Over the past two decades, Imago Relationship Therapy has become a worldwide leader in the field of marriage counseling, with over 1,000 Certified Imago Therapists helping couples in over 25 countries. Now, the practice of Imago therapy is about to take another big leap forward, as a group of researchers plans to study Imago's effectiveness through quantitative research with couples across the United States.
The goal of the research is to establish Imago as an evidence-based practice. In the field of mental health, evidence-based practices are those that have demonstrated, through clinical trials, their effectiveness in helping people. “The managed care movement has spawned an atmosphere of outcomes and assessments. We can no longer say any therapy works just because we see what seems like improvement. We have to empirically validate what we do,” says Wade Luquet, Ph.D, an Imago therapist and Associate Professor of Sociology and Human Services at Gwnedd-Mercy College.
In August, the Imago Relationships International (IRI) research team met on Orcas Island, WA at the home of relationship researchers Drs. John and Julie Gottman, to consult about upcoming research projects. “As we move towards establishing Imago as an evidenced-based practice, it’s invaluable to us to learn from the Gottmans and their experience conducting their own research,” says Imago Center DC’s Nathan Gehlert, Ph.D., who participated in the meeting. Gehlert is in initial stages of planning a study of Imago therapy at The Imago Center of DC. He is also collaborating with the Imago research team and principal investigator Theresa Beeton-Clark, Ph.D., on another clinical trial involving Imago faculty.
The collaboration between IRI and other leading relationship clinicians and researchers began in 2010, when Imago co-founder Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. and his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D. hosted the Gottmans, Dan Siegal, M.D., Marion Solomon, Ph.D., Drs. Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson, Michele Weiner-Davis, M.S.W.,Jeffrey Zeig, Ph.D., Lilian Borges Zeig, Ph.D., Sue Johnson, Ph.D., and Jette Simon and Rich Simon, Ph.D., for a weekend at their home.
According to Hendrix, “the invitation was to explore how we might collaborate and extend our therapy systems into a couples' education project that might become a movement at the national and global level.” After two more meetings, the group has informally become the Couples Education Think Tank (CETT). “We have clarified that our mission is to impact cultural consciousness with the fact that healthy couples are indispensable for a healthy society so that supporting healthy couples becomes a primary cultural value,” says Hendrix. Part of CETT’s goal in supporting couples is to become a repository of scientific information on relationships and perhaps vet programs that have proven effectiveness.
“Harville and John and Julie share the primary vision of helping couples,” says Gehlert. “That is more important than enrolling couples in their own workshops or selling more of their books.”
To Tani Strain, M.A., chair of the Imago Research Planning Committee, the future seems bright for research into the clinical effectiveness of Imago therapy. “I see the strengths of our research team as a number of people with a common passion to research Imago, who bring many skill sets to the process. I see a future of possibilities,” she says.