Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Sustained Effectiveness of Two Brief Group Interventions: Comparing an Explicit Forgiveness-Promoting Treatment with a Process-Oriented Treatment

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Sustained Effectiveness of Two Brief Group Interventions: Comparing an Explicit Forgiveness-Promoting Treatment with a Process-Oriented Treatment

Article excerpt

The present study is a two-year follow-up to an outcome study conducted by Wade and Meyer (2009) in 2004-05, in which participants were randomly assigned to an explicit forgiveness treatment, a processed-oriented treatment, and a wait list. The effectiveness of both treatments was maintained after two years. Participants "revenge ideation and psychological symptoms remained the same as when treatment terminated, but negative reactions to their offenders had continued to abate. Positive regard toward the offender was the same pre- and post-treatment but was reduced during the two-year period between termination and follow-up. No statistically significant differences in the outcome measures were found between the two treatment groups. However, in qualitative analyses of open-ended responses about their experiences with the treatments, participants seemed to favor the forgiveness-promoting one. Most participants, regardless of condition, identified group therapeutic factors as major contributors to their positive group experiences.


Although forgiveness is an ancient concept, it has not been systematically studied from a psychological perspective until recently. However, one area that has received considerable attention is forgiveness in counseling settings. Applying forgiveness explicitly in counseling is important because of its interpersonal nature, which can be applied to relationships like dating, marriage, family, and friendships, and because many clients report a desire to discuss forgiveness (Wade, Bailey, & Shaffer, 2005). Researchers have established initial evidence that treatments promoting forgiveness are effective, but there have as yet been no long-term follow-up studies, which limits knowledge about the long-term effects of these treatments. The present study follows up participants who received a brief forgiveness treatment in 2004-05 in an outcome study conducted by Wade and Meyer (2009).


Research studies have defined forgiveness in a variety of ways. One dichotomy that has arisen is between forgiveness as a decision and forgiveness as a process. Worthington and his colleagues (Worthington, 2005; Worthington & Scherer, 2004) described a decision-based forgiveness that involves the victim making a conscious decision to forgive the offender and giving up the fight or reducing the motivation to retaliate. Enright and his colleagues (Baskin & Enright, 2004; Enright, 2001; Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000; Freedman & Enright, 1996) defined forgiveness as a free choice by the forgiver to willingly give up resentment about an offense and respond with beneficence to the offender, even though the offender has no fight to the forgiver's moral goodness.

On the other hand, forgiveness has also been defined as a process of changes within an individual. The process of forgiveness involves changes in cognition, emotions, and behaviors toward the offender. The changes include (a) reduction of negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that include the pain, hurt, anger, bitterness, and any desires for revenge that result from the hurt; and (b) increase of positive thoughts, feelings, and prosocial behaviors toward the offender that can include compassion, understanding, love, mercy, or simply a feeling of pity (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000; McCullough et al., 1998; Rye et al., 2001; Wade, Johnson, & Meyer, 2008; Worthington, 2005; Worthington, Sandage, & Berry, 2000; Worthington & Scherer, 2004). Note that reconciliation is not necessary for forgiveness to occur, and these changes are intrapersonal processes that can happen regardless of the perpetrator's behaviors. Most researchers agree that forgiveness involves a release of the victim's bitterness and vengeance while acknowledging the seriousness of the offense. Forgiveness also does not imply forgetting, condoning, reconciling, accepting, justifying, excusing, overlooking the event, or releasing the offender from legal accountability (Baskin & Enright, 2004; Freedman & Enright, 1996; Mahoney, Rye, & Pargament, 2005; Rye et al. …

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