The History of Forgiveness Therapy

The prominence of forgiveness and forgiveness therapy in the field of psychology over the past few decades has been well-documented in the scientific literature. Also well documented has been the pioneering and groundbreaking forgiveness work of Dr. Robert Enright within that movement. Here are pertinent milestones:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forgiveness Spotlight: Dr. Jichan J. Kim

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles that will focus on former students of Dr. Robert Enright who have continued their forgiveness research activities after graduation and who have made their own mark on the forgiveness movement.

Dr. Jichan J. Kim is a South Korean native who studied under Dr. Enright for four years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned both his Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Educational Psychology while at the same time pursuing research projects that led Dr. Enright to call him “one of the most prolific graduate assistants I’ve ever instructed.”

photo of Dr. Jichan J. Kim
Dr. Jichan J. Kim

During those four years, the two researchers worked together to conduct numerous forgiveness-related research projects including a study that explored how graduate-level theology students in South Korea perceived the difference between divine forgiveness and human forgiveness. The results of that project were published just last month in the Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health.

After graduation, Dr. Kim left UW-Madison to become Assistant Professor of Psychology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA–a world-class Christian university founded by Dr. Jerry Falwell who gained international fame as an advisor to world leaders and who was named one of the 25 Most Influential People in America by U.S. News & World Report in 1983. Liberty University is one of the largest Christian universities in the world with more than 15,000 students attending classes on campus and more than 94,000 students taking courses through Liberty University Online.Liberty University logo

At Liberty University, Dr. Kim teaches Introduction to Research, Directed Research, and Psychology and Christianity. In Spring 2020, he is teaching a
semester-long, special topics course in forgiveness,
for which he is very excited. He is also leading a Psychology Study Abroad Trip to South Korea in June 2020 where students will learn about: 1) the aspects of a collectivistic culture in contrast to an American individualistic culture; and, 2) how that culture views forgiveness and reconciliation.

The full course load complements Dr. Kim’s research activities. Since leaving UW-Madison three years ago, Dr. Kim has become even more intricately involved in forgiveness research and forgiveness education both in the US and in his home country of South Korea. His research and studies, for example, have:

  • Examined the relationship between forgiveness and compassionate love;
  • Explored the idea of the school as the Just and Merciful Community;
  • Validated the Enright Self-Forgiveness Inventory;
  • Examined subjective reasons why individuals forgive;
  • Evaluated, together with his undergraduate research team at Liberty University, the effectiveness of a family-based forgiveness program with more than a dozen volunteer families; and,
  • Explored the relationship between interpersonal, self-, and divine forgiveness.

“I give special thanks to Dr. Enright for introducing to me the beauty of forgiveness. I owe him a great deal and I will try my best to follow in his footsteps through a life dedicated to driving out hatred through forgiving love.”
Dr. Jichan J. Kim


UW logoIn addition to his UW-Madison degrees, Dr. Kim has received degrees from Harvard University (Cambridge, MA), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA), and City College of New York. He also has extensive ministry experience in Madison, New York City, and Boston (serving various age groups in Korean immigrant congregations).

Dr. Kim and his wife, Jieun, have three children–Yewon (Arianna), Juwon (Aiden), and Sungwon (Joseph). For the past several years, Dr. Kim has financially supported the International Forgiveness Institute with an automatic monthly donation through PayPal. He says he has two favorite quotes he tries to live by:

  1. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:8)
  2. Forgiveness is offering love to a person in the face of injustice and at a time when that person is most unlovable. (Dr. Robert Enright)

Read more:

Forgiveness Infiltrates Central Asia’s Kyrgyzstan

photo of Alyona Yartseva
Alyona Yartseva is spearheading forgiveness interventions in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan.

Alyona Yartseva moved in 2015 from Russia to Kyrgyzstan (officially the Kyrgyz Republic)–a mountainous country of incredible natural beauty in Central Asia. As she pursued her new life  there, intent on helping others improve their own lives, she quickly came to realize that forgiveness is a valuable commodity not only for helping people overcome personal difficulties but also for helping tame the ethnic, political, and socio-economic tensions that simmered there and in surrounding countries that had all gained their independence with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Since Alyona moved to Kyrgyzstan, she has been on “a forgiveness rampage” that has included:

  • Undertaking a 15-lesson online Forgiveness Therapy course administered by the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) after convincing AUCA administrators to accept it as a fully-accredited graduate degree university course;
  • Acquiring the Enright Forgiveness Inventory for Children (EFI-C), translating it into Russian,  back-translating it, and working directly with Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the IFI, in modifying that research tool into what is essentially a new EFI Short Form known as the EFI-30;
  • Validating the newly-adapted EFI-30 by using it, along with a checklist of physical health symptoms (a new measuring tool that she created herself), in a forgiveness research project with more than 150 participants;
  • Participating in a four-month forgiveness intervention internship and conducting post-therapy interviews that “vividly demonstrated” to her the therapeutic effects and positive results of forgiveness; 
  • Conducting a hands-on forgiveness training program for her fellow-AUCA students to demonstrate the four-phases of Dr. Enright’s Process Model of Forgiveness and further expand the use of the EFI-30;
  • Consulting with “no-charge clients” (as a student she cannot charge for her services) who were able to move towards forgiveness and improve their mental health; 
  • Obtaining and starting to translate into Russian Dr. Enright’s Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program; and,
  • Writing her thesis on “Subjective Effects of Forgiveness on Stress Level and Physical Health”–a project she conducted involving 150 adults of 3 nationalities and obtaining a Master of Arts Degree in Applied Psychology from the American University of Central Asia (AUCA).

One of the motivating factors for Alyona’s impressive foray into forgiveness activities was what she was unable to find when she was accepted as a graduate student at the AUCA in the capital city of Bishkek. Although she conducted exhaustive literature searches for anything related to forgiveness written in either the Russian or Kyrgyz language, she found absolutely none. 

“As a believer in Jesus Christ, I’ve always understood the value of forgiveness but now I see it from a different professional perspective,” Alyona says. “I want to be able to demonstrate the effects of forgiveness (or unforgiveness) to my colleagues in Russian language publications.”

As Alyona looks ahead to the future, she says that once she completes translating the anti-bullying material she would like to personally introduce it to local school counselors. Following that, she plans to move to Uzbekistan where she wants to popularize forgiveness therapy among local psychologists. She plans to continue her forgiveness research together with a group of colleagues “who have a heart for forgiveness” and is pursuing foundation grants to fund their efforts.

“Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness Therapy is at the very top of my tool box as a counselor,” Alyona adds, “and I believe it is essential to promote and research forgiveness therapy and the positive effects of forgiveness in Central Asia.”

Alyona can be reached at: alyona.yartseva@gmail.com


Kyrgyzstan is a country in Central Asia–a map of central asiaregion which stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east, and from Afghanistan and Iran in the south to Russia in the north. The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The United Nations also includes Afghanistan as part of Central Asia. The region is also colloquially referred to as “the stans” as the countries generally considered to be within the region all have names ending with the Persian suffix “-stan,” meaning “land of.” ƒ

Teaching Children About Forgiveness Results in Mature Adult Thinking About Forgiveness

“If you’ve seen your children struggle to forgive someone for hurting them, you know that forgiveness is complicated,” says Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute. “After all, forgiveness is complicated for adults, too.”

Rather than discourage us, however, that reality should in fact encourage parents and teachers to begin teaching children about forgiveness as early as possible and certainly by the time they are in pre-kindergarten, Dr. Enright outlines in an article posted yesterday in Greater Good Magazine. Entitled How We Think About Forgiveness at Different Ages, the article describes how a child’s understanding of forgiving develops as she grows older.

“In over 30 years of studying forgiveness, I have interviewed children and adolescents, as well as college students and adults—and found that our understanding of forgiveness evolves over childhood and young adulthood, partly influenced by what we learn from our parents and communities,” Dr. Enright says.


“Helping our children reach their highest level of forgiving can set them up to  live a life without unhealthy anger and with more peace.”
Dr. Robert Enright


Dr. Enright’s research indicates that no matter what age a child is at, he starts with some misconceptions about forgiveness including these:

  • Young children often believe that the proclamation of “I am sorry” followed by the automatic reply of “I forgive you” can solve any conflict.
  • Fourth graders often equate it with first getting even.
  • Many 9 to 10-year-old children think they could forgive and make up with classmates only if those classmates first got what they deserved–punishment for their misbehavior.
  • Compared to fourth graders, seventh graders usually develop what is called a “reciprocal perspective” where they can think of themselves and others at the same time but they often say it will be easier to forgive if they are first compensated for what happened to them.
  • Many 10th graders take a more complex view of forgiving where the focus is on their peer group and their family context. Here they can understand that forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation, and that it is possible to forgive while seeking justice. At the same time, however, there is a tendency to occasionally over-emphasize the advice of the peer group. If the group frowns on the idea of forgiving, then the person may refrain from offering the mercy of forgiveness toward those who were unfair.

Those and other misconceptions children hold about forgiveness can be overcome as they learn and practice true forgiveness, according to Dr. Enright.

Children can reach a profound understanding of forgiveness in adulthood by persistently practicing it, with the help of parents, when they are hurt by others,” Dr. Enright adds. “Such learning, begun early in life, is a building block for mature adult thinking about forgiveness. Worldwide, it is one path toward peace.”

Read the full article: How We Think About Forgiveness at Different Ages


Through articles, videos, quizzes, and podcasts, Greater Good Magazine bridges the gap between scientific journals and people’s daily lives, particularly for parents, educators, business leaders, and health care professionals. Its goal is to turn scientific research into tools and tips for a happier life and a more compassionate society.

Greater Good Magazine is published by the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at the University of California, Berkeley. Since 2001, the GGSC has been at the fore of a new scientific movement to explore the roots of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior—the science of a meaningful life.


Learn more at the Greater Good Science Center:

You have what you call the Process Model of forgiveness in which you walk people through a series of steps toward forgiveness. It seems to me that this approach is too limiting. Why impose a particular system rather than let people forgive as they wish, when they wish, and with their own freedom of expression?

Let me start with an analogy. Suppose you are from Spain and you fly into Chicago in the United States. As you exit the airport, your goal is to get to Green Bay, Wisconsin. You have no road map and you never have been in the United States before now. Would it be an imposition if someone gave you a road map that leads from Chicago to Green Bay? Certainly, the map-giver knows that there are many different routes you could take to your final destination, but this particular road map is time-tested and gets the person to Green Bay in the shortest time possible. Would this be a service to the person from Spain or an imposition, especially when the map-giver is not insisting on the use of this map?

It is the same with the Process Model of forgiveness. Think of it as your road map to forgiving and it is your choice whether or not to use that map and even whether or not to engage in all of the units of the Process Model. In my own experience, when people want to forgive, many do not know how to do so or to do so in as efficient way as possible. The Process Model is an empirically-verified treatment. In other words, it has been shown in scientific studies to work in aiding people’s forgiving and in reducing emotional distress. It then is the person’s own choice to use it or not, when to use it, and how to use it.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

Volunteers in Syracuse, New York, Reach Out to Spread the Word About Forgiveness Education

Mary Lou Coons is one of those always-optimistic individuals who uses every tool available to her to overcome life’s adversities–like the brain and spinal cord maladies that have caused her to endure repeated surgeries and years of suffering. Not one to be slowed down by such difficulties, Mary Lou decided to become a self-appointed “forgiveness ambassador” and has been on a mission to teach as many others as she can about the benefits of forgiveness.

This year alone, Mary Lou (who lives in Syracuse, NY) has:

  • Single-handedly convinced her parish elementary school to adopt Forgiveness Education in all of its classrooms from pre-kindergarten
    Mary Lou Coons with her puppet Lily.

    through 6th grade;

  • Organized and set up a booth to promote forgiveness to the more than 1,000 attendees at a Women’s Conference in Syracuse, NY–resulting in more of the state’s schools considering the use of Forgiveness Curriculum Guides; 
  • Developed Forgiveness Education videos featuring her puppet Lily through the Puppets For Peace Foundation she established 13-years-ago; and,
  • Introduced Dr. Enright and his staff to two native-Rwandan missionaries who quickly agreed to teach the IFI Forgiveness Education Program in three grade schools they established following the Rwandan Civil War and Genocide.

Mary Lou first contacted the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) more than seven years ago just days after her second Chiari Malformation brain surgery (technically known as posterior fossa decompression surgery) at a Milwaukee, WI hospital. She had learned that IFI-founder Dr. Robert Enright was pioneering Forgiveness Education work with children and she thought her passion for ventriloquism and puppets could somehow supplement those efforts.

Surgery after surgery, recovery after recovery, Mary Lou never abandoned her passion for her Puppets For Peace Foundation and its mission of “spreading peace, love and joy to others.” With love and forgiveness at the heart of all her efforts, Mary Lou says she learned “how to suffer well” and how to give hope to others who were struggling, too.

“In order to suffer well, you need to love,” Mary Lou writes in one of her website blog entries. “When suffering is accepted with love, it is no longer suffering, but is changed into joy.”

Earlier this year, Mary Lou decided to talk about Dr. Enright’s forgiveness curriculum with one of the pre-K teachers at Holy Family School–a Roman Catholic elementary school on the west edge of Syracuse. That teacher, Nancy Whelan, was so impressed that she arranged a meeting for Mary Lou with the school’s principal, Sister Christina Marie Luczynski.

Shortly after that meeting, Holy Family School officially joined the scores of other  elementary schools in the state of New York and around the country that teach Forgiveness Education at every grade level. That IFI program uses proven Social Emotional Learning (SEL) techniques to teach students about the five moral qualities most important in forgiving another person–inherent worth, moral love, kindness, respect and generosity–and has been scientifically proven to benefit students by decreasing anger, increasing empathy and cooperation, and improving academic achievement.

Mary Lou Coons and Holy Family School teacher Nancy Whelan distributed forgiveness education materials at the October 26th 10th Annual Syracuse (NY) Catholic Women’s Conference.

Not content to recruit just one school into the program, Mary Lou teamed up with Nancy Whelan again and this time the dynamic duo set up a display booth at the 10th Annual Syracuse Catholic Women’s Conference. Together, the two women staffed a Forgiveness Education booth and tried to get forgiveness materials into the hands of every one of the more than 1,000 attendees crowded into the Convention Center for the Oct. 26 event.

Their on-site efforts and follow-up contacts resulted in several other Syracuse-area schools now considering using the IFI’s Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides. Equally important, hundreds of New York women learned about the importance of forgiveness with many of them searching online for additional information causing a spike in the number of visitors to the IFI website following the Conference.

As part of her ongoing forgiveness mission, Mary Lou is now planning to develop a series of short videos with her favorite puppet Lily about forgiveness education and love. You can view one of her pilot vignettes called “Forgiveness Education” on her Puppets For Peace website.

Learn More:

Editor’s Note: Details on Forgiveness Education in Rwanda will be posted here shortly.

What is your deepest book for the general public?

I have three books for the general public: Forgiveness Is a Choice (2001), The Forgiving Life (2012), and 8 Keys to Forgiveness (2015). The deepest discussion of forgiveness is in The Forgiving Life. Why is that the case? I give what I call a Theory of Forgiveness in that book and the theory is based on agape love, or a concern for the other even when it is difficult to do so. Also in that book, I ask the person to take a life-inventory of all people who have been unjust to the readers so that they can, if they choose, forgive all who ever have hurt them.

For additional information, click on the blue links above.