Interventions to promote forgiveness in couple and family context: conceptualization, review, and analysis.
Forgiveness is perhaps the central value to Christianity (Marty, 1998)--and with love is certainly one of the two most central values. Jesus told his followers to love their enemies (Mt 5:44), and he even made divine forgiveness contingent on forgiving people who sinned against them (Mt 6:14-5). However, forgiving is difficult, and Christians struggle with this central value of their faith (Smedes, 1984). Christians are not the only people who value forgiveness, nor are they the only ones who struggle with it. Each of the five major religions also values forgiveness (Rye et al., 2000), though each understands it differently, and forgiveness was long considered a religious construct.
Christians seek to forgive for many reasons (Worthington, 2009). These include because (a) there is Scriptural mandate for forgiving (Mt 6:12, 14-15), (b) it is a way of loving one's enemies (Worthington, Lerner, Sharp, C., & Sharp, J., 2006), (c) it is consistent with other Christian values on families, (d) it is part of life in the body of Christ (Jones, 1995), and (e) it is instrumentally useful to one's physical, mental, relational, and spiritual health (Smedes, 1984). Yet despite the benefits, little attention has been paid to how to forgive faster, more deeply, and in more situations. This deficit has not been evident with adults in groups or in psychotherapy, but has been evident: within the family.
In this conceptualization and review, we seek to accomplish five tasks. First, we set the stage with a description of a theoretical framework that explains forgiveness, its development, and its practice in the family. The crucial role played by parents is noted. We especially consider families in which one or more of the adults is a Christian. Whereas not all interventions have drawn on the conceptualization we advance, the present conceptualization is one that can help understand even interventions arising from other assumptions. Second, we review interventions to promote forgiveness especially within families. Unfortunately, as we will see, few interventions to promote forgiveness in the family have been explicitly Tailored to deal specifically with Christian children, young adolescents, marriages, parents, or families as a whole. We focus on interventions to promote forgiveness that are available to the secular public because religious people--many of whom are Christians--make a substantial proportion of the general population. Thus, because a high proportion of the public at least endorses a belief in God, say they pray and worship regularly, and might even seek religiously or spiritually oriented interventions to promote forgiveness, we draw upon the secular interventions. Third, we examine all interventions explicitly tailored to Christians. Fourth, we review the empirical studies of the efficacy of the interventions. Fifth, we draw conclusions that advise Christian clinicians and clinical researchers on the future use and study of forgiveness in Christian families.
CONCEPTUALIZING FORGIVENESS AND ITS DEVELOPMENT
We use a stress-and-coping model to understand forgiveness (Worthington, 2006a). Stress-and-coping models begin with stressors.
Transgressions and Their Appraisals
Transgressions are understood to be stressors that provide a demand to change for the victim. Transgressions violate people's psychological or physical boundaries. People appraise the transgression along the dimensions of degree of hurtfulness, injury, severity, and duration. However, they also make a primary appraisal--is this potentially harmful? Answering yes to that question provokes the secondary appraisal--can I cope?
People can cope with transgressions by seeking to re-establish justice or redress the injustice. They may do this by enacting revenge or by appealing to some formal system to reestablish societal justice--such as through judicial, criminal, political, or social avenues. They may seek personal justice in the form of pursuing an apology or restitution. Or they might turn judgment over to a divine power to bring justice about.
People might also respond to transgressions by trying to control their emotions. They might forebear their immediate responses to the transgression. Forbearing is withstanding and perhaps suppressing anger and hatred while controlling negative emotions. People might also simply accept the transgressions and the injustice and move on with their life. Acceptance acknowledges injustice and its ill effects but reduces the future importance of the event in governing one's behavior. It releases one from emotion by giving up one's expectations for the redress of injustice. People might reduce injustice through narrative approaches by excusing (i.e., recounting mitigating circumstances) or justifying (i.e., telling how they were in the wrong and the offender was within his or her rights to offend) transgressions against themselves. Essentially, they tell a different story about the transgression.
Finally, people might deal with injustice by forgiving. There are two distinct types of forgiving. Emotional forgiveness is the emotional replacement of negative unforgiving emotions (like bitterness, resentment, and anger) by positive other-oriented emotions such as empathy, sympathy, compassion, or love (Worthington, 2003, 2006a). When people forgive, their negative emotions subside. They are less motivated to get revenge or avoid the transgressor, and, if forgiving is complete, they might feel love, compassion, sympathy, or empathy for the transgressor (DiBlasio, 1998). Some people grant (silently to themselves) decisional forgiveness, which applies to their behavioral intentions toward the offender. They decide not to seek revenge, not to avoid the transgressor (unless continued interaction is potentially dangerous), and to treat the person as a person of worth even though they might not have completely forgiven the person emotionally. Decisional forgiveness is a sincere intention statement about controlling one's future behavior (Worthington, 2003, 2006a). Forgiveness may be initiated by-reasoning, simply experiencing positive other-oriented emotions toward the transgressor, acting kindly toward the transgressor, or having the transgressor act contritely or in a way that provokes empathy, sympathy, compassion, or love.
Talking about Transgressions
Neither decisional nor emotional forgiveness is necessarily involved if one says aloud that one forgives a person. Talking about forgiveness is clearly different than either the intrapersonal experience of making a decision to forgive or of experiencing emotional forgiveness (Worthington, 2006a). For instance, one might say one forgives because one is trying to disarm the offender so that revenge can he exacted. Or alternatively, one could easily forgive--the decisionally and emotionally--and yet not tell the other person that one forgives because one might know that guilt will elicit from the offender many guilt-motivated benefits to the victim.
Most Childhood "Forgiveness" Is Likely Talking about Forgiveness, Not Actually Forgiving Internally
A child can be induced to say that he or she grants decisional forgiveness at very early ages (Worthington, 2006b). Parents can model apologizing, asking for forgiveness, and saying, "I forgive you." They can instruct children to foreswear avoidance and revenge and to treat the other person as if the other person were a person of great worth (i.e., decisional forgiveness). If the child complies, the child's behavior is consistent with an internal decision to forgive. Yet the internal world of the child might not have been accessed. Mischel (1973) showed that children imitate their parents' behavior. For example, if a parent says, "I forgive you" but acts vengefully, the child will likely do likewise. By controlling his or her negative behavior toward an offender, the child might even experience changed negative emotions and motivations, thus come to emotionally forgive as an internal experience. The child, if cognitively developed enough, might actually make a decision internally--but that requires cognitive development to where internal speech is governing the child's behavior. But importantly, the child also might not experience emotional forgiveness in tandem with decisional forgiveness, and neither is a necessary link to the child's saying that he or she forgives.
Reasoning about Forgiveness
Enright and his colleagues (see Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000, for a review) have conducted substantial research on the development of reasoning about forgiveness. They identified six stages of development of reasoning capacity in children. Enright's stages, which emphasize mercy, parallel Kohlberg's (1984) six stages of reasoning about justice. The time-tables of development of reasoning about justice and mercy are also parallel.
In Enright's model, very young children think that forgiveness will help them avoid punishment (stage 1) or get rewards (stage 2). As children progress into middle childhood and early adolescence, they become capable of reasoning that considers social disapproval and approval for their responses to transgressions. They thus might say they forgive, depending on the contingencies, when they do not feel forgiving at all. Only in adolescence are children thought to be capable of reasoning abstractly about forgiveness.
In some ways, the consideration of how children develop the capacity to reason about forgiveness is less important than whether children actually experience forgiveness after a transgression. One's capacity to forgive (for instance) at stage 5 (in the Kohlbergian and Enright schemes) does not imply that one will ever actually forgive. We all know brilliant adults with highly developed reasoning capabilities who are spiteful, bitter, unforgiving, and vindictive.
Presumably, most parents and other authority figures (like teachers, religious leaders, and day care personnel) want children to develop into forgiving adults. This is especially true in Christian families due to the Christian mandate to forgive. Presumably, they also will not merely wait until children develop mature reasoning capacity to forgive, but they will intervene early and often to promote forgiving in their children.
We believe that interventions by patents and by mental health professionals and other adult educators can help children develop age-appropriate forgiveness even when the children are very young. Usually they will help the parents; (a) become more forgiving as a couple, (b) learn how to coach their children to make decisions to forgive, experience emotional forgiveness, and (c) communicate forgiveness as congruently as they can.
Clearly, children's or adolescents' capacity to reason in such a way that they conclude they should forgive can be important to whether they emotionally forgive or make an internal decision to forgive. To reason that one should forgive for reasons more socially and spiritually motivated than motivated by rewards and punishments will also affect how children and adolescents think about and try to experience forgiving. So, development of reasoning capacities is not unimportant to actually forgiving.
However, by understanding emotional forgiveness as an emotional replacement of negative with positive emotions, we are led to understand the development of forgiveness as being more complex than mere obedience ("Tell your sister that you forgive her, Johnny. She won't flush any more of your pet goldfish down the toilet") or as being primarily a function of cognitive development (although clearly some minimal level of cognitive development is necessary).
Other developmental considerations besides level of cognitive reasoning that are important to forgiving. Other developmental considerations that are in line with the child's emotional development are important to understanding whether children actually forgive and at which ages (Denham et al., 2005). First, temperament is important. Babies often develop easy, difficult, slow-to-warm-up, or mixed temperaments by-three months (Gottman et al., 1996). Temperament is important to the development of forgiveness, but it is of little importance to intervention. Second, childhood attachment to parental love objects should be expected to influence the degree to which children experience emotional forgiveness. Because childhood attachment styles are difficult to change, assessing attachment difficulties helps clinicians understand why some children might have difficulties forgiving, but they are not usually the target of clinicians who are intervening to promote forgiveness.
Third, from the early months of a child's life, emotion regulation occurs (for an excellent review, see Denham et al., 2005). Even babies at the youngest ages learn to emotionally down-regulate negative emotions by self-soothing, calming, and distracting themselves from their frustrations. As children age, their repertoire of emotion-regulation strategies becomes more varied and sophisticated. Those strategies can be targeted for age-appropriate interventions. Even in preschool years, an early sense of empathy, sympathy, compassion and unselfish love for others can be built.
Fourth, coaching from their parents can help children broaden and deepen their emotion-regulation strategies (Gottman et al., 1996). Through emotion coaching, parents convey their meta-emotional philosophy to children. They directly and indirectly tell and show children what emotions are acceptable to experience and to express. They train children in how to deal with emotion-provoking experiences--notably (for our purposes) transgressions.
Fifth, people encounter stress throughout their lives. Stressors make demands for change. Children appraise the stressors and respond to their appraisals with stress reactions, or they respond to physical stressors, sometimes without appraisal. They try to cope with both situations and their own reactions. Clinicians can apply the stress-and-coping model of forgiveness with children, just as with adults. However, the coping strategies will differ. The development of a repertoire of emotion-focused coping strategies will facilitate or hamper forgiving depending on what types of coping strategies the child practices.
For example, a child who sees God as a hostile authority figure might be less likely to respond with forgiveness to someone who had offended him or her (especially to a parent, caregiver, or other authority figure) than would a child who perceives God to be nurturing and collaborative. Pargament (1997) has identified numerous religious and spiritual coping strategies. These religious and spiritual coping strategies--such as praying, meditating, and making positive attributions to God--can affect the capacity of the child to forgive. Prayer as a coping strategy might be more available to older children than to younger children, which demonstrates development as well.
Sixth, the religions and spiritual environment in the home will likely also affect the child's development of the experience of emotional forgiveness. Forgiveness, (decisional or emotional) in response to a transgression, is valued by every' major religion (Rye et al., 2000). It is the centerpiece of Christianity. Some religions (e.g., Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) firmly advocate decisional forgiveness and emphasize controlling one's negative behavior. Christianity also advocates emotional forgiveness in addition to decisional forgiveness. Buddhism and Hinduism also promote forgiveness (Rye et al., 2000). Religion has been found to be correlated with forgiveness in adults (for a meta-analysis, see Davis, Worthington, &C Hook, 2010). Membership in a religious denomination, which involves a belief system that values forgiveness more or less strongly, will determine what parents teach their children.
The crucial importance of parents. Altogether then, we can see that children probably learn to grant forgiveness largely depending on the parents' belief system, their practice of encouraging and rewarding the child's expression of decisional forgiveness after being transgressed against, and their modeling of decisional forgiveness. However, the development of the experiencing of emotional forgiveness (in contrast to granting decisional forgiveness) is substantially less due to external demands from parents. Instead, it is highly related to the emotional climate within the parent-child relationship, which affects the child's temperament, emotion-regulation capability, parental meta-emotional philosophy, the child's cognitive development of the ability to reason about justice and forgiveness, the repertoire of ways of coping with stress that has been built through being intentionally and unintentionally rewarded, and the religious and spiritual environment in the home and church.
We suggest that the couple, co-, and single-parenting relationships are crucial for developing forgiveness. Parents can provide both an environment that nurtures forgiveness and structures that stimulate, encourage, and reward (or punish) a child for forgiving. Through the emotional climate and environmental contingencies and structures, children develop prototypes of forgiving, and those prototypes are honed into personality dispositions as the children move beyond the home and deal with peers and other adults more frequently in their grade school, middle school, and high school years.
It is thus important to examine how psychotherapists, couple therapists, and family therapists have attempted to promote forgiveness in their work with families and individuals. Our theoretical considerations have suggested that five elements are crucial: promoting (1) decisions to forgive; (2) emotional forgiveness; (3) good couple relationships that provide a warm environment that invites restoring after a transgression; (4) facilitative talk about transgressions; and (5) a climate where Christian beliefs and values are apparent and appreciated. We reviewed the literature investigating intervention in family context. This involved school aged, middle school, and high school children, couple counseling, and parent training (see Tables 1 and 2).
TABLE 1 Empirical Research on Interventions with Children, Middle School Adolescents, and High School Adolescents Study Source Participants Intervention Children Hepp-Dax (1996) Dissertation 23 fifth-grade An 8-session, students ages 4-week group based 10-12 years on the process model of forgiveness (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000) Adolescents (Middle School) Freedman & Knupp Journal Article 10 adolescents 8 weekly (2003) in junior high educational group school who had sessions based on experienced the process model parental divorce of forgiveness ages 12-14 (Enright & years Fitzgibbons, 2000) Gambaro (2002) Dissertation 12 middle school Educational students ages program conducted 12-14 years 2x per week for 12 weeks based on the process model of forgiveness (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000) Hui & Chau Journal Article 56 Chinese 8 educational (2009) children in forgiveness grade six who sessions were had judged conducted over a themselves to be 2-month period hurt and chose based on the not to forgive Enright Process their offenders model of forgiveness (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000) Adolescents (High School) Beck (2005) Dissertation 76 adolescents A 6-session from private and workshop based on alternative the REACH model of schools ages forgiveness 14-18 years (Worthington, 2003) conducted over a six-week period Gassin (1995) Dissertation 19 juniors and An 8-session seniors in high psychological school who had curriculum that been injured by did not explicitly a romantic discuss partner forgiveness, but challenged participants to apply psychological ideas to a hurtful situation Hui & Ho (2004) Journal Article 63 male Chinese 8 educational students in Hong forgiveness Kong; mean age sessions were 16 years conducted over a 4-week period based on the Enright Process model of forgiveness (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000) Klatt (2008) Dissertation 12 adolescent 12-week forgiveness males in a intervention added juvenile to the usual correctional treatment plan facility ages based on the 12-17 years Strengthening Families curriculum Park (2003) Dissertation 48 Korean 12-week program adolescent based on the females who had Enright been victims of Forgiveness aggression ages process model 12-21 years (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000) Perez (2007) Dissertation 7 adolescent 15-week group males in a intervention based residential on the Enright treatment process model of program ages forgiveness 14-17 years (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000) Sim (2003) Dissertation 20 adolescents 15 sessions in a residential loosely structured treatment on the Enright facility ages Forgiveness 16-18 years Process model (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000) Williams, Journal Article 106 youth with 9-week modularized Johnson, & Bott prior aggression program based on (2008) in the school The Peaceful setting ages Alternatives to 5-18 years Tough Situations (PATTS). Study Source Measurement General Findings Children Hepp-Dax (1996) Dissertation Enright Experimental Forgiveness group showed Inventory for significant children, the increase in Revised Manifest total Anxiety Scale, the forgiveness Self-Esteem score at inventory, & the Posttest 1 but Social Skills not at Posttest Inventory (teacher 2. rated) Adolescents (Middle School) Freedman & Knupp Journal Article Enright Experimental (2003) Forgiveness group experienced Inventory, State significantly and Trait Anxiety greater hope and Inventory, decreased trait Reynolds anxiety compared Adolescent to control group. Depression Scale, No significant Hope Scale, and difference was the Coopersmith found between Self-Esteem Scale groups on forgiveness, state anxiety, depression, or self-esteem. Gambaro (2002) Dissertation the Enright Experimental Forgiveness group showed Inventory for significant Children, the reductions of Behavior Trait anger, Assessment System angry for Children, & temperament, and the State-Trait angry reaction, Anger Expression and significant Inventory improvement in attitudes toward teachers and schools and relationships with parents and peers compared to control. Hui & Chau Journal Article the Enright Experimental (2009) Forgiveness group reported Inventory, the significant Chinese Beck increase in Depression forgiveness, Inventory, the self-esteem, & Children's Hope hope, and Scale, the significant Rosenberg decrease of Self-Esteem Scale, depression than & the Chinese control group, Concepts of but groups did Forgiveness scale not differ in behavior, affect and cognition as measured by the EFI. Qualitative analysis revealed experimental group had a better understanding of forgiveness, were more aware of personal and social benefits of forgiveness, and were more inclined to see forgiveness as an unconditional act of love Adolescents (High School) Beck (2005) Dissertation Enright Treatment group Forgiveness showed Inventory, significant Batson's Empathy increases in Adjectives, forgiveness and Modified Anger empathy, and a Scale, and the significant Aggression decrease of Questionnaire anger compared to control group, but there was no difference between groups on reported levels of aggression Gassin (1995) Dissertation State Anger scale, Experimental Enright group showed Forgiveness significant Inventory, Life increase in Change scale, & overall the Social social-cognitive Description Task complexity compared to control, but no differences were found in depression, hope, anger, or forgiveness Participants who had moderate to high increases in social-cognitive complexity showed greater forgiveness responses at post-test and follow-up Hui & Ho (2004) Journal Article Self-Esteem scale, Experimental the Children's group had no Hope scale, the significant Conceptual differences Forgiveness between pre and Questions, & the posttest Enright measures of Forgiveness self-esteem and Inventory hope, and they did not differ from the control group on posttest measures of self-esteem and hope either. Participants did not show significant differences on concept of forgiveness between pre and posttest. Klatt (2008) Dissertation The Aggression Experimental Questionnaire, the group showed Enright greater Forgiveness increases in Inventory, How I forgiveness and Think greater Questionnaire, & reductions in behavioral self-reported ratings anger and aggression than treatment as usual group. Park (2003) Dissertation Enright Experimental Forgiveness group Inventory for experienced Children, State greater Anger Scale, forgiveness and Bryant's Empathy empathy, and Scale, Hostile less Attribution self-reported Measure, & Child anger, hostile Behavior attribution, Checklist-Youth's delinquency and Report Form & aggression than Teacher Report control at Form posttest and significant differences were maintained at 8-week follow-up for all variables except self-reported aggression Perez (2007) Dissertation Enright Participants Forgiveness experienced Inventory, the significant Personality increases in Inventory for forgiveness and Youth, & the significant Devereux Scales of decreases in Mental Disorder disruptive behaviors andexternalizing behaviors between pre and posttest. Sim (2003) Dissertation Enright Treatment group Forgiveness showed Inventory & significantly Religious higher Commitment forgiveness Inventory posttest than control group Williams, Journal Article Conflict Tactics PATTS Johnson, & Bott Scale-Revised, and participants (2008) a modified version indicated of the Mauger significant Forgiveness Scale positive decreases in physical assault, psychological aggression, and vengefulness, as well as reduction of school suspensions, principal referrals, or new criminal offenses, and significant increase of forgiveness of others compared ton control group. TABLE 2 Empirical Research on Interventions with Parents, Couples, and Families Study Source Participants Intervention Parents (n = 1) Kiefer et al. Journal Article 27 parents and Forgiveness and (2010) caregivers of Reconciliation children 0-9 through years old Experiencing Empathy (FREE) delivered through a 3-week workshop totaling 9 hours Couples (n = 11) Alvaro (2001) Dissertation 46 married 4 hours of a couples who had psychoeducational, experienced interpersonal hurt in their forgiveness relationship intervention given during a one-day workshop based provided by Intimate Life Ministries. Burchard, Journal Article 20 newly Forgiveness and Yarhouse, married Reconciliation Kilian, couples through Worthington, Experiencing Berry, & Canter Empathy (FREE), (2003) which contains REACH Coyle & Enright Journal Article 10 men who Enright's process (1997) identified as model of being hurt by forgiveness the abortion (Enright & decision of a Fitzgibbons, 2000) partner DiBlasio & Benda Journal Article 44 spouses Decision-Based (2002) Forgiveness DiBlasio & Benda Journal Article Study 1:44 Decision-based (2008) married couples forgiveness Study 2:26 treatment married intervention volunteers (DiBlasio, 1999) Gordon, Baucom, Journal Article 6 married Three-stage & Snyder (2004) heterosexual forgiveness model couples recovering from an extramarital affair Greenberg, Journal Article 46 participants 12-hour Warwar, & who had psychoeducational Malcolm (2008) unresolved group administered interpersonal, over 12weeks that emotiona injury included content with a covering aspects of significant forgiveness such as other (i.e., what it is and is parents, not, why one would ex-partner, be motivated to sibling or forgive (sources of child) content acknowledge, among others, Worthington's theorizing) Knutson (2003) Dissertation 10 married A 20-session couples educational program reporting low based on Enright's marital process model of satisfaction forgiveness (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000) Ripley & Journal Article 43 married REACH, empathy Worthington couples centered (2002) forgiveness-based marital enrichment and an early version of FREE Sells, Giordano, Journal Article 5 married 8-week marital & King (2002) couples group curriculum experiencing using contextual long-standing family therapy and frustration a forgiveness model over recovery based on Hargrave's from a four-station model relational of forgiveness injury Vaughan (2001) Dissertation 20 newly Forgiveness and married couples Reconciliation ** through Experiencing Empathy (FREE), which contains REACH Study Source Measurement Parents (n = 1) Kiefer et al. Journal Article Transgression-related Interpersonal (2010) Motivations Inventory, Single-Item Forgiveness, and Batson's Empathy Adjectives Couples (n = 11) Alvaro (2001) Dissertation Enright Forgiveness Inventory, the Personal Assessment of Intimacy in Relationships (PAIR), and the Evaluating & Nurturing Relationship Issues, Communication, Happiness (ENRICH) inventory Burchard, Journal Article The Quality of Life Inventory Yarhouse, Kilian, Worthington, Berry, & Canter (2003) Coyle & Enright Journal Article Enright Forgiveness Inventory, (1997) State Anger Scale, State Anxiety Scale, and the Grief Scale DiBlasio & Benda Journal Article Enright Forgiveness Inventory, (2002) Index of Marital Satisfaction, and the Generalized Contentment Scale DiBlasio & Benda Journal Article Enright Forgiveness Inventory, (2008) Index of Marital Satisfaction, and the Generalized Contentment Scale Gordon, Baucom, Journal Article Beck Depression Inventory, & Snyder (2004) Post-Traumatic Stress DisorderSymptom Scale-Self Report, The Marital Satisfaction Inventory-Revised, and the Forgiveness Inventory Greenberg, Journal Article Enright Forgiveness Inventory, Warwar, & Forgiveness Measure, Unfinished Malcolm (2008) Business Empathy and Acceptance Scale, Unfinished Business Feelings and Needs Scale, the Letting Go Measure. Target Complaints Discomfort and Change Scale, Global Symptom Index, and the Beck Depression Inventory Knutson (2003) Dissertation The Family Strengths Scale, Enrght Forgiveness Inventory, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, Beck Depression Inventory-II, Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory, and the Hope Scale Ripley & Journal Article Dyadic Adjustment Scale, Couples Worthington Assessment of Relationship (2002) Elements, The Global Rapid Couples Interaction Scoring System, the Relationship Dynamics Scale, and the Transgression-Related Interpersonal Motivations Inventory Sells, Giordano, Journal Article Interpersonal Relationship & King (2002) Resolution Scale, the Dyadic adjustment Scale, the State-Trait Anger Inventory, and the Symptom Checklist-Revised 90 Vaughan (2001) Dissertation Kansas Marital Satisfaction Scale Study Source General Findings Parents (n = 1) Kiefer et al. Journal Article Forgiveness of a target offense and (2010) a measure of general relationship-aggregated forgiveness increased and was maintained at a 3-week follow-up. Couples (n = 11) Alvaro (2001) Dissertation The experimental group experienced significant increases in forgiveness and intimacy measures compared to the control group. Burchard, Journal Article The experimental group did not Yarhouse, statistically increase in quality Kilian, of life compared to the control Worthington, group, but the experimental group Berry, & Canter did increase in quality of life (2003) from pretest to posttest (p = .07), while the control group significantly decreased (p < .05). Coyle & Enright Journal Article The experimental group experienced (1997) significant reductions in anxiety, anger, and grief and significant increase in forgiveness compared to control group. Similar significant findings were found for the control group after receiving the same treatment. DiBlasio & Benda Journal Article Initial data suggests the (2002) experimental group receiving the forgiveness intervention significantly improved in self-esteem over the control group (no treatment). DiBlasio & Benda Journal Article Study 1: The experimental group (2008) showed a significant increase in forgiveness from pretest to posttest, but did not differ significantly from the control or the problem-solving group. The experimental group showed significant increase in marital satisfaction and contentment compared to control group. Study 2: Experimental group showed significant increase in forgiveness, marital satisfaction, and contentment from pretest to posttest. No between-group comparisons were made. Gordon, Baucom, Journal Article Injured partners experienced & Snyder (2004) positive gains on dependent variables as measured by z-scores. The majority of couples were less emotionally or martially distressed, and the injured partner reported greater forgiveness post-treatment. Greenberg, Journal Article The experimental group receiving Warwar, & emotion-focused therapy showed Malcolm (2008) significantly more improvement than the psychoeducational group on measures of forgiveness, letting go, global symptoms, and key target complaints Knutson (2003) Dissertation No statistical differences were found between the experimental group and a CBT-based control group intervention at posttest; however, the two groups pooled showed significant improvements from pretest to six-week follow-up on measures of marital satisfaction, family strengths, forgiveness, self-esteem, anger, anxiety, and depression. Ripley & Journal Article The experimental group Worthington significantly improved in (2002) observational measures of communication compared to control group, but no significant changes were produced in self- reported marital quality, communication, or forgiveness. Sells, Giordano, Journal Article Couples experienced significant & King (2002) improvement in forgiveness skills at posttest and follow-up. The exhibition of forgiveness skills was positively correlated with higher levels of marital satisfaction, reduced presence of psychological symptoms, and reduced anger. Vaughan (2001) Dissertation Marital satisfaction declined slightly in the forgiveness treatment group. Families (n = 0) * The same sample used by Burchard et al. (2003)
FREQUENTLY USED INTERVENTION MODELS TO PROMOTE FORGIVENESS
Many models have been advanced to promote forgiveness (see Tables 1 and 2). Two models have been tested multiple times and meet the criteria for designation as empirically supported. Both Enright's process model and Worthington's REACH model seek to promote both decisions to forgive and emotional forgiveness--two of the five foci discerned to be important in family context based on our theoretical deliberations.
Enright's Process Model
Enright has proposed a process model of forgiving (Enright &c Fitzgibbons, 2000). The model has 20 units, which are arrayed into four phases. Enright is a developmental psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, and he has developed a model that is useful throughout the developmental spectrum. This has been a popular model for adaptation with children and adolescents. Enright also has developed a substantial number of applications to mental health disorders such as incest survivors, substance abuse and dependence, and men whose partners had experienced an abortion as well as physical health disorders such as cancer survivors and cardiovascular disorders. Freedman, Enright, and Knutson (2005) summarized research in a qualitative review and Baskin and Enright (2004) conducted a meta-analysis of research on the process model.
The first eight units comprise the uncovering phase. During uncovering, the person gets in touch with his or her pain. Units 9 to 11 involve the decision phase. Forgiveness is defined, and people consider what is involved before committing to forgive. Units 12 to 15 comprise the work phase. In the work phase, people try to understand the offender and the context of the transgression, then accept and absorb the pain. In the outcome phase, units 16-20, the person gives a gift of forgiving to the offender and develops a sense of healing. The process model encourages people to make decisions and emotional forgiveness explicit.
Worthington's REACH Forgiveness Model
Worthington (2006a) has developed a psychoeducational model to lead people in small groups to make a decision to forgive and then experience five steps to REACH emotional forgiveness. Leaders cue group members' memory of the five steps by the acrostic REACH. R is Recall of the Hurt. The offender recalls the event in a way different from the usual ruminative recall. Namely the person recalls without blaming the offender or self-pitying. After a conscious attempt to decide to forgive, an attempt at E (Empathize to Emotionally Replace) is made during the longest portion of the method. Emotional replacement can substitute empathy, sympathy, compassion, or love for the unforgiving emotions of resentment, bitterness, hostility, hatred, anger and fear. A is an Altruistic Gift of Forgiving in which, through humility and empathy, the person decides and emotionally experiences forgiveness. C stands for Commit to the Forgiveness Experienced. The person makes a public commitment (which could be to others or just a letter or note to oneself) to solidify the experience of deciding to forgive and emotionally forgiving. The commitment is intended to help the person H, Hold onto Forgiveness.
Whereas Enright's model is exceptionally strong with children and adolescents and also with mental health problems, Worthington's model has been applied and tested most frequently in the following settings: Christians in church settings (Worthington et al., 2010), Christian colleges (Lampton et al., 2005; Stratton et al., 2008), couples (eg., Ripley & Worthington, 2002; for a review, see Worthington, 2006a), parents (e.g., Kiefer et al., 2010), and secular college students (for a review, see Worthington, 2006a). Manuals are publicly available at www.people.vcu.edu/~eworth. Research has been subjected to reviews (Wade & Worthington, 2005) and meta-analysis (Wade, Worthington, & Meyer, 2005) and shown to be efficacious with Christians, college students (Christian and secular), and couples and parents.
Two Models That Seek to Change Talk about Transgressions
DiBlasio's decision-based model with couples and families. Whereas both the process model and REACH forgiveness model aim at producing emotional and decisional forgiveness as internal experiences, some intervention models are more focused on promoting both the experience of forgiveness and healthy talk about transgressions and forgiveness, which can lead to better relationships. DiBlasio has described (DiBlasio, 1998) and tested a decision-based model with couples (DiBlasio & Benda, 2002, 2008). Originating from his clinical practice (as first reported in Worthington & DiBlasio, 1990), DiBlasio focused on decisional forgiveness as an internal experience and communicating that decision to forgive between partners, which then leads to emotional and behavioral forgiveness. DiBlasio and Benda (2008) reported two studies of the model showing efficacy with Christian couples and also with secular couples. Couples achieved improvements in cognitive, emotional and behavioral forgiveness (for clinical application of this work for Christian couples, see Cheong &c DiBlasio, 2007; DiBlasio, in press).
Worthington's Forgiveness and Reconciliation through Experiencing Empathy (FREE) model. Worthington has developed methods of working with couples that promote both internal experiences of forgiving (i.e., emotional and decisional forgiveness) and discussions about transgressions leading to reconciliation (Burchard et al., 2003; Ripley & Worthington, 2002). A manual for marriage enrichment may be found at www.people.vcu.edu/~eworth.
Religiously or Spiritually Tailored Interventions
Our theorizing suggested five elements needed for family application of forgiveness--decisions, emotional change, a warm climate, instruction in talk about transgressions, and a religious environment. Thus far, we have discussed the first four. We now assess the status of the research on religiously or spiritually tailored psychotherapies. Most of the studies on interventions to promote forgiveness are with secular clients. The present article is most immediately concerned with religiously tailored treatments or treatments that are likely to be effective and evidence-based for use with religiously and spiritually oriented clients. We must ask, then, whether research using secular treatments (i.e., those aimed at general populations containing both religious/spiritual clients and those who do not claim a religious/spiritual orientation) with secular (i.e., mixtures of religious/spiritual and those who are not) clients are effective with religiously and spiritually oriented clients.
Worthington, Hook, Davis, and McDaniel (in press) reviewed religious and spiritual treatments. (Spiritual treatments were relatively fewer, so we will talk only of religious treatments). They meta-analyzed 51 samples from 46 studies. They found that religious treatments had clear positive gains from pre-test to post-test, and the gains were maintained at follow-up. However, when the studies involving a control group were analyzed, religious treatments were more effective than those with any control group for improving psychological symptoms. Religious treatments were not better than controls when compared to an active alternative treatment on psychological symptoms, but they were better at instigating changes in spiritual measures (however, at follow-up those spiritual changes were not maintained). At the most restrictive level of comparison of a secular treatment and a religious treatment that is the same in all ways except for being tailored religiously or spiritually, the secular and religious treatments--though both efficacious--were not different. This might suggest that (1) it does not matter whether treatments are tailored to religious clients or (2) that religious clients might look for the religious even within secular treatments and benefit from secular treatments.
We hypothesize, then, that for forgiveness interventions, research on secular treatments will be equally efficacious as will religiously tailored interventions. We suggest this might be the case for several reasons. First, all religions seem to value forgiveness (Rye et al., 2000) and will thus be likely to "read into" the secular interventions a valuing of forgiveness, to which they will likely respond positively. Second, therefore, it is likely that religious people will find the secular interventions that have been tested on secular samples to be value-congruent with their religious beliefs. Third, it is likely that religious people exposed to secular interventions could interpret them as religious. For example, a Christian who holds a cognitive causal worldview (e.g., "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he"; Prov 23:7; KJV), would find a cognitive approach to promoting forgiveness to be "Christian." For an alternative view that emphasizes that a Christian forgiveness intervention for Christian clients is more effective than secular intervention, see DiBlasio (in press) and DiBlasio and Benda (2008).
As a consequence, in the review below, we have reviewed the literature on all studies investigating the efficacy of interventions to promote forgiveness in children, adolescents, and families. Furthermore, finding few explicitly Christian articles directly with children, adolescents, and families (and because we wanted to address the fifth concern--the explicitly religious tailoring of interventions), we reviewed all available explicitly Christian interventions (most of which were with college students).
REVIEW OF STUDIES OF THE EFFICACY OF FORGIVENESS INTERVENTIONS
Method of the Review
We accessed PsychINFO on March 12, 2010, using the words forgiv * and interven *, crossed with child *, adolescent *, parent *, couple *, and family. After excluding theoretical papers and case studies, we located 1 intervention study with children, three with middle school students, and eight with high school students, which we summarized in Table 1. We also located one with parents specifically, and 11 with couples, but none with families as a whole. We summarized those in Table 2. Finally, we found nine explicitly with Christians.
Interventions with Children
Having reviewed the most common general models of intervening to promote forgiveness (and discussions about transgressions), we now examine the research studies that have been applied with school-aged children (see Table 1). In the present section, and in subsequent sections, due to space limitations for the present article, we do not include case studies or descriptions of interventions. Rather, we focus on controlled outcome efficacy research. Our strategy is to include the details of studies in two tables, and in the present narrative summaries merely to note some general points.
Only one intervention study was conducted with fifth grade students (Hepp-Dax, 1996). Results were not strong. Gains by the end of treatment were not maintained. Enright's process model was used. The project was an unpublished dissertation.
Interventions with Adolescents
In Table 1 we also describe the studies done to help middle school students (n = 3; one dissertation and two articles) and high school students (n = 8; two articles and six dissertations). All three projects with middle school students used the Enright process model. The article (Hui 8c Chau, 2009) found few quantitative changes, but quite a few qualitative changes were noted for the middle school students after the intervention. The dissertation regarding middle school students (i.e., Gambato, 2002) reported modest changes as well--mostly in self-reported traits and attitudes. Freedman and Knupp (2003) in a journal article used an educational version of the process model with five early adolescents (12 to 14 years old) who had experienced divorce of their parents. They experienced greater hope and decreased trait anxiety compared to control group.
A substantial number of studies investigated high school students. In a dissertation, Beck (2005) studied 76 students using the REACH model. Beck found predicted differences in anger, empathy, and forgiveness, but not in aggression.
Hui and Ho (2004) used the process model with 63 male Hong Kong students. They found virtually no differences in comparison to a control condition. Several dissertations were less effective than were the reports in published papers. In a dissertation, Park (2003) studied the process model with 48 Korean students. Park found that the experimental condition experienced greater forgiveness and empathy, and less self-reported anger, hostile attribution, delinquency and aggression than control at posttest and significant differences were maintained at 8-week follow-up for all variables except self-reported aggression. Perez (2007), in a dissertation, studied seven adolescent males in a residential treatment setting. Participants experienced increases in forgiveness and decreases in disruptive and externalizing behaviors between pre and posttest. Likewise, Sim (2003) studied 20 adolescents in a similar setting using the process model. The treatment condition showed higher forgiveness posttest than control group.
Several other programs indicated some promise. Williams, Johnson, and Bott (2008) found that a program called Peaceful Alternatives to Tough Situations (PATTS), when applied to 106 youth with a history of aggression in the schools, resulted in decreases in physical assault, psychological aggression, vengefulness, school suspensions, principal referrals, and new criminal offenses, and increase of forgiveness of others compared to a control condition. Gassin (1995) and Klatt (2008) in dissertations of N = 19 and N = 12, respectively, found some evidence for effective programs.
Overall, it appears that forgiveness gains with adolescents were modest. They seemed to affect attitudes and ratings of forgiving, and sometimes behavior.
Interventions with Parents
In Table 2, we describe the single journal article study that has been done to help teach parents how to forgive and how to promote forgiveness in children (Kiefer et al., 2010). Parents were trained to forgive their children for disappointments and also to forgive their co-parenting partners for misunderstandings over parenting. "Worthington's Forgiveness and Reconciliation through Experiencing Empathy (FREE) model was taught. That model contained as one step of four instructions on internal forgiveness using the REACH model. Forgiveness of a target offense, and forgiveness in general were both increased during 9 hours of treatment and were maintained at a three-week follow-up.
Interventions with Couples
In Table 2, we describe the studies done to help couples forgive. In contrast to research on adolescents, which has mostly been non-referred dissertations, with only three published studies, the literature on couples boasts 8 of 11 projects from referred journal articles, and only three dissertations. FREE (and REACH) has been investigated three times (two articles and one dissertation). DiBlasio's decision-based forgiveness model was investigated twice (both articles). Enright's process model has been investigated twice (one article and one dissertation). Other established programs have also been investigated, such as one for couples dealing with affairs (Gordon, Baucom, & Snyder, 2004). Although this was the only empirical investigation of the model, the authors have written extensively about the clinical aspects of it. In addition, one article used the empty chair method (Greenberg, Warwar, &c Malcolm, 2008) from Gestalt therapy. That approach acknowledged the REACH model, which uses the empty chair model as one method (acknowledging Malcolm and Greenberg, 2000, as source). The interventions to help couples have been found to be consistently effective.
Interventions with Families
In Table 2, we sought studies done to help families promote forgiveness in their children. No studies involving family therapy for forgiveness were found.
Interventions with Christians
Because this article is aimed at what forgiveness interventions might be efficacious with religious or spiritual clients and because none of the interventions thus far except DiBlasio and Benda (2002, 2008) were used explicitly with religious people (i.e., Christians), we examined other forgiveness interventions that targeted forgiveness with religious or spiritual clients among adults. Few religiously or spiritually oriented interventions to promote forgiveness have been investigated among the multitude of interventions with adults. Rye and Pargament (2002) studied women who sought to forgive an ex-partner in a broken romantic relationship, and Rye, Pargament, Pan, Yingling, Shogren, and Ito (2005) studied women who sought to forgive a divorced partner. In both, the intervention was similar to the REACH model, though it was not an exact version of it. Lampton et al. (2005; with Christian college students), Stratton et al. (2008; with Christian college students), and "Worthington et al. (2010; with Filipino church members) used religiously adapted versions of REACH. Jackson (1999), in a dissertation using an empathy-based treatment, like the REACH model but not precisely adapted from it, found effective forgiveness in Christians. Hart and Shapiro (2002) studied Enright's process model and found it equivalent to or not quite as effective as a 12-step approach for people with drug and alcohol addiction.
We have provided a conceptualization of forgiveness and its development that can be used to develop and analyze interventions to promote forgiveness with youth, couples, and families, especially those who are Christians. We examined the four major interventions, and we summarized empirical research on the efficacy of all of the interventions that might he appropriate for Christian couples and parents and direct treatment of children and adolescents. Enright's process model has the widest support across the range of treatments, but it has not been adapted to religious populations. It is the primary intervention for working with adolescents. It is an empirically supported approach, having been used in a variety of labs and found to have some efficacy, but its adaptation for children is based on a single study with non-definitive outcomes.
For couples, a variety of models have been tried. The REACH model has been tested in several labs with couples and twice in studies directly with parents; it meets the criteria for empirically supported treatment. DiBlasio's decision-based model (which has been used with secular and explicitly Christian couples), Enright's process model, and Rye's model (i.e., loosely similar to REACH, but tailored to relationship dissolution) have less empirical support for Christian couples at this point; all three have two studies supporting them, but in each case, the studies come from the same lab, thus not meeting one of the criteria for empirically supported status. Only DiBlasio's (DiBlasio & Benda, 2002, 2008), and Jackson's (1999) studies were directly with Christians.
We conclude that the evidence is stronger that forgiveness can be taught more effectively to adults than to adolescents. Basic research on development of forgiveness is needed. Longitudinal research is preferred. That would allow a firmer base on which to tailor interventions to treatment with children, parents, and families. More research is also needed on Christians. That would inform adaption of existing interventions that have been investigated mostly in secular context and would permit modification of the few interventions that have been specifically tailored to Christians. Clinicians and clinical researchers are encouraged to adapt interventions--preferably evidence-based interventions--for Christian families, aimed at children, middle and high school adolescents, and Christian couples, parents, and whole families. Then, clinicians and clinical researchers must test the interventions in order to establish more empirically supported interventions with these populations.
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* Empirical article summarized in Table 1
** Empirical article summarized in Table 2
*** Empirical article summarized in the text
WORTHINGTON, EVERETT L., JR. Address: Dept. of Psychology Virgina Commonwealth University, (VCU), Richmond, VA. Title: Professor of Psychology. Degrees. Ph.D., Counseling Psychology, University of Missouri-Columbia. Specializations: Forgiveness and marital and family interventions, basic research and religion, spirituality.
JENNINGS, DAVID J. II. Address: Virginia Communwealth University, Richmond, VA. Title: Doctoral student at VCU. Degrees: M.S., M.S., Richmont Institute (Clinical Psychology, Atlanta) and VCU (Counseling Psychology). Specializations: Inspiration, forgiveness and interpersonal processees around transgressions, especially in couple and family relationships, religion and spirituality.
DIBLASIO, FREDERICK A. Address: University of Maryland at Baltimore. Title: Professor of Social Work. Degrees: Ph.D.(Social Work) from VCU. Specializations: Interventions to promote forgiveness in families and couples, clinical social work, psychotherapy.
EVERETT L. WORTHINGTON, JR. AND DAVID J. JENNINGS, II
Virginia Commonwealth University
FREDERICK A. DIBLASIO
University of Maryland
This research was partially supported by gram 2266 (Forgiveness and Relational Spirituality) from the Fetzer Institute to Everett Worthington (Principal Investigator) and Steven Sandage and Michael McCullough (Co-Investigators) and by grant 2512.04 (Forgiveness in Christian Colleges) also from the Fetzer Institute. Please address correspondence to Everett L. Worthington, Jr., PhD., Department of Psychology. Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA.
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|Author:||Worthington, Everett L., Jr.; Jennings, David J., II; DiBlasio, Frederick A.|
|Publication:||Journal of Psychology and Theology|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2010|
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