Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Comparison of Two Group Interventions to Promote Forgiveness: Empathy as a Mediator of Change

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Comparison of Two Group Interventions to Promote Forgiveness: Empathy as a Mediator of Change

Article excerpt

Undergraduate student volunteers (N = 97) were randomly assigned to one of two six-hour forgiveness psychoeducational seminars or to a wait-list control group. Based on attachment theory, forgiveness was conceptualized in relation to the care-giving behavioral system (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007). Both the Empathy Forgiveness Seminar and the Self-enhancement Forgiveness Seminar facilitated forgiveness to a greater degree than the wait-list control group at post-test and six-week follow-up. Empathy mediated changes in participants 'forgiveness scores regardless of seminar condition. Shame-proneness was negatively related to post-test forgiveness scores and guilt-proneness was positively related to forgiveness at post-test and follow-up. Implications for interventions are discussed.


The construct of forgiveness has generated considerable interest among contemporary social scientists and clinicians (for reviews, see Worthington, 2005). Clinical approaches to forgiveness can be found across a variety of theoretical orientations and mental health disciplines. Madanes (1990) even suggested that every model of psychotherapy has at least an implicit forgiveness-like construct. Qualitative and meta-analytic reviews of outcomes show that most forgiveness interventions are efficacious for psychoeducational groups (e.g., Baskin & Enright, 2004; Lampton, Oliver, Worthington, & Berry, 2005; Wade, Worthington, & Haake, 2009; Wade, Worthington, & Meyer, 2005), individual psychotherapy (Malcolm, Warwar, & Greenberg, 2005), and couple therapy (Gordon, Baucom, & Snyder, 2005).

Clinical models of forgiveness have tended to focus on forgiveness as one way individuals, couples, and families attempt to cope with hurt and resentment after a relational conflict or betrayal. Interpersonal transgressions are a common source of personal distress, often resulting in the stressful effects of hurt, resentment, and loss of face for the victim or the relational dyad. Surveys of mental health professionals have generally found that most clinicians view forgiveness as (a) an issue that arises often in therapy and (b) potentially therapeutic for some clients (Konstam, Marx, Schurer, Emerson, Lombardo, & Harrington, 2002). Reducing unforgiveness has been shown to have benefits for physical health (Hams & Thoresen, 2005; Worthington & Scherer, 2004); mental health (Toussaint & Webb, 2005); and relationships (Fincham, Hall, & Beach, 2005; Rusbult, Hannon, Stocker, & Finkel, 2005). Forgiveness is one important way to reduce unforgiveness (Wade & Worthington, 2003).

Although the topic of forgiveness has generated a long history of reflection, both philosophical (Lamb & Murphy, 2002; North, 1998; Roberts, 1995) and religious (Rye et al., 2000), the history of empirical research on forgiveness is relatively short. Nevertheless, in a recent bibliography of research studies on forgiving, Scherer, Cooke, and Worthington (2005) listed some 950 studies--about 90 percent of them done since 1996.

Enright's influential program of developmental and applied research has built upon a definition of forgiveness from philosopher Joanna North (1998). Enright and Fitzgibbons (2000) define forgiveness as follows:

   People, upon rationally determining that they have been unfairly
   treated, forgive when they willfully abandon resentment and related
   responses (to which they have a right), and endeavor to respond to
   the wrongdoer based on the moral principle of beneficence, which
   may include compassion, unconditional worth, generosity, and moral
   love (to which the wrongdoer, by nature of the hurtful act or acts,
   has no right) (p. 24).

This definition emphasizes the voluntary, compassionate, and prosocial nature of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a response to interpersonal conflict that represents a positive alternative to seeking revenge or simply distancing oneself from an offender (McCullough, Worthington, Rachal, 1997; McCullough, Rachal, Sandage, Worthington, Brown, & Hight, 1998). …

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