 Imago therapists in 30 countries. Harville lectures, offers therapy intensives and workshops for couples internationally.

Harville and Helen have authored nine books on intimate relationships, including Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, an international bestseller, Keeping the Love You Find: A Personal Guide and Giving the Love that Heals: A Guide for Parents. Their books are published in over 57 languages. Hendrix produced a PBS documentary on relationships, he's appeared on numerous television shows (seventeen times on Oprah, winning for her the "most socially redemptive" award for daytime talk shows) and radio shows, and has been written up in numerous newspapers and magazines internationally. Now he can add PT Blogs to his resume.

So what is this Imago stuff, and why is it so popular? The complete theory is a multifaceted model explaining attraction, conflict and healing within intimate relationships. Imago is Latin for image, as in the composite image of early childhood caregivers. According to Hendrix, it is "the image of the person who can make me whole again." We find partners who help us complete the unfinished business of childhood. Our adult relationships and struggles feel familiar because they remind us of our primary caretakers. These relationships present us with the opportunity to heal past wounds and find deep relational fulfillment. But it's an opportunity, not a guarantee. Hendrix writes:

Our unconscious need is to have our feelings of aliveness and wholeness restored by someone who reminds us of our caretakers. In other words, we look for someone with the same deficits of care and attention that hurt us in the first place.

So when we fall in love, when bells ring and the world seems altogether a better place, our old brain is telling us that we've found someone with whom we can finally get our needs met. Unfortunately, since we don't understand what's going on, we're shocked when the awful truth of our beloved surfaces, and our first impulse is to run screaming in the opposite direction. (from Imago website)

Well, this popular theory has millions running to bookstores and thousands of therapists flocking to conferences to become certified Imago therapists. Supporters of the theory and technique tend to be passionate clinicians and clients who've experienced its effectiveness. Even Paul's therapist on In Treatment uses Imago. It's everywhere.

Dr. Hendrix wins the Seven Questions award for Most Succinct Answers (David D. Burns wins Most Elaborate). I appreciate how Dr. Hendrix boldly states his ultimate goals for therapy (Q4) and doesn't sugar coat the hardest part of being a therapist (Q5). Enjoy the short and sweet answers from a modern master in the world of couples therapy, and happy Valentine's Day.

Seven Questions for Harville Hendrix:

1. How would you respond to a new client who asks: "What should I talk about?"

Since I only see couples, I ask them to describe their dream relationship, what kind of marriage they would have if it were "perfect."

2. What do clients find most difficult about the therapeutic process?

Surrendering their self rejection/hatred and letting themselves be accepted and loved. .

3. What mistakes do therapists make that hinder the therapeutic process?

Allowing clients to spend most of their time processing negative feelings about themselves and others and spending too much time exploring the traumas of their childhood.

4. In your opinion, what is the ultimate goal of therapy?

To surrender the judgmental mind, achieve sustainable connection with others and become loving of others and oneself.

5. What is the toughest part of being a therapist?

Staying awake when clients are disassociating.

6. What is the most enjoyable or rewarding part of being a therapist?

Terminating a couple who has achieved sustainable connection and unconditional love for each other.

7. What is one pearl of wisdom you would offer clients about therapy?

The healing and wholeness which effective therapy facilitates is in the service of love.

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