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Forgiving: What Mental Health Counselors Are Telling Us.

Forgiveness is a potentially significant modality for increasing well-being and improving interpersonal relationships. Results of a survey of 381 mental health counselors regarding attitudes and practices related to forgiveness revealed forgiveness issues to be highly salient in clinical practice. Counselors' religiosity and theoretical orientations were associated with attitudes toward forgiveness. Endorsed intervention activities by mental health counselors appeared to indicate a lack of understanding regarding key activities designed to facilitate forgiveness with a wide range of clients. There appears to be a need to address an existing gap between research advances in the area of forgiveness and current counseling practices.

Within the past decade, scientific studies have begun to document what religious leaders, theologians, and philosophers have long proposed. Forgiveness is a potentially significant modality for increasing well-being and improving interpersonal relations. Although the scientific literature is sparse, initial studies agree that forgiving is effective in resolving feelings of remorse, guilt, anger, anxiety, and fear (Cerney, 1988; Fitzgibbons, 1986). Benefits have been found in highly diverse populations such as incest survivors, substance abusers, and cancer patients (Flanigan, 1987; Freedman & Enright, 1996; Phillips & Osborne, 1989).

Current interest in forgiveness--what it is, how it works, and whether and how it can apply to the counseling process--follows years of neglect and avoidance of the topic by research scientists (McCullough, Exline, & Baumeister, 1998; McCullough & Worthingon, 1994). Despite the fact that for centuries forgiveness has been lauded by most societies and cultures as valuable and worthy of adoption, there has been a general reluctance to study it. Denton and Martin (1998) explain the hesitancy as the result of associating forgiving with religion, not science.

In general, current definitions of forgiveness lack clarity and consistency. As Hebl and Enright (1993) pointed out, this hampers further productive research and clinical application. There are, however, notable areas of emerging consensus. For example, Denton and Martin's (1998) definition of forgiveness is fairly representative. They state that forgiveness involves:
 two people, one of whom has received a deep and long-lasting injury that is
 either psychological, emotional, physical, or moral in nature. [Forgiveness
 is] an inner process by which the person who has been injured releases
 himself or herself from the anger, resentment, and fear that are felt and
 does not wish for revenge. (p. 284)


Similarly, Hargrave and Sells (1997) stated that forgiveness is a process that occurs over time, from which the individual who has been injured becomes less angry, resentful, fearful, and interested in revenge. Forgiving is not to be equated with forgetting, pardoning, condoning, excusing, or denying the offense (Enright & Zell, 1989). Areas of disagreement include the relationship between forgiveness and reconciliation, whether forgiveness is a necessary component of personal growth (Hargrave & Sells, 1997), and whether one has to feel love and compassion toward the offender in order to forgive (Davenport, 1991; Denton & Martin, 1998).

Given the evidence pointing toward the beneficial effects of forgiveness and the dearth of research assessing attitudes by counselors toward forgiving, we developed a survey to assess if and how counselors were addressing forgiveness in their practice. Specifically, our research questions included:

1. Does forgiveness present as an issue in the counseling process and how likely are mental health counselors to raise the issue by themselves?

2. What do mental health counselors view as essential components of forgiveness?

3. What are the prevalent attitudes held by mental health counselors regarding forgiveness and what factors contribute to their attitudes?

REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

There are four types of forgiveness models in the current literature: (1) models based on psychological theories; (2) process models (the most prevalent) describing psychological tasks involved in the act of forgiving over a period of time; (3) models based on a moral development framework; and (4) typologies of forgiveness (Denton & Martin, 1998).

Process models (i.e., Brandsma, 1982) state that the individual must choose to let go of negative feelings; face past experience and painful feelings; view the injurer in terms of his or her needs, motives, and behavior; and release feelings of anger and retaliation. North (1987; 1998) also views forgiveness as a process, emphasizing that forgiveness requires a letting go that unfolds over time.

Enright and the Human Development Study Group (1991) clustered these steps or sequences into four major phases: uncovering, decision, work, and deepening. Enright, Freedman, and Rique (1998) view the model not as an invariant set of prescriptions, but rather a flexible set of processes with feedback and feed-forward loops, leaving space for variation. Enright's model proposes an active intervention regimen involving the offender. In reframing, the client views the offender in context to better understand his or her motives and behaviors. Empathy, a critical component, allows for further understanding of the offender. Both the activities of reframing and empathy for the offender permit the individual to accept imperfections in all people, including oneself, and move the individual to a more forgiving stance.

Although intervention studies are sparse, the evidence seems to point to the benefits of forgiveness, particularly as a potentially useful means of treating a wide range of psychological difficulties. Intervention has been found to be particularly useful with incest survivors, adolescents, college students, and elderly females (Al-Mabuk, Enright, & Cardis, 1995; Freedman & Enright, 1996; Hebl & Enright, 1993; McCullough, Worthington, & Rachal, 1997). Questions remain, however, whether promising intervention results related to forgiveness are due to common factors present in all effective psychotherapies. Comparisons between forgiveness protocols and more traditional protocols are needed to gain further understanding of the specific role and responsibility of forgiveness interventions in achieving therapeutic gains.

Four studies to date explicate attitudes of practitioners toward the process of forgiving. Denton and Martin (1998) studied the perceptions of 101 experienced social workers regarding: (1) the definition and process of forgiveness; (2) common misconceptions about forgiveness, and; (3) the categories of problems most helped by forgiveness. The overwhelming majority (80%) agreed that forgiveness: (1) is an inner process of releasing anger and fear; (2) reduces the desire to retaliate; (3) is a slow process that takes time: and (4) does not mean that the person has to forget the injury. There was no support for the idea that forgiveness involves prescribed sequential steps. Findings from the Denton and Martin study also indicated that counselors perceived forgiving as useful for the problem areas of family, marital and relationship issues, grief and loss, and guilt associated with abuse of substances. Psychotic and character disorders were ranked low as being influenced by forgiving. Intrapsychic and physical disease issues were least influenced by forgiving.

Significant gender differences were observed in this study. Contrary to cultural expectations, male social workers recognized more benefits from forgiving than women, a finding which may be attributed to sample bias and "the fact that men in social work might be sensitized differently toward forgiveness than the general population" (p. 288). There were no significant differences between practitioners of different religious orientations, a finding which may suggest a "universally accepted basic understanding of forgiving across

religions" (p. 288). The authors suggested that setting and type of client may be relevant variables in assessing the effectiveness of forgiving. For example, clinical social workers in public practice viewed forgiving as less effective with problems related to chemical dependency than did their peers in private practice.

DiBlasio and Proctor (1993) surveyed 128 practitioners to explore the use of forgiveness techniques in clinical practice. Their findings indicate that practitioners were more likely to develop techniques related to forgiveness if they were older, and if they reported openness to assessing and working with clients' religious belief systems. Counselors' levels of religiosity were not related to the development and use of forgiveness techniques. The relationship between age of counselor and openness to forgiveness may suggest that as counselors gain clinical experience, they may feel more comfortable and aware of forgiveness as a relevant clinical issue for clients.

DiBlasio and Benda (1991) examined the relative and cumulative effect of religiosity on forgiveness. They hypothesized that practitioners with strong religious beliefs would hold more positive beliefs regarding the therapeutic potential of forgiveness, and would be more open to clients' religious issues in treatment. Religiosity explained less than 5% of the variance with respect to identified forgiveness factors including attitudes and techniques. The authors concluded that religiosity was related to forgiveness attitudes and techniques of practitioners, but explained a small amount of the variance.

DiBlasio (1993) assessed attitudes toward forgiving as well as use of clinical techniques related to forgiveness in 30 social workers. An additional focus of this study was the comparison of highly religious and less religious practitioners. Although highly religious social workers were more likely to express favorable attitudes towards forgiveness relative to less religious practitioners, their more positive attitudes did not translate to a greater emphasis on forgiveness in practice. McCullough et al. (1998) suggested that if future surveys do not report a relationship between counselors' religious involvement and openness to forgiveness, these results may be understood as forgiveness having been adopted as a counseling tool by both religious and nonreligious counselors.

METHOD

Participants

The participants were 381 members of the American Mental Health Counselors Association who responded to a request to participate in a forgiveness-related survey. The survey was mailed to a random sample of 1,132 association members between December 1998 and March 1999. Two follow-up mailings to nonresponders were completed to improve the response rate. The overall response rate was 35.8%.

Participants ranged in age from 24 years old to 79 years old (M = 47). There were more women than men among the respondents (71% vs. 29%), a finding consistent with other surveys (Denton & Martin, 1998; DiBlasio, 1993). Males, on average, were 3 years older than females, a significant difference (t = -2.22, df = 372, p [is less than] .05). The overwhelming majority of respondents had advanced degrees, including 76% with master's degrees and 22% with doctoral degrees. In terms of religious preference, 46% identified themselves as Protestants; 19% Catholics; 8% Jewish; 3% members of an Eastern faith; and 17% no religious preference; 7% listed a variety of other affiliations.

Instruments

The survey consisted of four sections. The first section asked general background questions regarding the counselor's working environment, supervisory and teaching experiences, theoretical orientation, education, age, and religion. The second section assessed whether or not forgiveness presented as an issue in practice and how likely counselors were to raise the issue by themselves. Only participants who indicated that forgiveness presented as an issue in their counseling practice completed the remaining questions in this section. Questions were designed to assess the incidence and nature of forgiveness in clinical practice as well as to describe the background of clients who most often raise the issues themselves.

In section three, counselors were asked to identify essential components of forgiveness. Counselors were asked to indicate which forgiveness-related activities, out of a list of 18, they utilized in their clinical practice. Section four consisted of 16 Likert scale items that assessed mental health counselors' attitudes toward forgiveness (i.e., "Forgiveness is highly beneficial as a therapeutic goal for problems of anger and depression," "Forgiveness perpetuates abuse").

Participants' Backgrounds

Counselors had been practicing an average of 10.70 years (range = 0-50). Male respondents had been in practice significantly longer than female respondents, 13.88 years compared to 9.46, t = -3.86, df = 141, p [is less than] .001. The most frequently mentioned counseling settings included: solo practice 43%; social service agencies 26%; group practice 18%; schools/colleges 15%; and hospitals 6%. Other settings (mentioned by less than 3% of respondents) included religious facilities, outpatient clinics, correctional facilities, and community mental health centers. More than one setting could be selected.

Counselors came from a variety of theoretical orientations ranging from psychoanalytic to cognitive/behavioral. The largest proportion (52%) reported that they utilized more than one orientation in various combinations of psychodynamic/psychoanalytic, family systems, and cognitive/behavioral. Among those reporting a combination of orientations, 43% indicated that they utilized all three. Some 48% reported using a single theoretical approach. Among this group, 63% indicated that they used a cognitive/behavioral orientation, followed by 24% psychodynamic/psychoanalytic, and 13% family systems.

The most frequently mentioned issues counselors dealt with in their practice were substance abuse (21%) and depression (16%). Between 6% and 10% of respondents reported treating clients whose issues included mental illness, abuse, anxiety, sexual abuse, rape, and trauma. Marital problems, domestic violence, neglect, loss, grief, or death were mentioned less often by 4% or less of respondents.

RESULTS

Issues of Forgiveness in Clinical Practice

This section of the survey explored the incidence and prevalence of forgiveness in clinical practice; 88% of the counselors stated that forgiveness presents as an issue in their practice. Furthermore, they indicated that, on a 5-point scale from 1 "rarely" to 5 "very often", the issue arose often (M = 3.47).

Counselors' theoretical orientation was a significant factor in the frequency with which issues of forgiveness arose in their practices, F(3,288) = 2.99, p [is less than] .05. A Scheffe test revealed that counselors who used a psychodynamic or psychoanalytic perspective were significantly less likely to identify forgiveness as a presenting issue than counselors who used more than one theoretical orientation (2.97 compared to 3.58). Those who practiced in a group setting reported that forgiveness presented itself as an issue more frequently than counselors who practiced in other settings (3.75 compared to 3.40), F(1,314) = 4.96, p [is less than] .05. Counselors who dealt with issues of substance abuse, trauma, and/or rape also responded that forgiveness came up more frequently than did counselors who did not address these issues, F(1,307) = 4.28, p [is less than] .05; F(1, 307) = 4.32, p [is less than] .05; F(1,307) = 4.72, p [is less than] .05, respectively.

Of the 94% of participants who indicated that it was appropriate for counselors to raise forgiveness issues, only 51% indicated that it was the counselor's responsibility to raise the issue of forgiveness to clients. Forward stepwise regression analysis was performed to gain a better understanding of which factors contribute to the likelihood of counselors raising issues of forgiveness in their practice. Because the aim of this analysis was more empirically than theoretically driven, a fairly large set of variables was entered in order to explore possible contributing factors. Specifically, variables relating to counselors' attitudes toward forgiveness and their clinical setting as well as background characteristics such as religion and age were entered into the analysis. A variable entered the model if its probability was less than .50, and removed if the probability of F equaled or exceeded .10. These criteria yielded a model of seven variables. Table 1 reports the regression model steps, and Table 2 reports the final model.

Table 1: Stepwise Multiple Regression for How Likely Counselors are to Raise Issues of Forgiveness in Their Practice (N = 326)
Step [R.sup.2] [R.sup.2]
 Change

I. How frequently does forgiving
 present as an issue in your clinical
 practice? .233
II. Is it the responsibility of the
 therapist to raise issues of
 forgiveness to clients? .331 .101
III. Do you perceive it appropriate for
 therapists to raise issues of
 forgiveness? .389 .062
IV. Is your professional setting a
 group-practice? .411 .025
V. Is the forgiving process the same
 for men and women? .428 .020
VI. Is your professional setting a
 solo-practice? .442 .017
VII. Mean of items indicating a positive
 attitude towards forgiveness .454 .014

Step F Ratio F change

I. How frequently does forgiving
 present as an issue in your clinical
 practice? 53.35(***)
II. Is it the responsibility of the
 therapist to raise issues of
 forgiveness to clients? 43.46(***) 25.82(***)
III. Do you perceive it appropriate for
 therapists to raise issues of
 forgiveness? 37.53(**) 17.32(***)
IV. Is your professional setting a
 group-practice? 31.03(**) 7.32(**)
V. Is the forgiving process the same
 for men and women? 26.73(***) 5.92(*)
VI. Is your professional setting a
 solo-practice? 23.75(***) 5.35(*)
VII. Mean of items indicating a positive
 attitude towards forgiveness 21.40(***) 4.40(*)


Note. (***) p < .001; (**) <.01; (*) p < .05

Table 2. Final Model for Variables Predicting How Likely Counselors are to Raise Issues of Forgiveness in Their Practice (N = 326)
Variable B SE [Beta]
 [Beta]

Constant -.45 .52
I. How frequently does forgiving
 present as an issue in your
 clinical practice? .43 .06 .41(***)
II. Is it the responsibility of
 the therapist to raise issues
 of forgiveness to clients? .55 .14 .24(***)
III. Do you perceive it
 appropriate for therapists to
 raise issues of forgiveness? 1.27 .33 .24(***)
IV. Is your professional setting
 a group-practice? -.34 .17 -.12(^)
V. Is the forgiving process the
 same for men and women? -.37 .13 -.16(**)
VI. Is your professional setting
 a solo-practice? .29 .14 .13(*)
VII. Mean of items indicating a
 positive attitude towards
 forgiveness .28 .13 .13(*)


Note. F(7,165) = 21.40, p<.001; [R.sup.2] = .48, (***)p<.01; (*)p<.05; (^)p<.10

The strongest predictor of the likelihood that participants would raise the issue of forgiveness in counseling was whether or not they felt it presented as an issue in their practice. Participants who answered positively to the question of whether or not it is appropriate for counselors to raise issues of forgiveness were more likely to bring up the issues, in comparison to those who felt that it is not appropriate (3.61 compared to 1.72). The same was true for participants who indicated that they felt it is the counselor's responsibility to raise the issue (3.91 compared to 3.05) and who practiced in a solo practice as opposed to another setting (3.66 compared to 3.30). Counselors who had a highly positive attitude towards forgiveness, as measured by section 4 of the instrument, were also more likely to raise issues of forgiveness in their clinical practice. It is interesting to note that counselors who felt that the forgiving process is the same for men and women reported that they were less likely to raise issues of forgiveness than those who believed that the process is different (3.41 compared to 3.67). Whether or not participants practiced in a group setting did not by itself explain a significant amount of the variance.

Components of Forgiveness

Counselors were asked to indicate which of 18 activities devoted to the process of forgiveness they utilized in their practice. The 18 activities were based on the units of the Enright et al. (1998) process of interpersonal forgiveness. The percentage of participants indicating utilization of each activity was analyzed. A group of eight items was endorsed by over three-fourths of participants; a group of five items was endorsed by approximately two-fifths. Upon closer inspection of the content of these items, two themes emerged. The cluster of items endorsed by 75% of participants related to the forgiveness process and the self, or client, while the cluster of items that was endorsed by 39% of respondents related to the forgiveness process and the offender.

Activities relating to forgiveness and self/client

* New insight that old strategies are not working

* Emotional release and letting go

* Examination of psychological defenses (focusing on what is helpful/not helpful to individual)

* Confrontation and release of anger

* Admittance of shame and guilt, when appropriate

* Reframing such that the situation itself is understood in a different way

* Awareness of what inhibits forgiveness

* Acceptance of pain by the individual who has been wronged

Activities relating to forgiveness and the offender

* Reframing whom the wrongdoer is

* Empathy towards the offender

* Insight that the injured party may be comparing self with the injurer

* Decrease of negative affect toward the injurer

* Increase in positive affect toward the injurer

For each participant, an average score was computed for both clusters. These scores were then used as cut-off points to measure over-all utilization of the activities as they relate to the client or the offender. Forty-four percent of counselors endorsed both groups, while 24% endorsed neither. Twenty-three percent of respondents utilized only the activities relating to the client, and 9.5% solely utilized the activities relating to the offender. Counselors who indicated use of activities pertaining to forgiveness and the client/self had less negative attitudes towards forgiveness compared to counselors who did not use them, F(1,323) = 6.12, p [is less than] .05 (1.78 compared to 1.92).

Attitudes Toward Forgiveness

The fourth section of the survey consisted of 16 statements about forgiveness, scored from 1 Strongly Disagree to 5 Strongly Agree. The scale was factor analyzed, resulting in two theoretically based factors that explained 33.16% of the variance. One measured respondents' level of positive attitude towards forgiveness, while the other measured their negative attitude towards forgiveness. Respondents were scored on each subscale, Positive Forgiveness (alpha = .70) and Negative Forgiveness (alpha = .61), independently. Table 3 reveals the results of the factor analysis.

Table 3. Varimax Rotated Factor(*) Structure of the Attitudes Towards Forgiveness Scale
Item Factor 1 Factor 2
 Positive Negative
 Forgiveness Forgiveness

1. Forgiveness is highly beneficial
 as a therapeutic goal for
 problems of anger and depression. .58
2. Forgiving is condoning. .63
3. Forgiving is not helpful to an
 individual who has been wronged. .47
4. Encouraging letting go of
 resentment is a beneficial goal
 for individuals in therapy. .57
5. Forgiving implies reconciliation. .43
6. People mature into the capacity
 to forgive, not only others, but
 themselves as well. .59
7. Forgiving perpetuates abuse. .52
8. There is therapeutic value in
 having perpetrators of sexual
 abuse seek forgiveness for the
 acts they have committed. .34
9. The ability to forgive is a sign
 of strength. .69
10. Dealing with one's anger is an
 essential ingredient in the
 process of forgiving. .60
11. The ability to forgive is a sign
 of weakness. .43
12. Religious/Spiritual beliefs can
 play a significant role in the
 process of forgiveness. .54
13. Males and females differ in their
 approach to forgiveness. .31
14. Apology from the offender is a
 prerequisite to forgiveness. .66
15. Forgiveness is a choice. .47
16. Forgiveness belongs in the realm
 of religion/spirituality and has
 no place in clinical practice. .60

Eigenvalues(**) 3.56 1.7
% Variance Explained 22.25% 10.91%


Note: (*) For readability, only coefficients .30 or above are shown. (**) After rotation.

Overall, participants had a very positive attitude about the therapeutic implications of forgiveness; the average score for Positive Forgiveness was 3.99, while the average score for Negative Forgiveness was 1.82. Participants' mean Positive Forgiveness scores differed significantly depending on their religious affiliation, F(5,354) = 4.31,p [is less than] .01. A Scheffe test revealed that respondents who subscribed to a Protestant religious tradition had a significantly more positive attitude toward forgiveness (M = 4.06), compared to those who subscribed to an "other" religion such as Paganism, Interfaith/Pluralism or Native American religious traditions (M = 3.68). Although not significant, the highest Positive Forgiveness scores were found among participants practicing a Far Eastern religion such as Buddhism, Mohamadism, or Hinduism (M = 4.24) and those with no religious affiliation (M = 4.07). Participants' theoretical orientation also had a significant bearing on their positive attitudes toward forgiveness, F(3,339) = 4.27, p [is less than] .01. A Scheffe test indicated that those counselors with a psychodynamic/psychoanalytic theoretical orientation reported a significantly lower Positive Forgiveness score (M = 3.78), when compared to cognitive/behaviorists (M = 4.07) and family systems counselors who reported the highest mean (M = 4.21).

DISCUSSION

This study examined the attitudes and clinical use of forgiveness of mental health counselors belonging to the American Mental Health Counselors Association. The sample is the largest to date, diverse in populations served. The counselors sampled were also diverse with respect to theoretical orientation and reported a rich experiential clinical base. However, the results of our survey must be viewed with caution given the low response rate as well as difficulties associated the reliability and validity of our instrument. The low response rate limits the generalizability of our findings, given that it is unclear whether the sample is representative of mental health counselors belonging to the American Mental Health Counselors Association. Identifying characteristics of the sample are however consistent with other samples reported in the literature (Denton & Martin, 1998; DiBlasio, 1993).

Our findings indicate that issues related to forgiveness are very much present and relevant to the clinical work of mental health counselors. Indeed, 88% of our sample reported that forgiveness presents as an issue in their practice. Interesting findings were reported regarding mental health counselors' attitudes toward raising forgiveness-related issues to their clients. Although 94% reported that it was appropriate for the counselor to raise forgiveness-related issues in practice, significantly fewer mental health counselors (51%) reported that it was the counselor's responsibility to do so. Further inquiry would be helpful in understanding the meaning attached to appropriate counselor behavior versus counselor responsibility. Our findings indicated that counselors who held more positive attitudes toward forgiveness were more likely to raise forgiveness-related issues, a finding which is consistent with expectations regarding attitudes and comfort level with content and process related to forgiveness. Results revealed highly positive attitudes toward forgiveness and implications for its use in clinical practice.

Religious affiliation of participants was related to attitudes toward forgiveness. Participants who subscribed to a Protestant religious tradition reported more positive attitudes toward forgiveness in comparison to those who subscribed to an "other" religion such as Paganism, Interfaith/Pluralism, or Native American religious traditions. Our results contrast with the findings of Denton and Martin (1998) whereby no significant differences in attitudes between practitioners of different religious orientations was reported. They suggest a "universally accepted basic understanding of forgiving across religions" (p. 288). Levels of religious involvement were not assessed in this study, and therefore limit comparisons and analysis regarding level of religious involvement and attitudes towards forgiveness. In addition, our findings must be viewed with caution given the small sample size (N = 24) of those counselors identifying themselves as "other." Further study is indicated to gain a clearer understanding of the role and relationship of religious affiliation and involvement and use of forgiveness in clinical practice.

Our results also revealed that theoretical orientation was related to attitudes toward forgiveness, with counselors trained in systems therapy expressing the most positive attitudes. Although our findings are significant, further study is merited regarding the understanding of the actual impact of these findings in the day-to-day practice of mental health counselors as well as therapeutic outcomes related to forgiveness.

Those participants who espoused more positive forgiveness attitudes were more likely to raise issues of forgiveness in their practice. They were also more likely to include the use of forgiveness activities related to the offender. It appears that more positive attitudes on the part of the counselor results in incorporation of therapeutic activities related to forgiveness and the client/self as well as activities related to the offender. This finding has implications for training although causality regarding positive attitudes and use of activities focusing on the offender can not be determined.

Examination of the items based on Enright's model endorsed by the participants revealed an interesting and important difference with respect to therapeutic activities utilized by mental health counselors. While Enright et al. (1998) clearly endorse activities or "units" which are related to both the self/client and offender, our findings indicate that almost one fourth of respondents do not appear to endorse forgiveness-related activities in a systematic way, and furthermore two thirds of our respondents do not endorse activities which acknowledge and address the significance of the offender. Thus, critical activities such as reframing who the wrongdoer is and exhibiting empathy toward the offender, activities that appear to be integral to the forgiving process, were not endorsed by participants.

The majority of respondents in our survey, based on their selection of activities, appear to view forgiving as a process that involves the self and ignores the interpersonal quality of forgiving. Consideration of the offender as well as contextual variables surrounding the nature of the offense appear to be ignored as significant to the forgiving process. Contextual conditions affecting forgiveness (i.e., intent of offender to harm, severity of consequences, apology or repentance from the offender) do not appear to be acknowledged, although these contextual variables have been cited as crucial to the forgiving process (McCullough et al., 1997). The majority of respondents appear to view forgiveness as a gift primarily to the self alone, in contrast to a gift to the offending person as well as the self. Our participants seem to take away the construct of forgiveness from the interpersonal and moral qualities of generosity and/or moral love. In addition, the endorsed clinical activities by counselors appear to indicate a lack of knowledge regarding key activities cited in intervention studies with a wide range of clients. Endorsed practices also suggest a lack of understanding regarding activities designed to lessen the relative salience of the offending person's hurtful actions and reduce the power of the offender's action to cause the client seek revenge, which results in the maintenance of estrangement (McCullough et al., 1997).

There appears to be a gap between current understanding of the forgiving process and counseling practice as endorsed in this study. Although forgiving was reported to be a highly salient and relevant issue for mental health counselors responding to this survey, there appears to be no systematic approach used by our diverse sample of mental health counselors that addresses key issues related to forgiveness. The identified gap can be effectively addressed with further professional training.

Our findings regarding current attitudes and practices of mental health counselors represent the largest data set to date. Given the reported incidence and prevalence of forgiveness-related issues in practice, further research is needed to clarify issues such as religious and theoretical orientation of counselors and their relationship to forgiveness. In addition, further research is needed to improve counselors' current understanding regarding activities designed to assist clients with issues related to forgiveness (i. e., reducing the salience of the offending person's hurtful actions and reducing the power of the offender's action to cause the client to seek revenge). Our findings raise interesting questions related to current attitudes and practices that merit further replication and elaboration.

REFERENCES

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McCullough, M. E., Exline, J. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (1998). An annotated bibliography of research on forgiveness and related concepts. In E. L. Worthington, Jr. (Ed.), Dimensions of forgiveness: Psychological research & theological perspectives (pp. 193-317). Philadelphia, PA: Templeton Foundation.

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Phillips, L. J., & Osborne, J. W. (19891). Cancer patients' experience of forgiveness therapy. Canadian Journal of Counseling, 23, 236-251.

Varda Konstam, Ph.D. is a professor, Graduate College of Education, University of Massachusetts Boston. Fern Marx is a senior research scientist, The Center for Research on Women, and Jennifer Schurer is a student; both are with Wellesley College, MA. Anne Harrington is a consultant and owner of Anne Harrington & Associates. Nancy Emerson Lombardo is a senior research scientist, The Center for Research on Women, Wellesley College. Sara Deveney is a CAGS candidate, School Psychology, University of Massachusetts Boston.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Varda Konstam, University of Massachusetts Boston, Graduate College of Education, Harbor Campus, 100 Morrissey Blvd., Boston, MA 02125. Entail konstam@umbsky.cc.umb.edu
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Author:Deveney, Sara
Publication:Journal of Mental Health Counseling
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Jul 1, 2000
Words:5642
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