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:

I have a friend who keeps lying to herself about her own condition. She has stolen money from her company, but insists that they have enough so that they will never miss it. She has created an alternative reality in her own mind. How do I help her?

The psychological defenses of rationalization and denial can be so strong as to block the truth from the person. Yet, the psychological defenses are not necessarily so strong as to keep the truth away indefinitely. Over time, a sense of guilt may creep into her story. Try to be aware of these even slightly open doors. It is at the time of even a little doubt in her mind that you can discuss what is true about stealing and what is false. Eventually, if she becomes aware, even a little, of her guilt, then you can begin a conversation about seeking forgiveness and making reparation for the theft.

To learn more, see Why Forgiveness Is Not Only a Psychological Construct.

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

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.