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.

Does forgiveness work with those who are addicted to drugs?

Yes, and we have a randomized experimental and control study to show this. We did two sessions a week with the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, for 6 weeks. After the forgiveness sessions, the participants went from clinically depressed to non-depressed. In contrast, those in the drug-treatment program as usual (the control group) went down in depression, but they remained clinically depressed. Here is the reference to that research:

Lin, W.F., Mack, D., Enright, R.D., Krahn, D., & Baskin, T. (2004). Effects of forgiveness therapy on anger, mood, and vulnerability to substance use among inpatient substance-dependent clients. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72(6), 1114-1121.

As I understand good psychotherapy, the counselor should not direct the client’s thinking but instead be non-directive as Carl Rogers explained. According to Rogers, the counselor should show “unconditional positive regard” to the client and be more of a mirror to the client, reflecting back what the client said. Clients then have the capacity to solve their own problems. Forgiveness therapy is too controlling when I look at Rogers’ advice to us. How do you respond?

Not all psychotherapy is non-directive. For example, in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the mental health professional deliberately points out faults in a person’s thinking and challenges the client to reconsider certain thoughts to make them more adaptive for that client. In Forgiveness Therapy, people often need direction in thinking though a deep definition of what forgiveness is and is not. If we left it up to each client, how many do you think would find an effective pathway to forgiveness in a reasonable amount of time? If we have a scientifically-supported pathway of forgiveness, would it be a good or a bad idea to share this with the client? That road map to forgiveness can accomplish the goals of forgiveness (reduced resentment along with respect and even love for the offending person) in a much faster time than a non-directive approach is likely to do.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I have a follow-up question regarding the study you cited earlier by Reed and Enright (2006) in which divorced women forgave their ex-husbands. The findings showed that the women decreased in Post Traumatic Stress. Why do you think this positive result happened?

I think this positive result happened for the following two reasons: First, in forgiving others, people begin to see the inherent worth of those who offended. As this occurs, the forgiver begins to see that the self also has inherent worth. This tends to raise the self-esteem of the forgiver. Second, as people forgive, they begin to develop compassion for the offending person which tends to reduce anger in the forgivers. This reduced anger can lead to a reduction in anger, anxiety, and depression, all of which are associated with Post Traumatic Stress.

Reed, G. & Enright, R.D. (2006). The effects of forgiveness therapy on depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress for women after spousal emotional abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 920-929. You can read the full study here.

Your critic has another issue on which I would like you to respond, please. He is a mental health professional who said this: One of his clients who was angry about her divorce sent a strong letter to her ex-husband asserting how unfair he was. This made her feel much better. There was no need for forgiveness. How would you respond?

The technique employed above is what we call catharsis, or “letting off steam.” Yes, this can help in the short-run. As you ask someone who just sent such a letter, you might get a report of feeling empowered or relieved. Yet, there is a 25-year longitudinal study by Judith Wallerstein who found that many people who felt unjustly treated in the divorce are still suffering from considerable anger 10 years after the divorce. In other words, the short-term catharsis may not last and may require a stronger approach to reduce unhealthy anger. Forgiveness may be more effective in the long-run, if the client willingly chooses forgives and is not pressured into it.

For additional information, see Forgiveness for Couples.

I was talking recently with a skeptic toward your work. He said this: If I asked family members to forgive, they would develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. How would you respond?

I first would want to know his reason for saying this. If you notice, there is no explanation. I can only guess, but perhaps he thinks that forgiveness itself is so stressful that it leads to emotional disorder. He is correct in this: Forgiveness is not passive. It takes work, sometimes painful work, but as an analogy, so does surgery if a person’s knee needs repair. The surgery is painful, but not as painful as living with a compromised and painful knee for the rest of one’s life.

Our science actually contradicts the assertion that forgiveness leads to Post Traumatic Stress. A study in which Gayle Reed led divorced women through a forgiveness intervention (about 32 sessions per person) actually resulted in a statistically-significant reduction in Post Traumatic Stress after the program ended relative to a control group that did not have the forgiveness treatment. Thus, the conclusion is the opposite of my critic. The reference to that study is here:

Reed, G. & Enright, R.D. (2006). The effects of forgiveness therapy on depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress for women after spousal emotional abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 920-929. You can read the full study here.

Edgewood College Honors Dr. Robert Enright as a “compassionate educator and voice for healing. . .”

Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), has been named the 2019 Mazzuchelli Medallion recipient by Edgewood College in Madison, WI.

Dr. Robert Enright received the 2019 Mazzuchelli Medallion from Dr. Mary Ellen Gevelinger, O.P., Ed.D., Interim President of Edgewood College.

The Samuel Mazzuchelli Medallion recognizes those “who cultivate intellectual and spiritual resources to empower others.” One of the College’s highest honors, it is named for Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, who founded the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa in 1847.

“Tonight we recognize a compassionate educator and voice for healing, Dr. Robert Enright,” said Sr. Maggie Hopkins, O.P., Assistant to the President at Edgewood College, in her opening remarks at the Nov. 4 Award Presentation Dinner. “His vision, direction and scientific research served as groundwork for the International Forgiveness Institute he founded in 1994. To date, his Forgiveness program has impacted more than thirty countries around the globe, inspiring and assisting others to examine and navigate what can seem a difficult and sometimes an insurmountable path to personal freedom – the process of forgiveness.”

According to Sr. Hopkins, the Nov. 4 award presentation date was significant because Fr. Mazzuchelli was born on that date in 1806. She outlined how the Catholic priest, an immigrant from Italy to the US frontier, was a compassionate “voice for the voiceless” in the new American wilderness. His missionary vision, she added, centered on his conviction to offer healing, comfort, forgiveness, hope and justice.

“Similarly, at the heart of Dr. Enright’s vision and teaching is the conviction that forgiveness is a choice as well as the space where transformation begins. As Fr. Mazzuchelli sought to build up others in his time, TODAY through research, learning and expansive outreach, Dr. Enright continues to teach people to choose compassion and forgiveness, to see ‘the other as sister, brother, and friend.'”

Following Sr. Hopkins’ presentation, the Mazzuchelli Medallion was presented to Dr. Enright by Dr. Mary Ellen Gevelinger, O.P., Ed.D., Interim President of Edgewood College–a liberal arts Catholic college that has 1,460 undergraduate students and 700 graduate students. Founded in 1927, Edgewood College has been named to the 2019 “Best National Universities” list by U.S. News & World Report and one of the top ten colleges/universities in the country for promoting social mobility.


LEARN MORE:

  • Read Sr. Hopkins’ full Award Presentation Remarks: click here.
  • Edgewood College is located on a 55-acre wooded estate on the shore of Lake Wingra in the heart of Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison. It was donated to the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa in 1881 by Cadwallader C. Washburn, a Civil War general (Union Army) who built an industrial empire (founder of the company that became General Mills) and who became an influential politician (two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, three terms in the U.S. Senate, and Wisconsin’s 11th governor from 1872-1874).
  • Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa (formally: The Congregation of the Most Holy Rosary of the Order of Preachers) are dedicated to preaching and teaching the Gospel.  Today, more than 400 Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters serve in the United States and abroad (including missions in Bolivia and Trinidad and Tobago). Their General Motherhouse, the Sinsinawa Mound Center, is located in southwestern Wisconsin.
  • Dr. Mary Ellen Gevelinger, O.P., Ed.D., is a seasoned leader and administrator with decades of experience at the helm of complex organizations. She served as both Vicaress(Vice President) and Prioress (Chief Executive) of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa congregation. Earlier in her career, she served as Director of Personnel and Planning for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, with responsibility for more than 100 Catholic schools.
  • Sister Maggie Hopkins assists the Edgewood College President, leadership and the College community in assuring the consistency of the Dominican Catholic school’s identity and tradition.  She became a vowed member of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa in 1966 and has served Edgewood College since 1991.