From Unconditional Forgiveness
Are you are a mental health professional who wants a reliable tool to help your clients release the pain of the past?
If you work as a professional in the field of mental health (psychologist, social worker, clergy, psychiatric nurse, marriage therapist, coach, and so on) you are probably a healer at heart, and you care about the alleviation of human suffering and the empowerment of others. There is a range of reasons why people get into this work, but I observe that most helping professionals have cultivated their careers as an outgrowth of walking the path of healing themselves. We are folks who long to grow into our full strength as individuals, and we want that for others. We hurt when we see another person hurting, and we wish to bring the right psychic medicine to that wounded psyche in front of us. Too often, we have been the consumers or providers of talk therapy—an approach that serves to release some stress and diminish some loneliness but usually falls short of providing real healing. It works only on the mental level and doesn’t sink into the heart of an issue where it is lodged in our bodies and our energy. Talk alone does not provide the infusion of spiritual energy that is needed to powerfully dislodge and change a hurt from deep inside.
The word psychology means “the study of the soul,” yet most modern psychology has striven to keep the idea of the soul out of it, craving a scientific base for its validity. The life of the soul and the subject of forgiveness are both considered the territory of religion, but nothing could possibly be more important than these two concepts for the field of mental health. A powerful change is currently bubbling in this field: the growing awareness of the importance of including a client’s spirituality in the therapeutic process, and the idea that complete emotional healing will come about with the true experience of forgiveness. These influences are bringing the possibility of real and lasting transformation for people seeking therapy. Organically based personality disorders aside, any clients who really want to change can change, if they use an effective method of forgiveness on their wounds. Clients need to be capable of naming their wounds in terms of forgiveness, learning to use the method with your help, and connecting with a Higher Power for the spiritual energy necessary. Believe me—the hurts will heal. When a client trusts you enough, and indicates that she is ready to turn the corner on an old painful wound with a parent or someone else who has wounded her, it is time for you to offer the notion and the tool of forgiveness as the next step to freedom.
The best preparation for being a potent psychological healer using the tool of forgiveness is to practice real forgiveness extensively on your own issues. This will give you authority to speak about forgiveness with clients who need to do it but are struggling with willingness to forgive, or lacking confidence that they can succeed and feel better. Authority is a wonderful concept when understood from its root meaning: one who knows, because of his own stories through forgiveness, you gather more and more spiritual light inside you, and the truth of this light speaks to your clients’ souls directly. It invites them to trust, feel safe, and believe you when you communicate with them about the value of forgiveness. Every good therapist knows that healing has its own mysterious timing, and so much of it depends on the ability of the clients to believe in, and successfully navigate, a significant change that needs to be made.
Sometimes we have to do a lot of preparatory work with counseling clients to kindle their faith and their will for change. But once they possess the will and have been educated in the steps of forgiveness, and we know how to bring in the energy of their Higher Power in a way that is acceptable for them—it’s time to go for it! How do we know when a client is ready to forgive? See Appendix C, “Suggestions for Psychotherapists,” below.
There is little that is more rewarding or a greater honor than to be the facilitator of the experience of forgiveness for another person. In every forgiveness session, there is a very sacred, pivotal moment of change, when the fetters of the past dissolve and the client is released into the now, with all of its fresh possibilities. This special moment is a blessing to therapist and client alike. In the same way that every birth and every death is a sacred portal to Universal goodness for those present, the moment of forgiveness is a bonding moment for therapist and client. The client’s first act of forgiveness is also a turning point in the therapy process. The forgiveness of lesser wounds, or smaller facets of a big wound, builds the stronger muscles needed to grant forgiveness at the gritty painful core of the worst stories. The refreshing experience of forgiveness inspires one to do more forgiveness and to take this healing work to its natural completion.
Suggestions for Psychotherapists: Using the Eight Steps to Freedom with Your Clients
This method will not be appropriate for all of your clients. It is not appropriate to use it with a client with certain personality disorders, or someone in a state of active addiction, or in a state in which emotional destabilization will cause the person to turn to self-destructive behaviors.
This method will be useful for your clients who are:
- Self aware and self-regulating
- Grounded in a basic sense of their identities
- Capable of studying and learning a technique
- Able to use their own wills as tools for change
- In a trusting relationship with their Higher Powers
- Comfortable sharing their emotions with you, their therapist
- Framing their therapy work as a forgiveness issue
Your clients are ready to forgive when:
- They have vulnerably touched the emotional pain of their wounds and shared it with you honestly.
- They have grown tired of the archaic patterns their stories are causing in their present lives, and they ask, Now what? How do I move on from this?
- They have examined and gained insight about what decisions they made, or what limiting beliefs about life, self, or others they took on because of their wounds.
- They have been educated about what forgiveness is, and how the method works to bring completion to this issue.
- They are open to working with a Higher Power, a spiritual source of healing and renewal.
Sometimes we have to do some preparatory work with a client to help him or her “make friends” with the concept of forgiveness. For some people, Step One: Use your will to forgive is the biggest challenge of all, because they first have to work through their prior attitudes about forgiveness, and learn about what real forgiveness is not. They need to be helped to understand that forgiveness is not: excusing or approving the wrong behavior of the offender, forgetting that the offensive incident occurred, allowing further abuse, reconciling with the offender, or giving up on what is appropriate for them. It is helpful if your clients listen to or read about inspiring examples of the empowering relief of forgiveness, in order to understand that forgiveness is something they will do for their own sakes, and it will free them to move forward. We must kindle in the clients some faith in a modality of healing that has helped many people find permanent relief from painful issues. I also recommended that you invite your clients to create a joyful vision of themselves that they can move toward in the foreseeable future.
Once a client has successfully integrated Step One, the client-therapist team may choose to work through the issues in a systematic way—make a list, do some preparatory homework, and clear through each issue one by one, from easiest to most difficult— or in an organic fashion, working through the parts and pieces of issues as they present themselves, session by session (Steps Two and Three). Eventually, the client will have the confidence to bring herself to the healing of the painful core of her issue, utterly transforming her self-concept and capability to choose and create a different and better future. There are two important imperatives for the therapist who intends to make our forgiveness method a potent and reliable tool in his or her therapy toolbox. First, the therapist must be comfortable with seeking a shared understanding of the client’s own spiritual framework, agreeing on the spiritual imagery and language that the team will use. Together, the client and therapist must be able to appeal to the presence and help of a Higher Power, a spiritual source that will assist the client in transforming his or her past, present, and future. (This is key in Steps Four, Five, Six, and Seven). Most clients are willing to utilize the imagery of light and love coming from a Source that is beyond them, sending healing energy down into their personalities through the crown of the head. This transpersonal energy restores their boundaries, cleans out the debris from old expectations, and brings them into “right relationship” with self, other, and life itself. This transformation empowers them to “see the good” in their stories, because they can now access the wisdom inherent in the journey from being wounded to becoming whole again (Step Eight).
The second imperative for success is the therapist’s personal familiarity with the experience of the Eight Steps to Freedom, because he or she has successfully used this method to resolve persistent personal issues a number of times. This experience informs the therapist’s skill and intuition as a facilitator of forgiveness, and inspires faith and confidence in the client who is seeking the healing resolution of a long-held inner conflict. There is little that is more rewarding or more of a privilege than being the facilitator of the experience of forgiveness for another person. At a certain point in the journey through the Eight Steps, there comes a pivotal moment of change, when the former struggle melts away, and the psyche becomes newly established in the “now,” with all of its fresh possibilities. This moment is a bonding and liberating experience for client and therapist alike, and a significant turning point in the therapy process.