In Forgiveness, Drs. Robert D. Enright and Richard P. Fitzgibbons discuss and demonstrate their forgiveness-centered approach to psychotherapy. Forgiveness is the process of uncovering and letting go of anger at someone who has caused the client pain. This can be the path to healing in many situations, as anger is frequently at the core of a client's issues and may be the center of many disorders.
In this session, Dr. Fitzgibbons works with Deanne, a young woman who is divorced with an 8-year-old son. Deanne is angry with her ex-husband because she feels he has never supported her or their son, and he continues to betray them with false promises. She also fears that her anger might drive away her current boyfriend. Dr. Fitzgibbons helps Deanne to uncover more of her anger and to begin the difficult task of letting it go.
Fostering forgiveness in psychotherapy is challenging but rewarding work. Forgiveness always takes place within the context of unfairness, so clients who need to forgive have been hurt or betrayed at some point in their life. The therapeutic process of forgiveness uncovers anger at these past or present transgressions. Forgiveness in therapy offers release of the anger in a way that does not hurt anyone and relieves any pain surrounding the anger.
The forgiveness therapy model is flexible enough to be used with many therapeutic approaches, whether psychotherapeutic or cognitive. The model has four phases:
- Uncovering phase, in which injustice and subsequent anger are revealed and discussed.
- Decision phase, in which the client considers going down the path to forgiveness.
- Work phase, in which the client thinks of the person who hurt him or her in a broader context, developing empathy.
- Deepening phase, in which the client has insights and may experience growth in his or her relationships.
The phases are not rigid: A client may cycle back and forth between the phases over the course of therapy. Change occurs slowly, as a client's "forgiveness skills" develop, but the result is often personally transformative because clients find that they move from being a victim of whomever has hurt them to being an active participant in forgiveness. This may become a coping strategy that, once learned, will serve the client throughout the lifespan.
Robert D. Enright, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. He received his doctorate from the University of Minnesota in 1976. Dr. Enright is a leader in the psychology of forgiveness. His research lab in the mid-1980s pioneered the social scientific study of how people forgive one another. Dr. Enright received the Aaron T. Beck Institute Award and two distinguished teaching awards from the University of Wisconsin—Madison. He is the author of over 80 publications, including Helping Clients Forgive (with Richard P. Fitzgibbons; 2000), and Forgiveness Is a Choice (2001), both published by the American Psychological Association.
Richard P. Fitzgibbons, MD, received his medical degree from Temple University School of Medicine in 1969 and completed his training in psychiatry at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center in 1976. He participated in cognitive therapy research in his training with Aaron T. Beck. Currently, he is the director of a private practice outside Philadelphia. Since 1976 he has used forgiveness in psychotherapy, and in 1986 he wrote a seminal paper on the use of forgiveness. Dr. Fitzgibbons has given over 40 seminars to mental health professionals, educators, and business and church leaders on forgiveness therapy in the resolution of excessive anger. He is the coauthor of Helping Clients Forgive (with Robert D. Enright; 2000), published by the American Psychological Association.
- Enright, R. D. (2001). Forgiveness is a choice. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (This book is for the general public.)
- Enright, R. D. (in press). Rising above the storm clouds. Washington, DC: Magination Press (an imprint of the American Psychological Association; this is a children's picture book on forgiveness with notes for parents.)
- Enright, R. D. (2004). Enright Forgiveness Inventory. Redwood City, CA: Mind Garden.
- Enright, R. D. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2000). Helping clients forgive: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (This book is for helping professionals in psychology, psychiatry, and related disciplines.)
- Enright, R. D., & Rique, J. (2004). Manual for the Enright Forgiveness Inventory. Redwood City, CA: Mind Garden.
- Fitzgibbons, R., Enright, R., & O'Brien, T. F. (2004). Learning to forgive. American School Board Journal, 191, 24–26.
- Freedman, S. R., & Enright, R. D. (1996). Forgiveness as an intervention goal with incest survivors. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64, 983–992.
- 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, 1114–1121.
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