Rage Reduction Through Forgiveness Education

By Dr. Robert Enright and Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons 

After massacres in El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH, in which 29 people died, President Donald Trump made a  number of sensible recommendations to address violence and mass murders in the United States. He has been criticized for not calling for stricter gun controls but his words went to the heart of this crisis of hatred and violence:

“We must recognize that the Internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts. We must shine light on the dark recesses of the Internet, and stop mass murders before they start. . . We cannot allow ourselves to feel powerless. We can and will stop this evil contagion. In that task, we must honor the sacred memory of those we have lost by acting as one people.” (Read the Full Text Here.)

Below are our proposals for aspects of a comprehensive federal plan consistent with the President’s ideas. They are based on our combined 70 years of experience in research, education, and clinical work in uncovering and initiating treatment protocols in schools and in mental health treatment for excessive anger (or what psychiatrists call “irritability”).

Anger-reduction programs. The mental health field needs to develop protocols to identify individuals at risk for severe irritability and violent impulses. Next, empirically-verified treatment plans should be initiated for reducing intense anger and rage. Programs like this are rare in the mental health field.

A Secret Service report published last month, Mass Attacks in Public Spaces,” found that 67 percent of the suspects displayed symptoms of mental illness or emotional disturbance. In 93 percent, the suspects had a history of threats or other troubling communications.

The mental health field needs to recognize that the training and ongoing education of health professionals has not been strong regarding the identification and treatment of irritability and violent impulses. So it is no surprise that the mass murderers of Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Lakeland, and Columbine had not been treated for their anger. We need training programs. They could be part of required Continuing Education credits for state licensure for psychiatrists, psychologists, and the other physicians who prescribe roughly 80 percent of psychiatric medications.

Our book, Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, published by the American Psychological Association, can be one such training tool for mental health professionals. Forgiveness has been empirically verified to reduce unhealthy anger.

A Newtown, CT, memorial following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012.

Education in schools. Education programs in schools could uncover and teach youth how to resolve intense anger and desires for revenge that lead to a sense of pleasure in expressing violent acts against others. Dr. Enright has worked to establish scientifically-supported  programs for reducing anger in youth through forgiveness education curricula (from pre-kindergarten through grade 12). These educational guides have been sought by educators in over 30 countries. Dr Enright’s books, Forgiveness Is a Choice, The Forgiving Life, and 8 Keys to Forgiveness, can be used as anger-reduction tools with older high school students, college students, and adults.

Teach respect for persons. A key development for forgiveness education is a new perspective on humanity: all have inherent worth, even those who act unfairly. In other words, these programs not only reduce anger, and thus eliminate a major motivation to hurt others, but also engender a sense of respect for persons.

This combination of reduced irritability and a new perception of the worth of all could go a long way in reducing rage and thus in reducing mass shootings.

Regulate violent video games. Violent video-gaming and media violence have played a role in the behavior of mass murders. A continual exposure to gaming that denigrates others in a virtual environment is a sure way of damaging respect for persons. Such “games” have courageously been identified by the President as factors in the epidemic of violence. Rather than teaching the importance of mastering anger without hurting others (character education), some games support the expression of rage and violence.

We need Federal laws. Youth are not allowed into movie theaters for X-rated fare. This should be the case with video games, which should be lawfully kept from youth when judged to have content that demonstrates and even encourages excessive anger. Parents should teach their children how to resolve their anger without harming others and should prohibit violent games in their homes. Violent games must have a warning that they could promote uncontrollable anger.

What about the guns? The President has identified essential issues that need to be addressed on the federal level to end the epidemic of massacres by individuals with severe, largely unrecognized and untreated, psychological problems.

While it is essential to try to keep guns out of the hands of those prone to act on their hatred, more important is the establishment of new anger control programs which will make for a safer America.


Robert Enright, Ph.D., is a Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Board Member of the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc.
Rick Fitzgibbons, MD, is a psychiatrist in Conshohocken, PA. They are joint recipients of the 2019 Expanded Reason Award, presented by the University Francisco de Vitoria (Madrid) in collaboration with the Vatican Foundation Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.


This blog originally appeared on the MercatorNet.com website on August 14, 2019.

Dr. Robert Enright and Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons Receive 2019 International Research Award

Two members of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) Board of Directors have been selected to receive an international award recognizing their Forgiveness Therapy research. Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the IFI, and Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, MD, Director of the Institute for Marital Healing just outside Philadelphia, PA, have been named the 2019 recipients of the Expanded Reason Award.

The prestigious award is presented annually by the University Francisco de Vitoria (Madrid, Spain) in collaboration with the Vatican Foundation Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI (Rome, Italy) “to recognize and encourage innovation in scientific research and academic programs.”  

Recipients (only two researchers are selected worldwide each year) are determined by an international panel of seven judges who examine books and journal articles to ascertain who across the globe is conducting innovative and exceptional research that cuts across the social sciences. The award criteria includes the challenge of establishing a dialogue of particular sciences with philosophy and theology in line with the thought of Pope Benedict XVI who led the Catholic Church from 2005 – 2013.

Drs. Enright and Fitzgibbons co-authored the book Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope.  The book, published by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2015, signifies that Forgiveness Therapy is now rightfully taking its place alongside such historically accepted therapies as Psychoanalysis, Humanistic Psychotherapy, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Forgiveness Therapy is actually a new and updated version of a previous book by Drs. Enright and Fitzgibbons, Helping Clients Forgive, that was published in 2000, also by the APA. The new 358-page volume helps clinicians learn how to recognize when forgiveness is an appropriate client goal and provides concrete methods for working forgiveness into therapy with individuals, couples and families. It is grounded in theology, philosophy, psychiatry, education and the social scientific method.

Dr. Fitzgibbons is a long-time research associate of Dr. Enright’s. Trained in psychiatry, he has worked with hundreds of couples over the past 40 years. His book, Habits for a Healthy Marriage: A Handbook for Catholic Couples, will be published later this month by Ignatius Press.

Dr. Enright, in addition to founding the IFI 25 years ago, has been a professor with the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education’s highly-regarded Department of Educational Psychology since 1978. He is the author or editor of seven books and more than 150 publications on social development and the psychology of forgiveness. He pioneered forgiveness therapy and developed an early intervention to promote forgiveness–the 20-step “Process Model of Forgiving.”

Both Dr. Fitzgibbons and Dr. Enright have been invited to attend and formally accept their awards at the Expanded Reason Awards Ceremony on Sept. 19, 2019 at the University Francisco de Vitoria in Madrid.


The Expanded Reason Awards recognize extraordinary teachers and researchers.


The Awards Ceremony is part of the 3-day International Expanded Reason Congress in Madrid that brings together university researchers and teachers from all over the world. The Congress seeks to deepen the dialogue among science, philosophy, and theology through presentations, roundtable discussions, and workshops. Dr. Fitzgibbons and Dr. Enright will be  outlining the concepts behind their winning project in a talk that will also be published in the official proceedings of the Congress.

Learn more:

In my experience, I find that mental health professionals emphasize catharsis or “getting the anger off one’s chest.” I now am wondering if this is an incomplete approach to good treatment. What do you think?

Catharsis as the exclusive end in and of itself is not advised when the anger is deep and long-lasting. This is because the venting of anger does not cure the anger in the vast majority of cases. Taking some time to be aware of the anger, and the expression of it within temperate (reasonable) bounds in the short-run, can help the client to be aware of the depth of that anger. The cure for the anger, in other words the deep reduction in that anger, is forgiveness, shown scientifically to be the case (see Enright & Fitzgibbons, Forgiveness Therapy, 2015).

“CE Course Bridges Gap Between Forgiveness Theory and Theology”

Editor’s Note: We asked a recent graduate of our Online Forgiveness Education Course to tell us about his experience with the Forgiveness Therapy” course. Here is the response from Randy Miota, Manager of Chaplaincy Services, Spectrum Health Lakeland, St. Joseph, MI, USA:

“This Forgiveness Therapy CE course has been one of the most challenging educational efforts I have been able to finish. ‘Finish’ in the sense that I completed the assignments. However, I refer back to the book and the chapter summaries when I run into situations that involve anger, and therefore (potentially) forgiveness.

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Lakeland Health integrated into Spectrum Health to become Spectrum Health Lakeland effective October 1, 2018.

“At first, I thought that I was most challenged by having to recall and remember the  counseling and psychological concepts and practices that we learn and integrate into healthcare chaplaincy. Then, I realized that this non-theological approach to understanding and practicing forgiveness necessarily has to address some basic theological concepts  – such as right and wrong, moral thought and action, and moral character that some will say points to the character of a transcendent God, etc.

“This course has also challenged me to face and to encourage others to face the painful interactional/social nature of how we live. Most of our hurts come from others, and facing that and trying to make that better takes work and courage. In other words, I hear so many people talk of having to forgive themselves for how they have failed themselves. I wonder if this is be a way of avoiding having to face the hurt, anger, and deep sadness that can be dealt with through courageous self-examination, confrontation with others, the willingness to risk disappointment and “non-closure,” and to keep growing and maturing.

Overall, as a healthcare chaplain and a clergy person, the Forgiveness Therapy course equips me to think about and to work with forgiveness in a practical way that bridges the gap between the theology and theory and the everyday need for many to start to do something more constructive with their anger.”

Forgiveness Therapy, the online CE Course,  is based on the book by the same title written by psychologist Dr. Robert Enright and  psychiatrist Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, director of the Institute for Marital Healing outside Philadelphia, PA. The 15-lesson course was developed by Dr. Enright and DrElizabeth Gassin, Professor of Educational Psychology at Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, IL. Although primarily designed for licensed psychologists, the course has also proven beneficial for ministers, psychiatrists, social workers, nurses, and other professional counselors who have completed it.

The International Forgiveness Institute is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. The International Forgiveness Institute maintains responsibility for this program and its content.

Learn more at Forgiveness Therapy.