Templeton Charity Foundation Expands Work on Forgiveness and Mental Health


The Templeton Charity Foundation doesn’t apologize for going big on the topic of forgiveness.

The organization hosted a webinar this week focused on the topic and results of the largest-ever study of forgiveness as it relates to mental health to contribute to the Global Mental Health movement, using data from a variety of countries.

“Over the past 25 years there has been such amazing progress on the study of forgiveness and now we think it is time to accelerate this virtuous cycle of science to practice to impact because of the pressing challenges that we face,” Dr. Andrew Serazin, President of Templeton World Charity foundation said, introducing the webinar. “Specifically, we believe that greater knowledge about and practice of forgiveness can be a powerful tool to combat the growing polarization of our society. It can help rebuild trust, common purpose, and empathy among different peoples.”

The Templeton Charity Foundation is an organization which has funded scientific research into human flourishing for years and has turned the results of such research into accessible tools for practical, everyday use. The organization loosely defines human flourishing as “a broad concept that can include many dimensions of physical, mental, social, and spiritual wellbeing. Flourishing connotes growth, resilience, and progress.”

In partnership with the John Templeton Foundation, Templeton Charity conducted the world’s largest randomized control trial on forgiveness. The $10 million dollar study was conducted from Feb. 11 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021 in five countries with a recent history of socio-political conflict: Ukraine, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Colombia, and South Africa. Participants were at least 18 years old and had some experience with interpersonal conflict.

The tangible goals of the study were to scale up evidence-based psychoeducational REACH forgiveness group treatments and campaigns and to make the results and techniques more transportable.

Previous studies on the topic have shown that the habitual practice of forgiveness is directly related to lower levels of anxiety and depression, as well as reduced substance abuse and higher self-esteem. Other studies have shown that practicing forgiveness results in a greater sense of hope and greater capacities for conflict management and coping with stress. 

The main tool that the foundation’s research has produced is a self-directed forgiveness workbook, which details exercises and techniques that elucidate a practical, step-by-step progress to reaching forgiveness mindfully. The workbook’s main goal is to explain and help put into practice the REACH forgiveness model. The workbook is available in Spanish, English, Indonesian, Mandarin, and Ukrainian. 

“To try to increase the applicability and dissemination of the REACH model we were looking at forgiveness workbook interventions,” Dr. Tyler VanderWeele, Director of the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University said. “In this particular trial we aimed to distill these principles of the REACH forgiveness model into a workbook that could be self-directed and done within 2-3 hours of work. So what we wanted to examine is whether a simple, self-directed 2-hour forgiveness workbook could be effective not just at promoting forgiveness but reducing mental illness.”

The REACH model is an acronym, with each letter standing for a step to reach emotional forgiveness:

R: Recall the Hurt. Face that you have been hurt, but make a decision to forgive and not pursue retaliation

E: Empathize with your Partner. Work to understand why you may have been wronged, allowing you to heal from hurt and give forgiveness

A: Altruistic gift. Forgive unselfishly 

C: Commit. Write a note to yourself about who you forgave to help the forgiveness last

H: Hold on to your forgiveness.

While the concept of what forgiveness entails precisely seems to vary by region and people group, a part of the foundation’s research suggests that it can be broadly categorized as “ a process in which positive other-oriented affective responses (e.g., compassion or love) supplant the negative affective responses that characterize unforgiveness (e.g., vengeful or avoidant motives, anger, and fear) and are associated with stress.”

What previous researchers and the Templeton experts agree on is that practicing forgiveness has immense benefits for psychological, spiritual, and even physical health.

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