Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Comparison of Explicit Forgiveness Interventions with an Alternative Treatment: A Randomized Clinical Trial

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Comparison of Explicit Forgiveness Interventions with an Alternative Treatment: A Randomized Clinical Trial

Article excerpt

A new and sometimes controversial topic, forgiveness, has emerged from the psychological literature in counseling and psychotherapy. Many have claimed that forgiveness is a reasonable and worthwhile goal when attempting to help people deal with difficult experiences (e.g., Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000; Ferch, 1998). These clinicians and researchers state that helping clients to forgive, rather than just cope with, the consequences of hurts can be useful for ameliorating multiple difficulties and promoting general well-being. Fitzgibbons (1986), for example, theorized that forgiveness can help clients to escape the control that past events have exerted over them and to limit the tendency to project the effects of past hurts into future relationships. Based on the theory that explicitly promoting forgiveness can be especially useful for some clients, interventions have been developed to help clients achieve forgiveness and have proven effective in clinical trials (Wade, Worthington, & Meyer, 2005). However, many of these interventions have not been directly compared with standard psychotherapeutic treatments, and so the question of whether explicit forgiveness treatments are more effective than current methods of treatment is still unanswered.

* Definitions of Forgiveness

There appears to be consensus in the psychological literature that forgiving is not condoning, pardoning, reconciling, excusing, justifying, forbearing, or just moving on with one's life (Wade & Worthington, 2005). But what is forgiveness? On this topic, researchers and clinicians often disagree. Worthington (2005) has suggested that greater consensus exists when one considers two basic types of relationships in which forgiveness can occur. In the case of a transgression by a stranger, forgiveness is defined as reducing one's grudge and giving up negative thoughts, emotions, and motivations. Hence, when dealing with strangers with whom the victim has not had nor desires to have an ongoing relationship, forgiveness is synonymous with the reduction in unforgiveness (defined as a complex of negative emotions, such as bitterness, that develops after ruminating on an offense; Worthington & Wade, 1999).

In contrast, in ongoing valued relationships, forgiveness is understood to include both the reduction of vengeful, avoidant, and bitter feelings, thoughts, and behaviors (i.e., unforgiveness) and the increase or promotion of more positive feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Theoretically, this occurs through replacing negative emotions with more positive, other-oriented emotions such as pity, sympathy, compassion, or even love (Worthington & Wade, 1999). Moreover, forgiveness is distinct from reconciliation (e.g., one may forgive and still decide to end a relationship). Victims who experience forgiveness defined in this way can still hold an offender accountable for the consequences of the offense and can think carefully about whether trust can be restored and the relationship renewed.

* Outcome Research on Specific Forgiveness Interventions

The first outcome study of an intervention designed explicitly to promote forgiveness was published in 1993 by Hebl and Enright, based on Enright's (Enright & the Human Development Study Group, 1991) process model of forgiveness. Since that time, numerous intervention studies have been conducted, primarily from two research laboratories, Enright's and Worthington's, although others have made significant contributions as well (in particular, Rye & Pargament, 2002; Rye et al., 2005). Most of the outcome research has been conducted in a group, psycho-educational format (for a review, see Wade & Worthington, 2005). However, several studies have been conducted to examine the efficacy of forgiveness interventions in individual counseling (e.g., Freedman & Enright, 1996) and groups of couples (e.g., Ripley & Worthington, 2002). The body of forgiveness intervention research has grown large enough that several meta-analyses have been published summarizing the results. …

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