Forgiveness20120 Stories20of20 Impact
May 9, 2023

Forgiveness Part 1 with Dr. Everett Worthington, Dr. Liudmyla Shtanko & Dr. Sergiy Tymchenko (podcast)

The creator of REACH forgiveness and his colleagues in Ukraine discuss applying the science of forgiveness to their personal experiences and share their hope that it may also encourage societal healing.

By Templeton Staff

For decades, forgiveness researcher Dr. Everett Worthington has seen the healing and emotional freedom individual users have been able to achieve with his REACH forgiveness model — even among those who used it to find forgiveness after the kind of anguishing loss he and his family experienced when his mother was murdered. This episode of Stories of Impact features a look into Worthington's personal story, a brief look at how REACH works, and how forgiveness has also impacted Worthington's fellow researchers in Ukraine. Listen in to hear the story behind and findings from a ground-breaking scientific study on forgiveness, as the researchers discuss applying the science of forgiveness to their personal experiences and how they hope REACH may also encourage societal healing.

Listen to the podcast episode with the above player.

Key Takeaways:

The largest-ever scientific study on forgiveness 

About the study:

  • The largest-ever scientific study on forgiveness was conducted as a randomized control trial with 4,598 participants — more than all previous research on forgiveness interventions combined. The REACH workbook was translated into multiple languages: including Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, Ukrainian, and Indonesian allowing two-thirds of the world's population to access it. The study was conducted across multiple sites, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Colombia, South Africa, and two locations in Ukraine, all areas that have experienced or are currently experiencing conflicts involving diverse religious, ethnic, or political groups.
  • Most studies to date are local, small, and address only one type of hurt. This study took into consideration anything people wanted to try to forgive, from small slights to grievous harms.
  • The findings firmly established that REACH was effective across all international sites, and by all participants, regardless of religion, sex, age, or ethnicity.
  • Forgiveness may have huge benefits for a person and for their relationships — even for their community — but the study also showed that it takes work, and consistent practice.

Insights from the researchers

Researchers Dr. Liudmyla Shtanko, Professor at the Ukrainian Institute of Arts and Science and Dr. Sergiy Tymchenko, President of the Research Education and Light Center (REALIS) were in the midst of partnering with Worthington on the forgiveness study at sites in Kyiv and Bucha, Ukraine, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The war forced them to confront their own ability and willingness to forgive. 

Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, was subject to a massacre by Russian forces early in the war, and was among the locations that the Kyiv Oblast State Administration named as the most dangerous places in the area. Shtanko was able to flee from Bucha to Europe with her younger daughter when the escalation began, but her older son and husband had to stay behind. Shtanko says, at first, she and many around her felt hope that the situation would soon end, but now, she worries that as the war continues, it may become increasingly difficult for Ukrainians to forgive. Without leaving room for the possibility of eventual forgiveness, she fears the harsh feelings or hatred many parents are harboring towards Russia may be passed on to their children, leading to generations living with enmity.

Nurturing not only her own willingness to forgive, but to help others do the same is now more important than ever to Shtanko. She encourages Ukrainians to draw upon the idea that freedom and forgiveness are intertwined. The REACH model emphasizes that to forgive is a choice, and findings from the study show forgiving can free those who were hurt from the physical and mental health burdens that are exacerbated by unforgiveness.

The REACH model teaches that letting go does not mean forgetting, but instead means facing feelings, empathizing with the other, and practicing your decision to forgive. Tymchenko, a Christian pastor, recognizes why choosing not to forgive could feel powerful, and why people not only under siege but suffering from any harm might decide not to do the hard work of letting go of their hurt. "It is very hard to to let go of something that you feel is almost the only way to keep yourself not falling down. When you don't forgive, you may feel that you have some leverage, something that you can hold onto. People instinctively are afraid that if they lose this leverage, then everything goes wrong. But I think it's hard work that leads to virtue, that leads to something that eventually becomes part of what you understand is your advantage, in fact. So it's not only something that you sacrifice, but something with which you feel better."


"When you don't forgive, you may feel that you have leverage, something that you can hold onto. But the hard work of letting go leads to virtue, something that eventually becomes part of what you understand is your advantage." -Dr. Sergiy Tymchenko


The worldwide study of REACH grew out of Worthington’s desire to investigate if REACH could be proven to help promote not just the personal healing of individuals who had suffered from harm, but societal healing. Forgiveness is not the only way to facilitate peace, but it is one place to look, says Worthington. "The key is to realize that forgiveness does not have to do all of the heavy lifting when we're hurt, that we have a lot of good responses. And I think if we, as a society, realize that there are a lot of good options and, forgiveness being one of them, that I think is where a more peaceful society will come about."

Worthington explains a little about the forgiveness process. "Forgiveness is two separate things. One is a decision about how I intend to treat someone who's harmed me or offended me. We call that decisional forgiveness. The other type of forgiveness is an emotional change in which I experience different feelings toward [the offender] because I can empathize with them or feel compassion or even love toward them. That's called emotional forgiveness." The REACH program and workbook is based around an acronym that cues people to remember and practice the steps for emotional forgiveness. Worthington emphasizes that REACH is "a tool that doesn't take much time, that doesn't take much energy, that will help people forgive, and make them better in terms of being a trait forgiver, but it is not going to cure every bit of anxiety and depression, hurt, anger and resentment that they have. And if they get hurt again, they are going to have to work through this again. Forgiveness is something that people can learn to be better at as they try to do it."

Entertaining the possibility of forgiveness during a war is "a leap of faith," says Tymchenko, "especially when you're dealing with offense of this big scale, for so long time." Most of the people he's been working with came out of the war zone, yet most of the offenses that those people were sharing with REACH workbook, were personal offenses. He believes it would be unrealistic to definitively conclude anything yet, but is hopeful. Shtanko agrees, and offers this hopeful observation: Most of the young people she was working with initially resisted the idea of forgiveness. But after following the REACH model, they changed their minds. "I think forgiveness is understanding that each of us, each person, is not a perfect person," says Shtanko. "We have some problems, but forgiveness is the way to understand each other, and understand our problems."

Listen to Part 2 of this 2-part podcast.

Watch the video related to this topic.

Find out more about the research project featured in this episode.

Read the transcript from the interview conducted by journalist Richard Sergay, presented by podcast producer, host, and writer, Tavia Gilbert. Featuring: Liudmyla Shtanko, PhD, Professor at the Ukrainian Institute of Arts and Science and Sergiy Tymchenko, PhD, President of the Research Education and Light Center (REALIS), Site Leaders of the REACH study in Ukraine; Everett Worthington, PhD, Commonwealth Professor Emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University, creator of the REACH model of Forgiveness.

Built upon the award-winning video series of the same name, Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” podcast features stories of new scientific research on human flourishing that translate discoveries into practical tools. Bringing a mix of curiosity, compassion, and creativity, journalist Richard Sergay and producer Tavia Gilbert shine a spotlight on the human impact at the heart of cutting-edge social and scientific research projects supported by TWCF.