Reporter 437, 24 May 1999


Alchoholics taught to give up the grudges

The benefits of teaching recovering alcoholics to forgive and let go of grudges are to be assessed in a major new project in the psychology department. The anger and resentment of alcohol abusers can hinder their recovery and researchers believe releasing these negative emotions will help the patients stay off the booze. Principal investigator Ken Hart said the £110,000 programme is part of a world-wide £4.6m campaign looking at the value of forgiveness in issues including sexual abuse, HIV infection and racial tension.

David Shapiro and Ken Hart
David Shapiro (left) and Ken Hart are working with recovering alcoholics

Before beginning the programme the 96 volunteer members of Alcoholics Anonymous will be asked their beliefs and views on forgiveness, empathy and spirituality and then allocated to one of two therapy-based treatments. The ‘psychological’ approach encourages alcoholics to empathise with flaws and imperfections in the people they bear grudges against.

"Negative emotions such as hate can block the recovery of a substance-abuser," said Dr Hart. "By encouraging them to let go of these feelings, even if the person forgiving is fully aware that the offender may not deserve it, they can be helped towards recovery. Forgiveness is a gift, and like all gifts does not need to be earned." The second method encourages ‘spiritual development’ and is based on the step-wise treatments currently used by the AA. This will be the first scientific study of the technique.

This aspect will look at the positive effects of seeking forgiveness from others. "Feelings of guilt and shame can be just as destructive," Dr Hart added. One in every two people who attend AA meetings and remain sober for a year will still relapse and begin drinking again.

Those involved in the study will be re-contacted six months after it ends to see if their attitudes have changed. "We want to see if the two treatments can make people less resentful and help them to form more harmonious relationships," Dr Hart added.

For more information click here, or visit the forgiveness project website at http://lethe.leeds.ac.uk/research/hlth/fats/

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