Meanings of Forgiveness in Psychotherapy
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This study takes a hermeneutic approach, informed by existing empirical and theoretical literature that considers the relevance, role, and meanings of forgiveness as a component of psychotherapy. The research question was “meanings of forgiveness in psychotherapy.” The situation considered throughout the study, is that of a person presenting in therapy who has been impacted by an interpersonal grievance or psychological hurt because of trauma or pain inflicted by another person. Forgiveness by the client, of the person who caused the distress, was the focus of the study. This might also be expressed as the question, how can psychotherapy that includes support of the client to forgive the offender, enhance the wellbeing of the client, and the wellbeing of the client’s interpersonal relationships? Forgiveness is defined, and the elements of the definition used to inform understandings of the various aspects of forgiveness. The pitfalls, false mimics of forgiveness, and what forgiveness is not, are discussed. Forgiveness is related to relationship restoration (reconciliation), reparation, revenge, and repentance. In this hermeneutic study, the source of material was previous research completed and interpreted by researchers who in some cases had followed a hermeneutic approach themselves. In the analysis of key themes discovered in this research, I brought the different researcher’s perspectives together to discover more general interpretations. Klein’s (1946) concept of the depressive position as a needed starting point for forgiveness is discussed. Attachment theory as described by Bowlby (1982) and Ainsworth (1977) is used as a basis for understanding underlying reasons leading a client to be disposed, or otherwise, towards forgiveness. Models of forgiveness are discussed in detail, and include interpersonal models, intrapersonal models, process models, emotion centred models, and a biopsychosocial stress and coping theory. A process model of forgiveness therapy is outlined. This study suggests that forgiveness in conjunction with other aspects of psychotherapy, can be advantageous for clients. Forgiveness may serve to facilitate resolution of inner issues such as hatred, and bitterness contributing to healing and wellbeing. Forgiveness is also discussed as a step towards reconciliation and a way of repair for some dysfunctional relationships in which relationship restoration is desirable. Care is needed to avoid both the therapist and the client from misunderstanding forgiveness. A variety of mimics exist in popular psychology that can readily distract from genuine forgiving, and lead to an unhelpful illusion of forgiveness and reconciliation, that accomplishes little of real relationship repair or improvement in wellbeing. Examples from the public domain are used to illustrate many key aspects of forgiveness.