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.

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.