Forgiveness Therapy Provides Quality of Life Benefits to Terminally-Ill Cancer Patients
Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, has been called “the forgiveness trailblazer” by Time magazine and is often introduced as “the father of forgiveness research” because of his 30-year commitment to researching and implementing forgiveness programs. A research article published last week in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine® aptly demonstrates how he earned those titles.
“Forgiveness and Reconciliation Processes in Dying Patients With Cancer” is an article that was published by the highly-respected palliative care journal on August 5, 2019. It reports on the methodology and results of a research project conducted in a major regional Swiss hospital by a team of 20 oncology and palliative medicine professionals from Switzerland and Austria.
Three interdisciplinary units at the hospital observed 50 dying patients with cancer experiencing severe conflicts with relatives, themselves, and/or with fate/God. Participant observation was combined with descriptive statistical analysis and a semi-structured therapy protocol based on a 5-phase forgiveness and reconciliation model.
After 18 months of working with the cancer patients (22 died during the study), the medical specialists reported these results: “Forgiveness and reconciliation (F/R) may intensify patient–family relationships and facilitate peace of mind and peaceful death. In 62% of patients, F/R processes occurred repeatedly. Patients indicated that imminent death, a mediating third party, acceptance, and experiences of hope motivated them to seek F/R.”
While those results were hailed as innovative and profound by the researchers and others, they came as no surprise to Dr. Enright. He, in fact, not only implemented forgiveness programs with terminally-ill cancer patients more than 20 years ago, he created an instructor’s manual for those treating such patients back in 2002.
Thanks to a research grant funded by the John Templeton Foundation, Dr. Enright assembled a project team in the mid-1990s that included research associates from UW-Madison, Meriter Health Services, and others that was likely the very first study involving forgiveness interventions with terminally-ill patients.
Dr. Enright’s team provided its conclusions in a report entitled, “A Palliative Care Intervention in Forgiveness Therapy for Elderly Terminally-Ill Cancer Patients.” In addition to outlining that the forgiveness therapy group demonstrated significant improvements on all measures compared to the control group, the team also concluded:
“An important goal of palliative care therapy, improving psychological health at the end of life, appears to have been achieved in this study. Older adults, in the last stage of life because of terminal cancer, who experience emotional disruption because of perceived injustices, may benefit psychologically from forgiveness therapy. As part of a comprehensive intervention of palliative care, forgiveness therapy may be effective for improving quality of life at the end of life.”
Following that ground-breaking study, Dr. Enright teamed up with fellow study participant Mary J. Hansen, Ph.D. (Meriter Health Services), to develop The Journey of Forgiveness: An Educational Program for Persons at the End of Life. That intervention manual is designed exclusively for those treating or caring for patients who are near the end of life. Because of the short life-expectancy of those patients, the manual condenses Dr. Enright’s 20-Step Process Model of forgiving (developed in 1991) into four easy-to-conduct educational sessions.
Since 2002, the end-of-life manual has been distributed to and used by practitioners around the world including those at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. In one of the concluding pages of the manual, Dr. Enright writes:
“Forgiveness can bring you emotional healing. When you truly forgive, you give the gifts of mercy, generosity and ultimately, love. The forgiveness paradox is that as you give the gifts of forgiveness to others, you also receive these gifts.” ♥