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Serious Stuff or Fluff?

Focuses on the forgiveness. Founding of the International Forgiveness Institute; Value of forgiveness.

To err is human, to forgive . . . trendy

Until recently, psychologists regarded forgiveness as the business of clergy and theologians. But now mental health experts are subjecting forgiveness to the microscope of scientist scrutiny--with no apologies:

o Last fall saw the founding of the International Forgiveness Institute, headed by the University of Wisconsin's Robert Enright, Ph.D.

o In April, Maryland psychologist Frederick DiBlasio, Ph.D., hosted a two-day conference to teach therapists how to foster forgiving.

o Mack Harnden, Ph.D., is already busy arranging "Jerusalem 2000," an international forgiveness congress scheduled to take place you-know-where-and-when.

"Some people think it's really fluffy stuff," admits Enright, who doesn't help matters when he describes forgiveness as a "gift" and the process of forgiving as a "journey."

But recent research makes clear the value of forgiveness. In one study, when Enright and Suzanne Freedman, Ph.D., interviewed a group of incest survivors, none expressed any desire to forgive their perpetrators. The duo assigned half of the women to some forgiveness workshops anyway--and not only did all eventually forgive, but a year later they reported far less anxiety and depression than a non forgiving control group. "I have never seen such strong results with incest survivors" says Enright.

Forgiving, however, does not mean letting the guilty party off the hook. "It's not excusing or forgetting--it's giving up resentment that you're entitled to," explains Enright. The paradox, he says, is that "by giving this gift to the other, it is the gift-giver who becomes psychologically healed."