The scientific application of forgiveness, forgiveness education, and forgiveness therapy is being singled out for its “game-changing impact on the field of psychology” by the country’s largest and oldest organization of doctoral-level psychologists.
The American Psychological Foundation (APF), the grant-making arm of the American Psychological Association (APA), has just announced the winner of its first-ever Gold Medal Award for Impact in Psychology—Dr. Robert Enright, a professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and founder of the International Forgiveness Institute.
Classified as one of psychology’s highest honors, the award “recognizes a psychologist whose work has had a game-changing impact on the field of psychology,” according to APF board president Terence M. Keane, PhD. He added that the new award acknowledges “a psychologist’s body of work that has been impactful, innovative, and transformational.”
Prior to this year, the award was called the Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement and it has been bestowed on exceptional psychological innovators by the APF for the past 65 years. Previous winners have included B. F. Skinner (the 1971 winner who developed behavior analysis), Harry Harlow (the 1973 winner and a UW-Madison psychologist like Dr. Enright), Rollo May (1987), Mary Ainsworth (1998), and Albert Bandura (2006).
“For the APA and the APF to position forgiveness alongside the creative achievements of those giants in the field of psychology is truly a profound pronouncement,” Dr. Enright said after learning of his recognition.
As a grant making foundation, the APF helps fund psychologists and students worldwide who are using psychology to address major issues and improve lives. The APA has more than 133,000 members—doctoral-level researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students (associate members). Combined, the two organizations have more than 500 staff members who focus on providing services to psychologists like Dr. Enright who have dedicated their lives to improving the mental health and welfare of others.
Dr. Enright, a licensed psychologist, has devoted 37 years to the scientific study of forgiveness. As the unquestioned pioneer in the field of forgiveness, Dr. Enright published the first social scientific journal article on person-to-person forgiveness and the first cross-cultural studies of interpersonal forgiveness. He also pioneered forgiveness therapy and developed an early intervention to promote forgiveness–the 20-step “Process Model of Forgiving.”
The Enright Forgiveness Inventory (EFI), an objective measure of the degree to which research participants forgive another who has been unjust and hurtful toward them, is now used by researchers around the world. The Enright Forgiveness Inventory for Children (EFI-C), the Enright Self-Forgiveness Inventory (ESF-I), and the Enright Group Forgiveness Inventory (EGFI) have all become standard research tools known simply by their abbreviations.
Dr. Enright also pioneered the use of forgiveness therapy in clinical practice by developing interventions that gained critical acclaim with the APA’s publishing in 2015 of Forgiveness Therapy, an instructional manual for clinicians written by Dr. Enright and psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, MD. The two authors were selected in 2019 as recipients of the prestigious Expanded Reason Award presented by the University Francisco de Vitoria (Madrid, Spain) in collaboration with the Vatican Foundation Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI (Rome, Italy) “to recognize and encourage innovation in scientific research and academic programs.”
Dr. Enright’s ambitious approach to forgiveness education included the development of 14 Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides for students in grades Pre-K through 12th. Through stories, children learn about the five moral qualities most important to forgiving another person–inherent worth, moral love, kindness, respect and generosity—and eventually, how they themselves can become a forgiving person.
A just-completed meta-analysis by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers involving more than 1,500 students in 10 countries shows that students enrolled in Forgiveness Education Programs demonstrated reduced anger and increased forgiveness toward those who have hurt them. Those forgiveness guide lesson plans, distributed through the IFI, have been requested by educators in more than 30 countries and contentious regions around the world.
Adding to its forgiveness education agreements with many of those countries, the IFI’s newest Branch Office is IFI-Pakistan, a partnership with the Government College University Lahore, Lahore, Pakistan–the first in that country and in Southern Asia. In Greece the IFI has trained more than 600 grade school instructors in the past 8 years who are now teaching forgiveness to more than 6,000 Greek students.
“Although the virtue of forgiveness has made astronomical strides in the past few decades, we are just on the edge of what it can offer us for the future,” Dr. Enright says. “Forgiveness must have a seat at the peace-keeping and peace-making table.”
According to Dr. Enright, his body of work has clearly demonstrated that as people forgive, they become less angry, less depressed, less anxious, and more hopeful of their future. In other words, people become more peaceful within themselves, making the possibility of peace with others more likely.
Dr. Enright has outlined his grass-roots approach to peace through a variety of forums beginning with his 2010 article “Forgiveness Education as a Path to Peace,” his 2014 address to the United Nations Population Fund “Forgiveness as a Peace Tool,” and his recent series of 3 essays on peace published on the Psychology Today digital website.
In 2015, Dr. Enright accompanied Eva Mozes Kor, a survivor of the Holocaust, on a series of US radio interviews to promote peace through forgiveness. His peace initiatives have earned him peace educator awards including being named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International in 2016.
Time magazine has called Dr. Enright “the forgiveness trailblazer.” The Los Angeles Times said Dr. Enright is “the guru of what many are calling a new science of forgiveness.” The Christian Science Monitor called Dr. Enright “the father of forgiveness research.”
As the recipient of the 2022 Gold Medal Award for Impact in Psychology, Dr. Enright will be honored during APA 2022–the annual American Psychological Association convention on August 5th in Minneapolis, MN. He will receive a gold medal plaque and a modest honorarium during the APF Friends of the Foundation reception.
About a year ago, my wife did something that hurt me very deeply. She has not apologized and does not feel responsible because her actions lacked the intention to cause pain. I don’t wish her any ill will, nor do I want to hurt her back. While I believe I can forgive her, even without an apology, is it inconsistent with the notion of forgiveness that I feel she cannot remain my wife if she will not take responsibility for her part in my suffering?
Yes, it is inconsistent to both forgive your wife and to consider leaving her for the hurt she caused you, especially when her action appears to be a one-time act that was not repeated. To put in perspective what I am saying, I think you may have a good case against your marriage if: a) she showed a pattern before marriage that made it impossible for her to be a wife to you; b) she continued this pattern that is so extreme that she was not a wife to you during the marriage, and c) it appears, from the counsel you receive from competently wise people, that she does not have the capacity for the future to truly be a wife to you.
Perhaps you both need to sit down and revisit the hurtful event from a year ago. She says that she never intended to hurt you. Sometimes, intentions that are not directed toward the unjust and cruel nonetheless are morally wrong. Here is an example: A person at a party knows that she will be driving. Yet, she drinks and then drinks to excess. She gets behind the wheel of the car, drives, crashes into another car, and breaks the leg of the other driver. She did not intend wrong. She tried to be careful even though she had too much alcohol in her. The act itself was negligent even though there was no intent to break another person’s leg. It was negligent precisely because the consequences of driving under the influence can be dire even with the best of intentions.
Does your wife see this: one can act unjustly even with intentions that are not leaning toward doing something unjust? Do you see this: Her actions, though hurtful to you, may not have been unjust? Try to have a civil dialogue about these issues. And continue to deepen your forgiveness and to see that your avowed commitment to your wife is far deeper than one even enormous hurt that she inflicted on you.
If you could recommend one book on forgiveness for me to read as I try now to heal from a very contentious divorce, what book would that be?
In the context of your “very contentious divorce,” I would recommend my book, The Forgiving Life, because it involves a Socratic dialogue between Sophia and Inez regarding a marital conflict that Inez is experiencing. The issues in the dialogue might give you insights into your own emotional-healing process. I wish you the very best in your courageous journey of healing.
A research study published last month, utilizing Dr. Robert Enright’s forgiveness intervention model, showed that students in college nursing programs would benefit from a forgiveness intervention in the areas of self-care and forgiveness facilitation.
The nursing students, randomly assigned to either an experimental group or a no-contact control group, used Dr. Enright’s book 8 Keys to Forgiveness as the project’s treatment manual. After studying one chapter a week for 8 weeks, the students in the experimental group showed greater improvement in forgiveness compared to those in the control group from the pretest to the posttest which was maintained at the four-week follow-up. In addition, those in the experimental group showed statistically significant decreases in anxiety, depression, and fatigue from pre-testing to both post-testing and follow-up testing periods.
The study was conducted by a team of 8 researchers from the Liberty University School of Nursing (Lynchburg, VA) under the direction of Jichan J. Kim, Associate Professor of Psychology at Liberty. Dr. Kim has been the lead investigator on more than a dozen forgiveness-related studies over the past several years.
This latest study, The Efficacy of a Forgiveness Bibliotherapy: A Randomized Controlled Trial with Nursing Students, was published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing (JHN) on Jan. 10, 2022. JHN is a peer-reviewed quarterly journal with a focus on advancing the science and practice of holistic nursing and healthcare.
“The need for forgiveness education for nursing students has risen dramatically as responsibilities have broadened for nursing professionals,” according to Dr. Kim. “Our study positively demonstrated that the use of bibliotherapy can be a cost-effective way to promote the virtue of forgiveness for nursing students who are likely to be in need of exercising self-care and would have opportunities to facilitate forgiveness for their patients.”
Bibliotherapy, Dr. Kim explained, is a therapeutic approach that uses literature (in this case Dr. Enright’s 8 Keys to Forgiveness) to support good mental health. This study, he added, demonstrated not only the effects of forgiveness, as numerous studies have done in the past, but also the feasibility of using a forgiveness bibliotherapy that can be easily adopted into the existing nursing curriculum.
That same approach has been used by Dr. Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) and the man Time magazine calls “the forgiveness trailblazer,” in a slightly different format over the past two years. Dr. Enright has worked with Dr. Chontay Taylor Glenn, PhD, RN, PMHNP-BC, to enroll a total of eight University of Michigan-Flint nursing students in the IFI’s Forgiveness Therapy training course.
Dr. Glenn is Assistant Professor & Project Director of the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Residency Program at UM-Flint. In addition to incorporating the IFI’s forgiveness training into the curricula for her nursing students, she also developed a program through which nine Flint-area community counselors completed the Forgiveness Therapy online continuing education course. Dr. Kim provided three hour-long training sessions by Zoom as part of that collaborative effort between Dr. Glenn, Dr. Enright, and himself.
The newly trained counselors in Flint are also undertaking an expanded role in their community, according to Dr. Glenn–providing forgiveness education classes and case coordination to Flint-area adolescents who have experienced adverse childhood experiences. The project is funded by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, MI.
About Dr. Kim
Jichan J. Kim is an Associate Professor of Psychology and the Director of the M.A. in Applied Psychology program at Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA. His research interests include the effects of interpersonal and intrapersonal forgiveness as well as the integration of psychology and Christianity.
Dr. Kim has degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (M.S. & Ph.D.), Harvard University (Ed.M.), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div. & M.A.), and City College of New York (B.A.). He also has extensive ministry experience in New York City, Boston, and Madison (WI), serving various age groups in Korean immigrant congregations.
- Nursing Students Research Report Abstract
- Bibliotherapy Defined
- Overview of the IFI’s Forgiveness Therapy Course
Guest Blog by Gianna Elms, LCSW
My experience as a psychotherapist who has specialized in helping clients resolve unconscious anger through forgiveness for nearly a decade has been a mission of healing. Forgiveness is the most powerful therapeutic method that I have found because it is the answer to what underlies the psychological conflicts that produce psychiatric symptoms in many, yet the medical model would prefer that we believe differently. Forgiveness is the antidote to anger, which is difficult for people to release because the world teaches us that “getting back” at someone for hurting us or at least desiring revenge is healthy and a sign of strength.
Beyond everything else that I have learned, there’s an important factor that must be in place before I recommend working with forgiveness therapy.
In the case of forgiveness therapy, the role of the psychotherapist is to help the client to abandon their anger towards the offender and adopt agape love for the offender. Some clients are not ready to even hear words that are common in forgiveness therapy like forgiveness, love, fear or even anger. I have learned that some other psychotherapeutic interventions are necessary to help these clients to be ready to accept that they are angry, and forgiveness can help them heal.
The greatest challenges that I have witnessed clients face when working towards forgiveness is an unwillingness to let go of the illusion of strength or control that they believe they have when they hold onto their anger and maintain a lack of healthy boundaries, which often leads to continuing or renewing a relationship where there is no forgiveness, trust, apology, or justice between the parties. It’s another attempt to hold onto another illusion that they have achieved forgiveness or reconciliation. Many times, it’s more about learning to let go of what is familiar, such as a belief system that they had prior to beginning psychotherapy or an unconscious defense mechanism (e.g., denial). After all, unconscious defense mechanisms have an original protective purpose. It can be hard for clients to believe that forgiveness, which is so new and unfamiliar, is going to offer them greater freedom and protection.
The journey to learning how to forgive is often challenging and rewarding as clients work through their pain. I have learned that it is important to always demonstrate that I understand by being genuinely empathetic and compassionately normalizing the client’s pain, fear, and other emotions. I also provide teaching and reasoning as a therapeutic intervention about how healthy boundaries, for example, serve as a means of self-protection from future abuse and how it is consistent with healthy self-love and agape love for others.
If a client decides to receive or continue treatment while communicating with the offender, I provide supportive therapy and help the client to identify how the relationship is healing or causing more pain. Clients are typically able to figure out on their own, with the help of this type of psychotherapeutic intervention, that the relationship is unhealthy, and they will ultimately abandon their false belief that somehow they can make a relationship work with the person who is unwilling to change, which then increases their willingness to accept the new, healthier ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, to include the primary goal of forgiveness.
“I believe that forgiveness should be used more in therapy because it promotes wellness and it’s good for the soul.”
Gianna Elms, LCSW
There are some cases when clients choose not to forgive and the effects are simply the same as when they started treatment, or in some cases, worse. I believe that forgiveness should be used more in therapy because it promotes wellness and it’s good for the soul. The secret to forgiveness though is that once a person learns how to forgive…the person can forgive immediately, even while the injury is happening because they’ve learned the meaning of forgiveness beyond just the therapy model. It comes from their heart that was healed and they adopt it as a new belief system that protects them from anger as long as they put it into practice. It’s like a muscle memory in the unconscious that connects to the heart, which needs to be exercised regularly, so that they never forget. That’s something that I learned one night, and I now teach it to others.
I hope that you will consider your state in life and how forgiveness will be of value to you and others who you have the opportunity to help. We all need forgiveness because we have hurt others, but we need forgiveness to heal us when others hurt us too.
About Gianna Elms:
Gianna Elms, LCSW is a mental health and disability advocate who has been practicing for twelve years and is currently based in Flagstaff, AZ where she provides tele-therapy, spiritual counseling, consultations, and on-site services when travel permits. She has been a passionate ambassador of forgiveness since completing the International Forgiveness Institute’s Helping Clients Forgive course (now called Forgiveness Therapy). She has an MSW in Social Work and has a valid license to practice as a Clinical Social Worker in Arizona and Missouri. She is also a qualified clinical supervisor in Arizona.
Before her MSW, Gianna earned an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology and a B.S. in Disability Studies and has a valid certification to practice and supervise as a Rehabilitation Counselor nationwide. After receiving her MSW, she completed a Post-Graduate Fellowship in Psychoanalytic Thought and an ADA Coordinator Certification. Her clinical experience includes crisis intervention, treatment of past abuse, trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES); evaluation and treatment of mood, anxiety, alcohol and substance use disorders and chronic pain; career counseling, case management, advocacy, accommodations of people who experience disabilities, blindness and visual impairments; and training clinicians and others.