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May 1, 2023

REACHing for Forgiveness: Exploring the Impact of the REACH Forgiveness Program (video)

Watch this video for findings from the largest-ever study of a forgiveness intervention, conducted in six languages, in sites across the world.

By Templeton Staff

Templeton World Charity Foundation funded the largest-ever randomized control trial of a forgiveness intervention, involving thousands of participants from locations with a history of conflict — Colombia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, South Africa, and Ukraine. Professor Everett Worthington is one of the world's leading researchers on forgiveness. His REACH Forgiveness workbook is at the center of the study. The REACH model is a scientifically validated tool that provides a step-by-step process to reach forgiveness. The workbook is secular and free-of-cost, and is now available for download in multiple languages. It was designed to be completed independently in 2-3 hours. The study found that those who followed the workbook showed significant reductions in unforgiveness, depression symptoms, and anxiety symptoms, compared to a group who was delayed in receipt of the workbook.

Key takeaways from the video and the study:

  • Forgiveness has two components: Decisional forgiveness, and Emotional forgiveness.
  • Decisional forgiveness involves making a conscious decision about how you will treat the offender—that you won't retaliate or seek vengeance. 
  • REACH is an acronym for the steps to Emotional forgiveness.
    • (R) is to recall the hurt. "People can't forgive if they don't admit that they've been hurt," says Worthington.
    • (E) stands for empathizing with the offender. The program says "Work to understand why you may have been wronged, allowing you to heal from hurt and give forgiveness."
    • (A) involves thinking of forgiveness as a gift. Worthington explains: "Forgiveness is an altruistic gift. It's not dependent on an apology, and in giving it, I myself also receive a gift, because I can reap the mental and physical health benefits that come with forgiving."
    • (C) represents a commitment to forgive. A suggestion from the program is to "write a note to yourself about who you forgave to help the forgiveness last."
    • (H) stands for holding on to forgiveness during times when difficult emotions return.
  • Participants in the trial struggled with a range of issues related to forgiveness, from interpersonal to societal.
  • Forgiveness is distinct from reconciliation and does not require excusing the offense or not pursuing justice.
  • Forgiveness can be seen as a public health issue, linked to physical, psychological, and spiritual health. Forgiveness been shown to increase these measures of flourishing: happiness, meaning and purpose, character, relationships, and sense of financial security. It has been found to lower cortisol which affects the gastrointestinal, reproductive, cardiovascular, central nervous and immune systems.

The video features:

Andrea Ortega Bechara, Site Leader of the study in Colombia.

Shaun Joynt, Site Leader of the study in South Africa.

Man Yee Ho, Site Leader of the study in Hong Kong.

Liudmyla Shtanko, Site Leader of the study in Ukraine.

Sergiy Tymchenko, Site Leader of the study in Ukraine.

Tyler VanderWheele, Director, Human Flourishing Program, Harvard University.

Everett Worthington, Commonwealth Professor Emeritus, Virginia Commonwealth University.

To learn more, watch the video with the above player.

Learn more about the TWCF-funded research project related to this episode.

Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” videos by journalist and senior media executive Richard Sergay feature human stories and critical perspectives on breakthroughs about the universe’s big questions. The inspiring narratives and observations in these award-winning videos portray the individual and societal impacts of the projects that bring to life TWCF-supported research