Forgiveness Therapy

MY SPECIALTIESThe Forgiveness Therapy Story

Forgiveness Therapy was originally developed in the early 1980s by one of my professors and long-term mentors, Robert D. Enright, Ph.D.[1], after having what might be considered an epiphany about how little impact he was having in the field of psychology and helping people to heal.

So, he considered “forgiveness” as the area to research after meeting with his university’s librarian for several hours and discovering that psychological research on forgiveness was essentially non-existent. It took great courage to do what Dr. Enright did then, and even today.

After more than 35 years of peer-reviewed research on what is known as the Enright Forgiveness Process Model, including writing multiple self-help books, publishing two clinical textbooks, and speaking/teaching about forgiveness around the world, Dr. Enright made an official endorsement for one of his top students. [2]

Dr. Enright provided his official written endorsement of me on November 11, 2022, which he wrote specifically about how much he regarded me as a clinician, how he believed in my work with Forgiveness Therapy, as well as my ability to train other clinicians, based on my passion and experience for treating and healing trauma, including complex trauma. Dr. Enright also noted my first unpublished research study results were impressive in being able to help even some of my first clients who decided not to engage in violence after only a few weeks of treatment in group therapy and others experienced a significant relief of symptoms after individual treatment, which previously resulted in DSM diagnoses like anxiety and depression. I could hardly believe it when it happened. It brought tears to my eyes. It was a like a dream had come true.

a woman seeking divine intervention with her eyes closed leaning into her clasped hands as she prays

Project GIANNA™

Project GIANNA™ was established by me, Gianna Elms, LCSW, for the purpose of offering Catholic, faith-based, and spiritually focused educational services, namely, conducting workshops, classes and training in the field of psychotherapy, trauma-informed therapy, and therapy specifically adapted for people who experience disabilities. Some people create their own “disabilities” and find it difficult to move forward, particularly as it relates to their relationship with God, self, and others. The disability may manifest itself physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. The goal of Project GIANNA™ is to help you heal.

Forgiveness Therapy Academy™ was also established by me in association with Project GIANNA™ to ensure equal opportunity, under the law, without being in violation of my conscience, and any one’s free will, to assist people who need help with healing and who desire to help others heal, so long as they do so honestly and with integrity.

Project GIANNA™ integrates an adapted version of Forgiveness Therapy, known as 4Giveness+™, throughout all the different educational services that I provide. However, each of the workshops, classes, and training are different, in that I recognize that people are different and have different needs, and understand that not everyone recognizes and understands that about you and your life experience.

Some of the characteristics that are the same, across the board, however consist of a basic understanding that unresolved unconscious anger is the root cause that obstructs healing since clients are unable to heal what I call the ‘trauma brain’; how the role of ‘parts’ language is essential to healing the ‘trauma brain’ and using it is one way to use effective communication, which can be adapted; and there are ‘four phases + the subscription for life’ in 4Giveness+™. I recognize that the body remembers because the brain, body, heart, and soul are all connected and that it is impossible to heal a person’s trauma brain unless and until the person can get to the root cause of his or her unconscious anger, by pulling up the weeds and planting new seeds that can bear good fruit, like tending to a garden.

Forgiveness Therapy, if it were to stand on its own, and were to be followed strictly based on the evidence-based model, originally developed by Robert D. Enright, Ph.D., involves four phases and several steps within each phase, for a total of 20-steps. [3]

However, Robert D. Enright, Ph.D. and Richard F. Fitzgibbons, M.D. are clear in their original textbook, Helping Clients Forgive: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope (2000) and the updated, retitled, second edition, Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope (2015), that while Forgiveness Therapy can stand on its own, most psychotherapists do not have to change their theoretical orientation in order to use it, including psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, and family and systems oriented psychotherapists, as some examples [4] [5]. Enright and Fitzgibbons acknowledge that some models do enough, but when “some of the best approaches don’t go far enough to reduce or even eliminate anger”, “especially when clients are mired in anger”, and “it may be at the top of the list for a new client, couple or family”, Forgiveness Therapy may be the answer. [6]

While Forgiveness Therapy can be interwoven into other theoretical orientations and Enright & Fitzgibbons offer guidance on how to do so, Forgiveness Therapy, according to Dr. Enright’s model, is different from any other therapy model that I’ve come across to-date, with the exception of what I’ve learned in the application of it, and I have definitely done a thorough investigation! Forgiveness Therapy is also in-line with the beliefs of many clients who come from or believe in monotheistic religions, including the Catholic faith, which is not something that I have found to be common amongst other therapy models, which are typically based in humanistic psychology, some form of ‘science’ without God, or ‘self-centering’ techniques. Enright and Fitzgibbons, who have been in this world longer than me, made a bold claim in their most recent clinical textbook, “There is no professional protocol other than forgiveness therapy, to our knowledge, that offers a systematic approach for dealing with the injustice and working through the anger to attain emotional health.” [7]

I discovered early in my childhood that forgiveness is central to healing trauma, but that was reinforced because I witnessed the powerful transformative effects come from within my clients when I tested out the the Forgiveness Therapy model while completing my second Master’s degree. I witnessed some of my most angry clients begin to learn how to love in less than 12 weeks! Very early on, I said, “This seems pretty simple to me: REPLACE HATE WITH LOVE!

Little did I know that I was on to something and what else I would discover over the next ten years!

Then I went public with beginning to teach others about 4Giveness+™ through Forgiveness Therapy Academy™ in association with Project GIANNA™ with live and on-demand workshops, classes, and trainings that were offered via telephone, video, and concierge (on-site) based on the unique and specific needs of my clientele. I continue to offer these today with some of my featured workshops, classes, and trainings on 4Giveness+™ focusing on clinicians, teachers, and caregivers or decision makers of people who experience disabilities, and people who seek to grow in their faith in God according to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Before signing up for services through Project GIANNA™ or Forgiveness Therapy Academy™ in association with Project GIANNA™, I believe that it’s important for you to have a basic understanding of the Four Phases of Forgiving according to how I may work with someone on forgiveness, as well as 4Giveness+™ so that you may have a deeper insight into what you may expect to receive before you request additional services.

The Four Phases of Forgiving

a diagram showing the four phases of forgiving. Uncovering phase, decision phase, work phase and deepening phase with a bonus uncovering phase at the right hand side of the diagram which was created by the American Psychological Association

Figure 1.1 Phases of Forgiving [8]

Uncovering Phase

The first phase, uncovering, involves techniques to help you gain insight into the injustice(s), recognize that you have emotions related to the original injury and name the emotions, as well as helping you to gain insight into how the injustice(s) and any subsequent injury may have compromised your life [9]. Due to the emotions involved and the potential interpretations about the original cause of your anger, you will likely experience a significant amount of what is known as transference. Your emotions can offer you motivation to use forgiveness; however these emotions can also lead to you terminating prematurely. [10]

Work Phase

The work phase is just like it sounds…hard work. This is where we will take time to help you understand the person who committed the offense(s) against you. I will use some cognitive techniques, which are intended to help you release your anger and be open to positive emotions towards the person who hurt you. [13] You may experience a significant amount of resistance and transference during this phase. [14]

Decision Phase

This is a time to learn about what forgiveness is and is not. In other words, I will take time to teach you the difference between forgiveness and commonly confused terms that often get in the way of being able to forgive. [11] “A decision to forgive is a cognitive process, not one in which forgiveness is completed.” [12] Once you make a commitment to forgive; it’s actually only the beginning and your commitment to forgive may actually need to be renewed at various times throughout the process.

It is not uncommon for people to think that they have forgiven because they “said so” or because they made a commitment to do so. The evidence that they still have anger is the fact that their symptoms continue to persist.

Deepening Phase

The work phase may shift you into the deepening phase by stimulating other thoughts. You may begin to start asking yourself a series of questions. “The answers may lead to recycling through the other phases, this time in a deeper, more insightful way. Figure 1.1 is a visual illustration of this cycling. Forgiving is a moving target.” [15] With forgiving being such a simple, yet paradoxically difficult process; it’s important that you have a great instructor who can guide you so that you don’t miss the opportunity to change the way your story ends.

4 Giveness +
a diagram showing the phases of forgiving which includes the uncovering phase, decision phase, work phase, deepening phase and words to choose love. Image with permission by the American Psychological Association

Figure 1.1. Phases of forgiving (adapted by Gianna Elms, LCSW to illustrate 4Giveness+™) [16]

After a decade of experience, specializing in Forgiveness Therapy, I’ve learned that it’s not only possible, but critical to heal the trauma brain so that people don’t have to continue to go through the recycling of the four phases of forgiving, each and every time a new offense or situation occurs, or even if they discover something new during the process, even if they get better at “forgiving”. I believe it’s more possible than what many in the medical and mental health field have said to-date.

My adapted version of “Figure 1.1 Phases of forgiving” is not in conflict with what Enright & Fitzgibbons write as being possible based upon their research, which they suggest may occur over time as part of the “Deepening Phase”. The difference is that I’ve learned how to help my clients get to the place where they can forgive completely by learning how to love unconditionally, the first time, and even choose to maintain their “Forgiveness as a Subscription for Life” with 4Giveness+™.

This happened because I’ve learned how to identify the real cause of my clients’ anger, a complete understanding of forgiveness and trauma, including how particular theories and methods are compatible or incompatible with Forgiveness Therapy and the importance of spirituality for many of my clients. [17] [18] Clients who have been willing to persevere through the process of 4Giveness+™ have been able to do more than generalize what they learn to new situations, and they have been able to do it, even while the injury is occurring, no matter what happens to them. [19] I’ve had this success with even some of the most complex traumas.

With 4Giveness+™, it’s like reconnecting the parts of your unconscious, which connects to your heart and your soul because your body is what remembers the trauma and the pain. But the way to repair the “disconnects” and maintain the repairs where your unconscious got short-circuited, is like remembering to water and nurture a plant that almost withered away after it got stomped on one day. If you do the hard work now to tend to your anger and pain, you can help that part of you that was injured and choose to change the way your story ends. You can be like the branch that has healthy green leaves that can help you breathe and have a beautiful heart full of love to share with others. So, that no matter what anyone does to you, once you learn how to forgive and why we forgive, you will know that you can choose to replace your desire to hate with your desire to love.

There are some critical parts though, which I learned and that I now integrate into the fundamental teachings of the workshops, classes, and training programs offered through Project GIANNA™ and Forgiveness Therapy Academy™. While it can be hard at times, especially because we will be working hard to break you free from a prison that only you hold the keys. Sometimes, it just feels comfortable, and people decide that they don’t want to go back to the real cause of their anger and pain. It seems easier than to deal with the pain, even with the hope that you will be free. You will need to decide what you want more.

You may be wondering, if this is possible for you or someone who you work with to benefit from 4Giveness+™, particularly when a disability limits one or more major life activities as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as Amended (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as Amended, or similar law. The simple answer is that we don’t know until we try, although it has worked for some people, in the past, and your belief that you can because you asked if it was possible gives us a good reason to believe that it may be possible for you too.

4Giveness+™ was originally developed based off of my work with people who experience significant disabilities including mental health disorders, complex trauma, brain damage, autism spectrum disorder, blindness, deafness, personality disorders, and more. We have all been affected by anger at some point in our lives. There’s no shame in asking for help in resolving anger and restoring hope, nor is there any shame in acknowledging that you need help in being a helper, so long as you do so with honesty about your desire to heal and to help others heal.

Project GIANNA™ is now the place for you and others to get help without fear of discrimination based on your disability. Forgiveness Therapy Academy™ in association with Project GIANNA™is not separate; it’s equal and it’s available the same and within the limits that anyone wants me to provide as it relates to the teachings of Jesus Christ. I do not believe in discrimination, yet I cannot condone behaviors that are an expression of unconscious anger, regardless of what the behavior is. That is contrary to forgiveness and that is contrary to my conscience and my faith.

I do my best to provide access to reasonable accommodations that are not cost-prohibitive, and to provide education on how to get those in place wherever she is hired to provide a workshop, class, and training in psychotherapy, trauma-informed therapy, and therapy or counseling or even some areas of education, that are specifically adapted for people who experience disabilities. My teachings always had a foundational belief on forgiveness and specific ways to adapt, resolve and overcome unconscious anger, with forgiveness as the antidote to anger.

Some people like to look at the services that they receive through Project GIANNA™ and Forgiveness Therapy Academy™ in a simple mathematical equation: 3 + 4 = 7, with the sum of ‘7’ signifying ‘perfection’ or completion. The plus symbol signifies the “Subscription for Life”, which I teach about how to maintain all that you will learn in 4Giveness+™ through Project GIANNA™ and Forgiveness Therapy Academy™. In other words, the “+” is the maintenance that you can apply to what you have learned so that you no longer need to go back through the recycling process of the 4 Phases of Forgiving. The additional three distinguishing ‘parts’ that you can receive through Project GIANNA™ that are different from individual psychotherapy and other services that I offer through ForgivePrayLove™ and my general practice, includes the use of ‘parts’ language to help people learn how to be more effective communicators, a deeper understanding of how unconscious anger is the root cause that obstructs healing for yourself and your clients (if you are a professional who helps others), and specific step-by-step techniques in print and other recorded methods, which are adapted to help you and your clients to heal from unconscious anger and move forward with 4Giveness+™ and that are only available through Forgiveness Therapy Academy™ in association with Project GIANNA™, Agatha Penn™, and Agatha Penn™ Books.

I do not force anyone to do anything that he or she does not want to do. Anyone who tries to do otherwise, is abusive and does not respect your boundaries. I take people only as far as he or she wants to go, along with me. It’s their journey, not mine. Healing can happen, even if the person doesn’t want to complete the simple mathematical equation, as part of his or her participation in Project GIANNA™ or Forgiveness Therapy Academy™. I’m just a Sherpa. I’m there to climb the mountain and be a guide for you, but I have to get to the top to survive, too. It can be hard to breathe at high altitudes, especially when you are attempting to climb a mountain so high. But, it’s not my job to rescue you or to do the work for you. I can only help you, along the way, and go as high as you want to go.

If you are interested in scheduling a workshop, class, or training through Project GIANNA™, please review my Communications policy for these services, prior to contacting me with any questions or details about your event. I am only one person, with no office staff.

Note that “I” is an illusion. An artistic style of writing for this article, as an example, of the use of ‘parts’ language for effective communication, is available on the Forgiveness Therapy Academy™ webpage.

Is Forgiveness the New “F” Word?

I think so. The world has changed so much, even though I’ve experienced a lot in my young life, there was a time where it was unacceptable to say the “F” word. I think it’s still socially unacceptable in many settings to say the “F” word. But to speak about morality, which forgiveness and love are centered in morality, it’s almost more offensive to many than saying the “F” word. I think that’s because what it means to be good and to do good has changed from a cultural point of view. It’s been rumored that morals, ethics, and the law used to be synonymous. The fact is, even though we may disagree on what is true, there can only be one truth.

Forgiveness is a gift that you freely give to another person who has caused harm to you. Forgiveness may be the new “F” word, but it’s my favorite! If it follows the same trend as the last one, then I picked the right one to replace a “bad habit” that too many of us learned from others who also had unresolved anger. [20]


[1] Robert D. Enright, Ph.D. is a Licensed Psychologist; tenured Aristotelian professor in Forgiveness Science within the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; the founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation based in Madison, Wisconsin; and recipient of the 2022 American Psychological Foundation Gold Medal Award for Impact in Psychology. He is regarded as “the Father of Forgiveness Therapy”, credited as “the Father of Forgiveness Therapy research”, and Time magazine called him “the forgiveness trailblazer”. Dr. Enright’s role in teaching me about Forgiveness Therapy included his self-help books and clinical textbooks (co-author is Richard F. Fitzgibbons, M.D.); published research; role as the faculty member for the APA accredited certificate program in Forgiveness Therapy, which was known at that time of my completion as Helping Clients Forgive; and mentorship as I became “the most inquisitive and passionate learner” of his model, while working with my clients.

[2] The course that I completed through the International Forgiveness Institute was accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) from 2009-2020. I achieved the highest score on record prior to the course’s revision in 2016 due to the APA’s requirements as part of the implementation of the new textbook, which I familiarized myself in its entirety immediately upon publication.

[3] Enright & Fitzgibbons teach that forgiveness is not a linear process, rather it is cyclical and developmental. They also teach that not everyone has to go through all of the steps as part of their participation in Forgiveness Therapy. As a matter of fact, some people already know the definition of forgiveness and are committed to the process, whereas others may already have a good sense and understanding about why they are angry and why they do what they do, but they are not ready to release their anger and resentment towards a person. For this reason, there are no set timelines for forgiveness. It also explains why it requires a knowledgeable and skilled clinician who understands the depths of the conscious and unconscious thought processes, as well as forgiveness, and how to work with transference and cultural issues, including spirituality (e.g., religious beliefs), in order to experience complete forgiveness and the benefits of what I call 4Giveness+™.

[4] Enright, R. D. & Fitzgibbons, R. F. (2000). Helping clients forgive: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope.American Psychological Association. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/10381-000

[5] Enright, R. D. & Fitzgibbons, R. F. (2015). Forgiveness therapy: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. American Psychological Association. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/14526-000

[6] Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. F. (2015). Forgiveness Therapy: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. American Psychological Association. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/14526-000

[7] Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. F. (2015). Forgiveness Therapy: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. American Psychological Association. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/14526-000

[8] Copyright © 2015 by American Psychological Association. Reproduced with permission. The official that should be used in referencing this material is [“Figure 1.1” from Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. F. (2015). Forgiveness therapy: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. American Psychological Association. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/14526-000]. No further reproduction or distribution is permitted without written permission from the American Psychological Association.

[9] Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. F. (2015). Forgiveness therapy: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. American Psychological Association. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/14526-000

[10] Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. does a fantastic job of explaining termination in psychotherapy on his website, so I have elected not to go into detail here. Recommended reading: Richmond, R. (1997-2022). Termination of Psychotherapy. A Guide to Psychology and its Practices. Last retrieved on January 29, 2023, from https://www.guidetopsychology.com/termin.htm

[11] Reconciliation is perhaps the most commonly confused term, which Dr. Enright explains well in Chapter 15 of his original self-help book. Recommended reading: Forgiveness is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope by, Robert D. Enright, Ph.D. Available for purchase on Amazon: https://a.co/d/359pj2n

[12]Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. F. (2015). Forgiveness therapy: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. American Psychological Association. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/14526-000

[13] While cognitive techniques are used in Forgiveness Therapy, it should not be confused with cognitive therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), or trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT). It should be noted that Aaron Beck, who is regarded as “the Father of Cognitive Therapy” and “the Father of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy”, which dramatically changed how psychotherapy is done today, highly endorsed Forgiveness Therapy when the first clinical textbook was published. “Anger and the wish to punish a family member or friend for past grievances often remain resistant to even the most useful cognitive-behavioral approaches. In this volume, Enright and Fitzgibbons show how forgiveness can help to finalize past resentment and allow people to lay their past grievances to rest. This is essential reading for anyone working with patients, as well as for those people who cannot relinquish past hurts. – Aaron T. Beck, MD, University Professor of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.” Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. F. (2000). Helping clients forgive: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. American Psychological Association. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/10381-000

[14] Recommended reading. To learn more about transference and resistance (includes notes at bottom of webpage): Richmond, R. (1997-2022). Types of Psychological Treatment: Some Common Elements of Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Psychotherapy. A Guide to Psychology and its Practice. Last retrieved on January 29, 2023, from https://www.guidetopsychology.com/txtypes.htm#common

[15] Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. F. (2015). Forgiveness therapy: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. American Psychological Association. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/14526-000

[16] Copyright © 2015 by American Psychological Association. Reproduced and adapted with permission. The official that should be used in referencing this material is [“Figure 1.1” from Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. F. (2015). Forgiveness therapy: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. American Psychological Association. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/14526-000]. No further reproduction or distribution is permitted without written permission from the American Psychological Association.

[17] I credit part of my training from Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. and my other studies related to Psychoanalytic Thought, Analysis, Ego States, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Rehabilitation Counseling, Special Education, Psychology, Trauma & Abuse, Clinical Social Work, and Hypnosis to being able to identify the real cause of my clients’ unconscious anger and “hit that forgiveness target” with more precision than other clinicians who have studied the research and writings on Forgiveness Therapy by, Enright & Fitzgibbons. My additional training related to how to translate what my clients are putting into language and to help them be open to the grace of God so that may be able to forgive is something that involved a personal process of discovery, various teachers, and my best teacher, Jesus Christ.

[18] It should be noted that Jacques Lacan compared the unconscious to a labyrinth and that Enright & Fitzgibbons compare forgiveness to a maze. Enright & Fitzgibbons also believe in the importance of journaling in the process of forgiving, which is one way that we can reveal the unconscious, symbolically, through language. However, not every client is able to journal in the traditional sense of the word. This may be due to a physical or cognitive disability, vision impairment, including blindness, or even unconscious anger at his or her mother, which can manifest itself as ‘writer’s block’, as some examples of what I have witnessed as a clinician and how I have found ways to adapt and overcome to help my clients heal. Some conditions can even be a type of combination of a medical, psychological, or even a spiritual cause, which is why it’s important to have a skilled clinician assist in identifying the real cause(s) and to be careful not to get caught up in the false belief that it is one or the other because you run the risk of gaslighting yourself or your clients or both.

[19] Elms, G. (2022). Forgiveness therapy and getting past unconscious resistances. International Forgiveness Institute. Last retrieved on January 29, 2023, from https://internationalforgiveness.com/2022/01/23/forgiveness-therapy-and-getting-past-unconscious-resistances/ 

[20] Some other commonly confused words are condoning and excusing. Don’t misunderstand what I mean by suggesting that I hope forgiveness follows the same trend as the last “F” word. I hope that people actually learn the real meaning of forgiveness and stop throwing the word around as if they know what it means, when they really don’t. I say that not out of pride, rather with a humble heart. It took me a lot of years, hard work, and money to gain the knowledge and wisdom that I have now, which is why I am sharing it with you. It was only by the grace of God that I was able to know, understand, and believe that forgiveness was what we need to end generational trauma and save souls.

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