Tagged: “New Ideas”
Sometimes It Takes 36 Years to Get Your Point Across: The Case for Forgiveness Therapy in Correctional Institutions
In 1985 I began to explore the social scientific study of forgiveness. At the time there were no published empirical studies on person-to-person forgiveness. For my very first attempt at a grant (36 years ago), I wanted to see if we could help men in a correctional institution to heal from past trauma due to severe injustices against them prior to their crime and imprisonment. The approach was to offer forgiveness therapy for those who experienced severe abuse when they were children, as a way of reducing the resentment that can be displaced, sometimes violently, onto unsuspecting others.
For that first grant attempt over three decades ago, I was interviewed by a world famous experimental psychologist who was part of this granting agency. This world famous person listened to my idea and then proclaimed, “This is an absolutely excellent idea. I am going to rate your protocol as #1 in this competition.” About a month later, much to my surprise, I received a rejection letter from the granting agency. I made a phone call to the world-famous experimental psychologist and asked about the contradiction between his saying how excellent the work is and then I received a rejection notice.
He angrily and intensively said to me, “Dr. Enright, you embarrassed me! I went into the meeting with very high-powered people, praised your work, and the entire committee was outraged. They said to me, ‘Give Enright money to help prisoners forgive?? No. In fact, those prisoners should be seeking forgiveness from all of us for the crimes they committed! Rejected!'”
I then went in different directions (other than corrections) with the randomized clinical trials of Forgiveness Therapy (now considered an acceptable form of psychotherapy by the American Psychological Association) until 5 years ago when professionals in corrections began to contact me saying that our Forgiveness Therapy approach might work well with incarcerated people and they asked me if I thought that was a good idea. Well……yes, I said.
We continued to be rejected as we submitted at least three more grant requests, all of which were rejected. So, we decided to move ahead with no funding.
Our point of Forgiveness Therapy in correctional institutions is this: Forgiveness Therapy first screens those in corrections to see if they have suffered abuse while growing up. Our scientific examination of this, now published in the Tier-1 journal, Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, shows that approximately 90% of the men in the maximum security correctional institution have had very serious injustices against them in childhood, such as ongoing sexual abuse and abandonment. In other words, the unjust treatment toward them as children has left them with a deep resentment that can then be displaced onto others in society. If we can find a way of reducing and even eliminating that resentment, then the person may be more amenable to traditional rehabilitation. Forgiving the abusers is the way to do this.
To forgive is to strive to be good to those who are not good to the forgiver. The one who forgives is practicing the moral virtue of forgiveness without excusing the behavior, or forgetting what happened (so it does not happen again), necessarily reconciling with the abuser, or abandoning the quest for justice.
For a year-and-a-half, a corrections psychologist within a maximum-security correctional institution engaged in a randomized experimental and control group clinical trial in which the professional worked with two groups of men, who were screened for abuse against them during childhood and currently have clinical levels of anger, anxiety, and depression and low empathy toward other people in general. The research program took 6 full months for two experimental groups.
The results show strong statistical effects for the Forgiveness Therapy in that those in the experimental group, after they forgave their abusers from childhood, went to normal or near normal levels of anger, anxiety, and depression and their empathy for people in general rose significantly relative to the control group that had traditional rehabilitation strategies. These results were maintained 6 months after the treatment ended for the first experimental group. These results are unprecedented in the published literature within a maximum security correctional institution. It is extremely difficult to improve empathy in this context. We found the strongest psychological effects for any rehabilitation approach ever published. Here is a reference to that Tier-1 publication:
Yu, L., Gambaro, M., Song, J., Teslik, M., Song, M., Komoski, M.C., Wollner, B., & Enright, R.D. (2021). Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy.
We now are receiving inquires about this approach from scholars in Brazil, Israel, and Pakistan.
So, I have gone from being a total embarrassment to a granting agency 36 years ago to someone whom correction officials and researchers want to contact because of a vital idea. Viewpoints can change over a 36 year period. Sometimes we just have to be patient with true ideas that are life-giving until some in the world are ready to receive those ideas.
Read more about Dr. Enright’s prison work:
- Forgiveness Therapy in a Maximum-Security Correctional Institution: A Randomized Clinical Trial
- The Visit to a Maximum Security Prison
- Forgiveness Therapy for the Imprisoned in Israel
- Reflections from Prison: “Forgiveness Saved My Life”
May I follow-up on my question about forgiving one’s mother if she is deceased? You mention that part of forgiving is to try, within reason, to give a gift to the one who acted unfairly. How can one give a gift to a deceased person?
You can give an indirect gift to one who is deceased. For example, you can donate to a charity in the person’s name. You can share a kind word about the person to other family members, knowing that the deceased person was more than the injustices against you. If you are a person of faith, you can say a prayer for the person. So, it is possible to practice giving a gift even to those who no longer are with us.
A hot-off-the-press instructional manual recommends that mental health professionals adopt and employ the Enright Process Model of Forgiveness when counseling individuals who profess Pentecostal and Charismatic Christian beliefs. Those two movements together make up about 27% of all Christians and more than 584 million people worldwide, according to the Pew Research Center.
The new book, Counseling and Psychotherapy with Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians, was written by Geoffrey Sutton, a licensed psychologist and prolific author who has experience providing services to Christians from many traditions. Born in London, England, Sutton is a Professor of Psychology (Emeritus) at Evangel University in Springfield, MO, who has 14 books available on amazon.com.
“Clinicians would be advised to learn a specific approach such as the Enright Model. . .” Sutton recommends in his book. “Both of the major forgiveness intervention programs (Enright and REACH) are supported by scientific evidence of effectiveness.”
Sutton’s endorsement of the Enright Model of Forgiveness is actually a complete turnaround from his earlier positions on Christian counseling. For example, Sutton wrote a paper for the Christian Association for Psychological Studies that said a “well -articulated, comprehensive, and integrated approach to Christian counseling does not exist today.” That was at the organization’s 2015 annual meeting.
In his latest book, Sutton begins by providing an overview of religion, spirituality, and Christianity before focusing on the Pentecostal-Charismatic Christian movement that he traces back to the early 1900s. He then provides six chapters on patient assessment, counseling techniques, and interventions with special emphasis on the forgiveness interventions he now embraces because he believes they are adequately supported by empirical evidence.
“For committed Christians, spiritual identity is a substantial component of the self,” Sutton writes. “The purpose of this book is to help mental health professionals increase their cultural competence to better serve Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians who are congregants in the world’s fastest-growing religious movement.”
- Christian Movements and Denominations Defined
- Read selected portions of Sutton’s new book
- Pentecostal Cultures: Classic, Evangelical, Progressive, Renewal – Geoffrey Sutton Slide Presentation
As we all know, a new idea can sometimes be difficult to introduce and advance. Here, for example, is the story behind Dr. Robert Enright’s very first attempt to help people in prison learn to forgive:
The year is 1985 and Dr. Enright has advanced to become a “full professor of educational psychology” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Fresh off a sabbatical leave during which he crystalized his ongoing forgiveness research strategy, the young professor learned about an organization that funded forward-looking scientific research projects so he submitted a proposal–one that would help imprisoned people learn to forgive.
That proposal was, literally, his very first grant attempt in the science of forgiveness. Up to that point in the social sciences, there had been no journal articles ever published with an empirical emphasis on person-to-person forgiving. Dr. Enright was obviously a pioneer in that field.
The intake worker from the granting agency not only called Dr. Enright in for an interview but ended that interview by saying, “This is a great idea. I am going to rate your proposal as #1.” Thinking the grant business was going to be easier than he had thought, the applicant went back to his university office to await the inevitable check in the mail.
About a month later, Dr. Enright received a very nondescript rejection letter from the organization. Confused by the contradiction between high praise and quick rejection, he phoned the person who rated his project #1 and asked why the grant was rejected.
“Professor Enright,” the interviewer answered with disdain, “you embarrassed me! I went into the funding meeting with enthusiasm for your work but the rest of the group was incredulous and said, ‘Give Enright money to help prisoners forgive?? Why, they should be asking forgiveness from us!! Proposal rejected!!'”
While rejections obviously hurt, Dr. Enright did not give up. He fine-tuned his proposals and spent more time analyzing potential funding organizations. Since that first refusal, he has successfully generated significant dollars for his scientific research projects on forgiveness and forgiveness therapy that he has conducted in venues around the world.
Five years ago—30 years after this initial rejection—-he was approached by counselors at a men’s maximum security prison. They asked him if it might be a good idea to start a forgiveness therapy program to assist the imprisoned men to forgive those who had hurt them when they were children or adolescents.
“That sounds like a pretty good idea to me,” Dr. Enright replied, as he smiled to himself………. It only took three decades for people to catch up with the idea that learning to forgive may be an important next-step in correctional rehabilitation. That conversation now has started forgiveness therapy research programs in correctional institutions within the United States with plans to expand into Brazil, Pakistan, and possibly Israel.
Moral of the story: Sometimes good ideas are worth a 30-year wait.
When International Forgiveness Institute founder Dr. Robert Enright first proposed Forgiveness Therapy for incarcerated people in a correctional facility, his approach was met with an equal amount of derision and skepticism. After all, it had never been tried with a prison population anywhere else in the world.
That was 35 years ago. Today, Dr. Enright’s methodology is being lauded–and more importantly, implemented–because of its positive, demonstrated results with people in prison.
As just one example of the current popularity and credibility of Forgiveness Therapy for prisoners, a podcast featuring Dr. Enright’s work entitled “Rehabilitating those who are “Forgotten”: People in Prison“ was downloaded by individuals in 225 US cities and 22 foreign countries in just the first three weeks after it was recorded on Aug. 9th.
The podcast was hosted and broadcast by Dr. Alexandra Miller, a popular psychologist, family relations specialist, and author who has also featured Dr. Enright on a previous podcast entitled “How to Forgive.” The most recent 67-minute podcast discusses two rehabilitation research projects recently completed by Dr. Enright and research colleague Dr. Maria Gambaro, Ph.D., with 103 men in a maximum-security prison in the United States. Access the podcast.
Dr. Enright began exploring the possibility of sharing his forgiveness interventions with incarcerated individuals in early 2015 and he initiated his first in-prison research project later that year. Project team members included Dr. Gambaro and associates from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and the University of the Philippines-Diliman, Philippines.
Why Forgiveness Therapy Works for People in Prison. . .
“Unjust treatment from others can lead to inner pain, which can lead to anger. Unresolved anger can deepen and linger, turning to what we call excessive anger, compromising one’s psychological health and behavior. Excessive anger can turn to rage (very intense, potentially violent anger) which can fuel crime, a lack of cooperation within the prison system, and increased recidivism rates. When the excessive anger is caused by unjust behavior from others, prior to a person’s crime, conviction, and imprisonment, then we can reduce and even eliminate the excessive anger through the empirically-verified treatment of Forgiveness Therapy. Forgiveness Therapy may be one of the few existing mental health approaches which offer the opportunity to be free of excessive anger, perhaps for the first time in the person’s life.”
From the Abstract of Dr. Enright’s first research project (2016) in a maximum-security prison – Proposing Forgiveness Therapy for those in Prison: An Intervention Strategy for Reducing Anger and Promoting Psychological Health.
Both the anecdotal and actual results of that initial project were extremely positive. In one group of 12 inmates receiving Forgiveness Therapy, their anger, anxiety, and depression went down significantly. The men themselves credited the forgiveness group experience for those positive outcomes and the facility’s warden asked that the program continue and expand.
In a similar study in South Korea, Forgiveness Therapy was tested against both an alternative skill streaming program and a no-treatment control group. The 48 female participants were adolescent aggressive victims ranging in age from 12 to 21 years old. After 12 weeks, findings showed that the participants receiving Forgiveness Therapy reported statistically significant decreases in anger, hostile attribution, aggression, and delinquency at posttest and follow-up assessments. Additional results included improved grades at the posttest.
“The reality of Forgiveness Therapy is that as those who are imprisoned learn how to give the gift of forgiveness to those who abused them, their inner world becomes healthier,” Dr. Enright says. “Anger has a way of landing some people in medical facilities and eventually contributes to their serious crimes and long prison terms. Forgiveness Therapy can put an end to that poisonous anger.”
One success story Dr. Enright cites is an imprisoned person he calls Jonah (not his real name). Jonah personally told Dr. Enright, during one of his follow-up visits to the facility, that “forgiveness saved my life.” Jonah also wrote an article for the prison newsletter outlining how confronting his anger enabled him to change his life.
“Jonah has been set free inside even though his body is imprisoned and will be for many years to come,” Dr. Enright explained. “The past pain will not continue to crush him because he has an antidote to the build-up of toxic anger–forgiveness.”
Testimonials from other imprisoned Forgiveness Therapy participants include these:
- “I have been imprisoned 6 different times. I am convinced that on my first arrest, had I read your book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness, I never would have experienced the other 5.”
- “My first imprisonment occurred when I was 12 years old. If you can find a way to give 12-year-olds Forgiveness Therapy, they will not end up as I have in maximum security prison.”
Dr. Gambaro, one of those who helped spearhead the initial Forgiveness Therapy work, has as one of her goals to help imprisoned people prepare for re-entry back into society and reduce the chances that they will return to the facility.
“When you look at a population of imprisoned people, 95 percent of them are released back in the community,” Gambaro adds. “No matter what you think of those who are imprisoned, they could be your neighbor, someone on the road, or someone at the gas station. Our goal is to help them reintegrate into society so they don’t reincarcerate.”
Given the positive results demonstrated by his own prison projects, as well as similar results expected from research starting soon in other areas of the world, Dr. Enright says, “Our aspiration is that Forgiveness Therapy will become a well-accepted protocol for people in prison and eventually become available to all in the prison system who need it.”
Learn more about Dr. Enright’s work with imprisoned people:
- “Forgiveness Saved My Life” – Reflections from Prison
- The Visit to a Maximum Security Prison
- A Reflection on Forgiveness and the Forgotten People
- Is There a Better Response to Injustice? Pioneering UW Professor Teaches Forgiveness