Thirty-years ago I was homeless and roaming the streets on the streets of Newport, RI. I was alienated from most of my relationships because I suffered from an addiction. Miraculously, I was graced to get help, and I embraced it. The help came in the form of kindness and openness from others who had suffered and successfully recovered. They loved me until I could love myself. Studying and practicing the 12-Steps created a foundation for me to learn about the importance of humility, compassion, empathy in relationships and this set in motion a deep desire and passion to help others transform and live deep, meaningful, productive and happy lives. Thirty years later, I am living a life of passionate service to others as a Certified in IMAGO Relationship Therapist, Seminar Leader, Teacher, Marriage Scholar and Published Author with more than twenty-five years experience as a psychotherapist.
For the past 13 years I have been working exclusively with married and committed couples, helping them to reconnect and re-establish their bond using a “Relational Therapy” called Imago Relationship Therapy.
Imago Relationship Therapy, birthed in the late 1970’s, paralleled the emergence of relational therapy, but with an exclusive emphasis on marriage and other forms of couplehood. In contrast to the skill-based marital therapies, Imago includes identifying the impact of childhood on marital choice and marital dynamics and the importance of acquiring relational skills. The central skill is the Imago Couples Dialogue. Given that Imago theses that all pathology is relational and the source of all relational difficulties is a connectional rupture in childhood that is recreated in the adult intimate partnership, makes the Imago Dialogue a powerful therapeutic intervention that helps couples restore connection in their relationship and thereby repair the rupture of connection in childhood.
My calling as an Imago couples therapist, one can say, emerged growing up in a family where there the connection was ruptured by abuse, chronic infidelity and addiction. Although my parents did their very best, the relational skills I learned in my family of origin (like my clients) led me to recreate those patterns and behaviors in my adult intimate relationships. My clinical training as an Imago Relationship Therapist and personally internalizing Imago, practicing and facilitating the Imago with hundreds of couples, it is my belief that the Imago Model is an efficient way to help couples reconnect the dynamics of their relationship with their childhood, identify the replication of the childhood ruptures in their marriage and mutually contribute to the healing of each other by restoring connection.
There are, of course, special moments, inspiration and passion I have for assisting with couples is inspired by my ten-year marriage to my wife Yael. After years of our own relationship struggles and near break up(s), we sought help from several Imagotherapists and now we have become “practiced enough” in the skills that I also teach couples—that we trust the process immensely. It’s our “relational practice.”
“For one human being to love another human being: That is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person – it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances.” Rainer Maria Rilke From Letters to a Young Poet – 1904
Couples have said: “Paula is pure presence. She is funny, real and she will help us work out what we need to. I’ve never met a couples therapist like that.”
“She is an amazing and passionate therapist/coach. She has opened our eyes (and ears) to not only what my spouse needs, but what I need as well.”
“It’s not what I expected. Our last therapist made my husband feel like the bad guy, and then told us to go do individual therapy. Paula was different. She helped us to feel safe individually and … together in the process.”
Bio & Publications
Dr. Paula M. Smith is a Certified IMAGO Therapist; Marriage Scholar, Teacher, former Adjunct Faculty at Harvard Divinity School, Certified Hypnotherapist, Seminar Leader, writer and published author. A native of New Orleans and the oldest of eight children, Paula has always had a passion for helping others. In 2005, Paula returned to her home state Louisiana to work with children and families displaced by Hurricane Katrina. In 2007, Paula received a teaching appointment to the Harvard Divinity School and published the article Post-Katrina Theology in Harvard Divinity Magazine.
Paula’s mission is “to create a new way to love and to transform the world one couples at a time.” Paula deeply believes that fulfillment, happiness and peace begins in our own homes. If there is no healing in the home there is no healing in the world. Conscious couple-hood is the primary source of sustainable social change and world peace.
Paula has her Doctorate in Pastoral Care, Master of Divinity in Religion, Race & Culture from Harvard University-Harvard Divinity School, and a Master of Arts degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Antioch University New England and Certified in IMAGO Relationship Therapy and practitioner in Encounter Centered Couples Therapy. She is a clinical member of the American Association of Marriage Family Therapy, American Psychological Association, Association of Pastoral Counselors, Rhode Island Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, clinical member of IMAGO Relationship International and member of the Harvard Alumni Association.
She is the co-author of Marriage & Family Therapy Training Programs and Their Integration of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Identities published in the Journal of Feminist Family Therapy and Post Katrina Theology published in Harvard Divinity Magazine. Paula wrote in Options Magazine, called “Ask Paula.” Her office is located at the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, Rhode Island where she works offers private intensive sessions, couples therapy, workshops, couple circles and supervision and support to therapists interested in learning how to teach couples the IMAGO theory & therapy and also in Encounter Centered Couples Therapy (EcCT) theory and therapy. Paula also blogs bi-monthly about loving well and creating successful relationships.