Forgiveness therapy in gendered contexts: what happens to the truth?

Sharon Lamb

in Trauma, Truth and Reconciliation

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print August 2006 | ISBN: 9780198569435
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754449 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Forgiveness therapy in gendered contexts: what happens to the truth?

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My focus is on how forgiveness therapies affect women. This interest arose from my work on issues of blame and responsibility in cases of abuse and victimization and from an observation that those advocating forgiveness therapy, many of whom are white men, use female victims of rape and sexual abuse as examples of those victims who may want unilaterally to forgive a perpetrator who is dead, gone, or unrepentant in order to attain inner relief. In earlier works, I examined the gender issues that went unnoticed in these advocates’ discussions of the benefits of forgiveness and argued that women victims have special and gendered concerns that make the advocating of forgiveness problematic (Lamb, 1996, 2002).

In this chapter, I add marital therapy to the discussion of the suppression of truth within psychotherapy practices and, in particular, in relation to forgiveness therapy. The advocates of forgiveness therapy frequently use couples coping with an infidelity as another example of a domain where forgiveness can be psychologically beneficial. At first glance, couples’ therapy would seem not to have the same gendered issues found in the victim/perpetrator dyad, where the victim is often female, the perpetrator male, and where acts of rape, sexual abuse, and harassment reflect power differences in a patriarchal society. After all, women in today's society have extramarital affairs almost as often as men do. Yet, as I read the clinical literature on forgiveness therapy with couples who had experienced an infidelity, I notice that every example used is of a man who had had an affair and a woman who needed to forgive him, with little attention paid to the gender imbalance and power hierarchies inherent to traditional heterosexual marriage.

The purpose of this chapter is to analyze the ways in which forgiveness therapy is advocated in two very gendered situations, victimization and marriage, without regard for the history, social lives, and practices that inform the gendered roles in these two areas. I also examine how the moral wrongdoing, or the truth of the moral wrongdoing, is treated within the sessions and within the project of forgiveness therapy, exploring ways in which this practice suppresses particular truths. Keeping in mind that sociopolitical enactments of forgiveness often require a full and truthful accounting of events before forgiveness, I query what exactly is done about the expectation of a full and truthful accounting of the acts and the harm done within the purported healing practices of forgiveness therapy. Does the lack of attention to these issues reflect a motivated ignorance of truths that would be uncomfortable to some parties within a psychotherapy session as well as within our cultural constructions of victimization and marriage?

Chapter.  12842 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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