I’ve recently discovered a wonderful form of structured communication called imago dialogue. It’s a form of relational therapy developed by Dr.Harville Hendrix and Dr.Helen Hunt. The general concept is that it allows people to express sensitive feelings in a safer way. There is a sender and a receiver. The sender expresses their feelings, while the receiver helps the sender feel understood, heard, and empathized with by following a predetermined script and a plan. I encourage you all to check it out!
Imago dialoguing helps people feel safe when they are sharing their feelings. The script directs the receiver, or listener, to first repeat back what the sender is sharing. This mirroring can help anyone be more confident that what they said was actually heard – because they are hearing it said back to them. The second step is to affirm the share, usually with a statement such as “that makes sense because.” Who doesn’t love to hear that their feelings make sense! Lastly, the receiver expresses empathy with a statement like, “if I was in your shoes, I would feel.” The receiver expresses how they would feel in a situation like that, offering the sender the opportunity to hear someone else relating to them through feeling words.
These three steps can allow for a magical experience of feeling safe, heard, and understood. Imago is a very specific technique, and should be followed as directed. From a youth development standpoint, the core concepts with imago dialoguing are very applicable. We can use the pillars of the technique (the ideas of support and empathy) and can incorporate our mindful listening skills and further help children learn how to express their feelings.