REACH Forgiveness

Research supporting REACH Forgiveness is extensive. Nathaniel Wade, William Hoyt, Julia Kidwell, and Everett Worthington (2014) published a comprehensive meta-analysis of all outcome research on forgiveness in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. They found: 

  1. REACH Forgiveness and Enright's Process Model were used equally frequently, and the number of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on each was equal to the number of RCTs on all other treatments added together. 
  2. Time was the primary driver of amount of forgiveness experienced. People increased their forgiveness 0.1 SD per hour of treatment. Thus, after treatments were statistically adjusted for time of treatment (gains per hour), no treatment was superior to any other (i.e., REACH=Process=All Others for gain in forgiveness per hour). 
  3. A six-hour psychoeducational group treatment produces 0.6 SDs of forgiveness. But (here's the great news) it also produces 0.3 SDs of improvement in BOTH depression and anxiety. Also, it increases hope by 0.6 SDs (which very well could be the mechanism underlying the collateral improvements in depression and anxiety). 
  4. Slightly more gains are realized in individual treatment than group, but not much.

Do-It-Yourself Workbooks for REACH Forgiveness (Word docs, downloadable, free) are available on this website. Studies have shown them to be at least as effective as psychoeducational groups (about the same as individual treatments). One treatment was a Christian-accommodated version for treating hurts inflicted by other Christians. It's gain in forgiveness was TWICE what the usual gain was—about 1.4 SDs for 7 hours to complete the workbook. A workbook, as yet untested, for less than 2 hours is available, but until vetted in a refereed publication, my advice is to be skeptical of how much effect it will have.

Everett Worthington has tailored groups to Christian participants as well as secular participants and at least five of the 13 studies from his lab are on Christians. But the secular groups work for everyone—religious or not.

Practical implications for clinical practice are important. Clients rarely seek psychotherapy or couple therapy for forgiveness. But forgiveness can be involved in many personal and relationship problems. So, even when forgiveness is an issue in a person who is depressed, anxious, with a personality disorder or any psychological disorder, most psychotherapy does not spend but about one or two hours on forgiveness. The bad news is that the lasting change in forgiveness is likely to be only 0.1 to 0.2 SDs. In fact, getting a person to make a decision to forgive the other person because it is bad for their physical, mental, relational, and perhaps spiritual health to hold grudges will yield about 0.2 SDs. Working through REACH Forgiveness might add another 0.1 or 0.2 SDs. But think of this as your treatment: Do the one or two hours in psychotherapy, but then either (a) assign a 6- or 7-hour workbook they can obtain free from this website or (b) organize a Saturday 6-hour psychoeducational group about every six weeks, which could easily get enough participants from a group practice. Either of those will yield 0.6 SDs additionally in improvement in both forgiveness and hope and 0.3 SDs additionally in improvement in depression and anxiety.

Some reasons to use REACH Forgiveness include these: 

  1. supported by more than 25 published randomized controlled trials in a variety of labs
  2. easy to remember acrostic
  3. available free
  4. has been used in many, many venues (i.e., secular and Christian universities, secular and Christian practices, college dormitories, churches, parenting groups, couple counseling, couple enrichment, couple premarital counseling, lay counseling groups, workplace reconciliations, Sunday School curricula, community organization curricula, high schools, and internationally in peacemaking efforts, justice systems, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and more)
  5. has been used effectively by people without mental health training because the groups are not heavily oriented toward leader skills
  6. Training DVDs are available free
  7. People can use Forgiving and Reconciling (InterVarsity Press) or Five Steps to Forgiveness (Crown Publishers) or Steps to REACH Forgiveness and to Reconcile (Pearson) as companion books for non-professionals—and, for professionals, Forgiveness and Reconciliation (Brunner-Routledge), Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free from the Past (WaterBrook-Multnomah), or Forgiveness and Spirituality in Psychotherapy (APA Books)—to supplement learning.

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