Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Intervention Studies on Forgiveness: A Meta-Analysis

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Intervention Studies on Forgiveness: A Meta-Analysis

Article excerpt

A promising area of counseling research that emerged in the 1990s is the scientific investigation of forgiveness interventions. Although the notion of forgiving is ancient (Enright & the Human Development Study Group, 1991), it has not been systematically studied until relatively recently (Enright, Santos, & Al-Mabuk, 1989). Significant to counseling because of its interpersonal nature, forgiveness issues are relevant to the contexts of marriage and dating relationships, parent-child relationships, friendships, professional relationships, and others. In addition, forgiveness is integral to emotional constructs such as anger. As forgiveness therapies (Ferch, 1998; Fitzgibbons, 1986) and the empirical study of these therapies (Freedman & Enright, 1996) begin to unfold, it is important to ask if these interventions can consistently demonstrate salient positive effects on levels of forgiveness and on the mental health of targeted clients.

The purpose of this article is to analyze via meta-analysis the existing published interventions on forgiveness. Meta-analysis is a popular vehicle of synthesizing results across multiple studies. Recent successful uses of this method include the study by McCullough (1999), who analyzed five studies that compared the efficacy for depression of standard approaches with counseling with religion-accommodative approaches. Furthermore, in order to reach conclusions about the influence of hypnotherapy on treatment for clients with obesity, Allison and Faith (1996) used meta-analysis to examine six studies that compared the efficacy of using cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) alone with the use of CBT combined with hypnotherapy. Finally, Morris, Audet, Angelillo, Chalmers, and Mosteller (1992) used meta-analysis to combine the results of 10 studies with contradictory findings to show that the benefits of chlorinating drinking water far outweighed the risks. Although there may be some concern that using forgiveness as an intervention in counseling is in too early a stage of development and that too few studies exist for a proper meta-analysis, the effectiveness of these recent meta-analyses supports this meta-analytic investigation. Certainly any findings must be tempered with due caution. However, this analysis may serve as important guidance for the structure and development of future counseling studies of forgiveness.

We first examine the early work in forgiveness interventions by examining the early case studies. From there, we define forgiveness, discuss the models of forgiveness in counseling and the empirically based interventions, and then turn to the meta-analysis.


The early clinical case studies suggested that forgiveness might be helpful for people who have experienced deep emotional pain because of unjust treatment. For example, Hunter (1978) reported on Harriet, a 25-year-old woman with acute emotional distress. Harriet's mother frequently condemned her daughter for the slightest deviation from her unreasonably high standards. Harriet's anger toward her mother eventually led to symptoms of anxiety and depression. In addition, she started showing such externalizing symptoms as excessive anger and frustration directed at family members. With Hunter's help, Harriet came to understand how she was reacting to her own victimization by victimizing others. In counseling, she was able to see her parents as capable of both good and bad behaviors. Forgiving her parents allowed her to take greater responsibility for her own behavior; she did not have to belittle others. Forgiving her parents allowed Harriet to experience a greater self-acceptance and to establish meaningful friendships.

One of Kaufman's (1986) early case studies involved Uri, an Israeli army officer in his 40s, who came to counseling because of an inability to establish positive relationships with women. Through forgiveness counseling, Uri realized how much unconscious and deep anger he had toward his father, who died when he was young, and his mother, whom he blamed for the family's subsequent poverty. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.