Nathan Gehlert believes most marriages can benefit from a little preventative medicine.
“As someone who is really passionate about marriages and helping people in relationships, I think many people get married before putting a lot of effort into what the marriage will be about,” he explains. “There’s a real movement toward preventative medicine right now, and I really feel that doing premarital work with couples is along those lines – ‘preventative mental health work.'”
Gehlert, a Ph.D. candidate and PC&CC therapist, recently completed a day-long training in premarital couples counseling while attending the Imago International conference in Albuquerque, N.M., in October. “It was my first Imago conference and someone said before I went that it would be like a big family reunion – it was just like that,” he said, noting how powerful it was to spend time with such a large group of Imago therapists. “I was amazed at both the diversity and the similarity of interests. The energy of everyone, the passion for the work – that’s larger than what we’re all doing on a daily basis with our clients.”
Having completed the premarital training, Gehlert plans to offer a day-long workshop for premarital couples in late spring. “It is similar to the ‘Getting the Love You Want’ workshops, but distilled into one day. We focus more on understanding problems, giving practical skills and tools for wedding planning, conversations to have, how to involve family members, making sure to have the wedding you want while not hurting relationships,” he said.
Gehlert recently passed his Ph.D. qualification examination at Loyola University in Maryland and has begun working on his dissertation. His research will test part of the Imago theory of relationships. “I’m really interested in that initial thing that goes on to attract us to the people we end up with. There is that initial chemistry that’s either there or isn’t. Why do we pick this one person?” he explains. “Imago theorizes that we pick partners who resemble our parents and I want to see if that really is true. Having thought about that in my life, and being curious about people in general, I find it an exciting area of inquiry. I also like this area because it’s not so esoteric – I can explain it to people.”
Gehlert has the support of Imago founder Harville Hendrix, who reached out to him last spring to begin talking about his research plans. Together they have been talking about ways that Imago Relationships International (IRI) can form partnerships with universities in order to train more therapists and invite more research opportunities. “The phrase Harville uses is ‘strategic alliance.’ The idea is that both the university and IRI can benefit from that relationship.
“Loyola’s ultimate goal is to teach people to be great clinicians, but the university also has a social justice mission to bring healing to the world. The goals of IRI are similar, healing the world one relationship at a time,” Gehlert adds.
In addition to his research plans, Gehlert continues to counsel couples and individuals, while also co-leading the QuarterLife+10 young adult therapy group. “Five years ago, even a year or 6 months ago, I could not have imagined a better place for myself if I had tried to map it out,” he says. “It feels like I’m in the right place at the right time. I want to make use of these opportunities.”