Forgiveness Therapy

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Forgiveness Therapy After Spousal Emotional Abuse
Alisha C. Garrett
Liberty University

Summary
There has been a significant amount of reports of emotional abuse in the United States. Nearly 35% of women have reported that they have been emotionally abused by a husband or a significant other. Spousal emotional abuse has been a problem for quite some time and the effects of the abuse are long lasting.

According to Enright and Reed’s (2006) article, the purpose of spousal psychological (emotional) abuse is to cause the abused spouse to experience emotional pain, and it gives the abuser power over the abused spouse in the relationship. Some types of spousal psychological abuse include ridiculing or putting a spouse down, threatening to harm or leave a spouse, damaging a spouse’s personal belongings, and being very jealous and controlling of a spouse. Of these types, ridiculing is the type of psychological abuse that causes the most negative effects. Studies have shown that emotional abuse has had far more a negative impact on women than physical abuse. Enright and Reed’s (2006) article states that the negative effects of spousal emotional abuse include depression and anxiety, low self-esteem, learned helplessness, posttraumatic stress disorder, accusatory suffering, and resentment. All of these effects can last long after the abusive relationship has ended.

Although spousal psychological abuse has such a negative impact on the emotional health of abused women, there is not enough evidence regarding the success of treatment after the abusive relationship. Brief therapy has been recommended for women who have experienced spousal psychological abuse but there is still not enough empirical evidence to prove the success of the treatment. Researchers believe that forgiveness therapy is more effective in treating women that have been abused. There is a relationship between forgiveness and the improvement of both depression and anxiety, and self-esteem. Forgiveness therapy is more effective than brief therapy or an alternative therapy because forgiveness therapy focuses more on helping women to rid themselves of resentment which can lead to depression and anxiety, and low self-esteem, whereas brief therapy focuses more on “anger validation, assertive limit-setting, and interpersonal skill building” (Enright & Reed, 2006). According to Enright and Reed (2006), although a person has a right to be angry because they have been done wrong, long lasting feelings of resentment can have a negative effect on a person’s emotional health and decision making.

The participant sample used in the study discussed in Enright and Reed’s (2006) article included twenty psychologically abused women that ranged in age from 32-54. These women had been separated from their abusive spouses or significant others for at least two years. The women differed in race, ethnicity, and educational and employment background. Some of them were single while others had gone on to remarry. The participants were screened and pretested with the use of the psychological abuse survey, a posttraumatic stress symptom checklist, and a psychological screening checklist. If a participant reported having experienced at least three types of psychological abuse then she was included in the study. After screening and pretesting, the participants were randomly selected for either the forgiveness therapy (experimental) group or the alternative therapy (control) group.

Although participants in both groups engaged in weekly 1 hour sessions where the experimental group engaged in discussions on resentment and forgiveness, and the control group discussed anger validation and skill building, the participants in the forgiveness therapy group showed significant improvement in depression and anxiety, and self-esteem. In fact, the participants in the forgiveness group showed minimal to no depression and anxiety while the participants in the alternative group showed...
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