What If. . . Musing on the Role of School Guidance Counseling and Forgiveness

Today as I was browsing the web, I began to read some of the School Guidance Counseling websites. The goals are laudable. For example, in the New York City public schools, the guidance counselors’ work in collaboration with the entire school community and are committed to the education and emotional development of all students.

Further into the New York City site we meet Mr. Oramas.  His work is heroic. Consider these words on the site: “….the counselor provides a safe haven for students who may need help that is potentially life saving.” Think about that for a moment: potentially life saving.

Today, there is a major shift in guidance counseling philosophy to include “the entire school community” and “all students.” This means, of course, that the role of the guidance counselor has shifted to now include instruction in mental health issues for entire classrooms.

Do you see that the role of guidance counseling has changed dramatically over the years? Decades ago, the guidance counselor might focus on career paths of students. Then more recently the focus has been on helping the hurting students to improve in emotional and mental health through one-on-one guidance, or at the most a small group of up to about 10 students. While these approaches are praiseworthy, they limit the number of students whom the guidance department can help.

The American School Counselor Association lists the requirements for state certification. Here are a few examples to show the reality of this shift to the entire classroom: Connecticut now requires 36 “clock hours” in regular classrooms for certification; Iowa requires competence in conducting “classroom sessions;” Missouri as one of its certification options requires that the candidate “complete a curriculum in teaching methods and practices.”

The American Counseling Association has a number of divisions, including Association for Spiritual, Ethical, and Religious Values in Counseling (ASERVIC) which would seem to be a natural for placing forgiveness education into schools. Yet, a perusal of these sites shows that forgiveness is not yet on the radar.

Let us now ask the question: What can help students in potentially “life saving” situations and help the guidance counselor to provide mental and emotional health curricula to entire classes?

One major answer, it seems to us, is forgiveness education. We now have forgiveness education guides for teachers and guidance counselors available on our website. It takes about one hour per week for about 15 weeks to deliver a complete forgiveness education program to a classroom.

These guides have been used by hundreds of teachers and counselors for over a decade in the United States, Northern Ireland, and many other places in the world.? Research by the International Forgiveness Institute, as well as four years of teacher evaluations, demonstrate that as teachers or guidance counselors deliver forgiveness education to student, then those students who are excessively angry or depressed or even low in academic achievement because of the emotional disruption can improve significantly.

What if…

…guidance counselors began to introduce the concept of forgiveness into regular classrooms.

…this could happen each year from pre-kindergarten through high school.

…the students began to take forgiveness very seriously in the classroom and the school

…the principal and teachers began to say, “We are a forgiving school,” as has happened at Holy Family School in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

This could happen at your school. And we are not just talking to guidance counselors, but to all who have an interest in strengthening their local schools by including forgiveness as part of the school’s instruction and ethos. It could happen. It already has.


I am a homeschooling mom with a 6-year-old. I am interested in incorporating forgiveness into the curriculum. What would you recommend? How often would you recommend that we discuss forgiveness?

We have a wide selection of??comprehensive, easy-to-use forgiveness curriculum guides for you in the Store section of this website.??These range from pre-kindergarten (age 4) through grade 10 (age 15). We have written each guide so that the teacher, in this case you, can spend about one hour per week for about 12 to 15 weeks on forgiveness themes. The forgiveness curricula center on popular literature that should hold your child’s interest, such as Dr. Seuss books in grade 1 (age 6). You canread the first chapter of one of the guides??in our Store.

I am a product of the 1970’s when strong women were encouraged to assert themselves. I can’t say that I bought into all the hype, but a part of that is still with me. When I think of being assertive and forgiving at the same time, they seem at odds with each other. Can one forgive and be assertive at the same time?

Yes, one can be assertive and forgive at the same time. When you forgive, please realize that you should not ignore justice. Forgive and stand up for yourself. Yet, if you can practice forgiveness first and let some of your anger subside (if you are angry in these kinds of situations), then your assertiveness through justice-seeking is likely to be better. In other words, you are more likely to ask for only that which is necessary and not, out of anger, take a “pound of flesh” from the other person. When we are less angry we are likely to be more civil.

Colorado Shooting Victim Offers Forgiveness

National Catholic Reporter??– Aurora, CO, theater shooting victim Pierce O???Farrill, who survived after being shot three times, has offered his forgiveness to James Holmes, the alleged shooter. Twelve people were killed and 58 more injured when a gunman entered the theater during the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises and opened fire on the crowd.

Shortly after emerging from surgery, O???Farrill was interviewed by radio host Todd Schnitt. Asked what he would say to Holmes, O’Farrill responded, ???I???m truly blessed to have forgiveness in my heart, and I do forgive him completely for what he???s done.???

???I honestly would like to see him. I would like to talk to him. I???m a man of deeply devoted faith,??? O???Farrill explained. ???Jesus is my world, and Jesus is how I get through every single day; and that???s how I got through this ordeal.???

O???Farrill said that he has been praying for Holmes, and if he had the chance to speak with him, ???the first words that I would say are: ???I forgive you, James.??????

The 28-year-old, who works as the vehicle donation coordinator for the Denver Rescue Mission, said that he ???was blessed??? to survive the shooting and emphasized that what happened was ???not God???s fault.???

He also said that he believes Holmes should receive life in prison rather than the death penalty.

Roman Catholic Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, said that Pierce O???Farrill???s willingness to forgive such a ???heinous evil??? shows ???the depth of his faith.???

Archibishop Aquila stressed that while it might take time, forgiveness is important in ultimately healing the wounds left by sin and avoiding continued resentment and bitterness.

???Forgiveness for the Christian is absolutely essential,??? he said. ???We have to remember that Jesus Christ himself died a violent death and that he forgave from the cross.???

Read the full story.

Lawyers and Forgiveness

The lawyer, Thurman W. Arnold III, is in the business of resolving conflict. He is well aware of the mayhem that conflict causes as he states on this blog: “We live in what seems to be an increasingly mad and insane world. The conflict cycles that resentment spawns are evident, in the extreme, by the headlines of each day’s newspaper.”

What I admire about him is this: In the context of divorce, he would prefer that couples resolve their differences through forgiveness than to separate through divorce. If you think about it, he is losing money by doing that. After all, if all couples reconciled, he would never have any lawyer’s business. If we follow the logic of it, he would be out of a job. And yet, this does not concern him. He would prefer that the truth of marriage be played out in the hearts and minds of the married than that resentments be played out in the courts.

On the website, Laywers.com, there is a fascinating essay defending the use of forgiveness in both civil and criminal issues. In civil matters, private parties are in disagreement. The website poses and answers an important question: “Can you forgive? Of course. Just because you suffered some type of injury or damage doesn’t mean you have to file a lawsuit. In fact, sometimes it may not be a good idea to file one.”

But what about criminal matters, where a love-one was murdered, for example? Does forgiveness have a place here? The writer at Lawyers.com sees a place for forgiveness even here: “For instance, prosecutors can choose whether or not to file criminal charges against someone. They’re not required to bring everyone accused of a crime to trial. This is called prosecutorial discretion. For example, a wife who killed her physically abusive husband technically may have committed manslaughter, but the circumstances of the case may make a prosecutor choose not to charge her with the crime.”

Our own website here shows many instances in which a victim of a crime forgives. See, for example, this story in which a woman forgives a man who killed her mother. In forgiving, she has an opportunity to reduce toxic anger, that may remain regardless of a legal decision because no legal decision is likely to eliminate the inner pain to the degree that forgiveness does.

Our hats are off to these highly principled lawyers, who put the principles of forgiveness and healing above their own self-interests.


I have seen that various groups have a “forgiveness day.” What is your opinion of that? Can we forgive in a day?

The idea of a Forgiveness Day, I think, is simply to bring awareness to people of the importance of forgiving. If people begin to think that they can wrap up all of their resentments in one grand, 24-hour effort to forgive all people for all offenses, I think this is unrealistic. Forgiveness is a process that can take time (weeks or months) and all who promote forgiveness days should make that clear.

Forgiving the Man Who Killed Her Mother

Banning, CA, Record Gazette??-??A California woman is offering forgiveness to the man who shot and killed her mother 22 years ago when he was high on crack cocaine.

Becky Johnson, who was 16 at the time of her mother’s death, responded to the tragedy by turning to the streets: she joined a gang; she started dealing and doing drugs; she would rob people for money to get more drugs. She admittedly had no regard for people, or for human life.

???I was trying to find peace in alcohol, in drugs, in gangs. I didn???t find it,??? Johnson says. What she did eventually find, however, was a charismatic pastor, Dolores Nesbit. Pastor Nesbit helped Johnson find compassion, and encouraged her to forgive those who have wronged her ??? particularly the man who killed her mother.

???Over the years, I???ve done so many things out of hate,??? Johnson says. ???Now, I myself need to be forgiven. And the first step is to forgive the man that killed my mother. I???m tired of living this monstrous story. I???ve learned so much through my church: how to forgive; if you don???t do that, then, the Book of Mark says, you???ll block your own blessings.???

Over the past few years, Johnson turned her life around. She married. She???s now a licensed massage therapist, and she???s training for the ministry, planning to take her story of forgiveness and share her message with people around the world. As far as the man who killed her mother, Johnson says he will likely be released from prison within the year and she intends to be there to greet him with open arms.

Becky Johnson’s mother, Clara, was remembered as a woman who loved everyone and who had no known enemies. Who would want to kill her? When Becky discovered four days after her mother’s murder that both her mother and the killer were high on crack cocaine the night Clara was killed, she had a complete breakdown. After years on the street and succumbing to drugs herself, Becky straightened out her life and credits her ability to forgive for the turnaround.

Read the full story.