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Faculty Profile - Everett L. Worthington Jr.

Everett L. Worthington, Jr., Ph.D.

Visiting Distinguished Professor of Psychology






Everett Worthington, Ph.D., is Commonwealth Professor Emeritus working from the Department of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU; the largest state university in Virginia). He is also a licensed Clinical Psychologist in Virginia. He has published over 38 books and 440 articles and scholarly chapters, mostly on forgiveness, marriage, and family topics. He does over 20 workshops and makes over 60 other talks annually in venues all over the world. He is regularly in media. He is a Past-President of the American Psychological Association (APA) Division 36 (Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality), and a clinical fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and two divisions of the APA (Div 17, Counseling; Div 36). He won VCU’s annual top award for teaching, research, and service—VCU’s Award for Excellence—in 2009 and several organizations’ top awards. He was awarded a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Pepperdine University in 2014. He was awarded VCU’s top academic recognition, Commonwealth Professor, in 2015. In 2016, the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia recognized him as one of 13 Outstanding Professors in the Commonwealth (selected from all disciplines). He also won the Humanitarian Award from the Association for Spiritual, Ethical, and Religious Values in Counseling (ASERVIC), a division of the American Counseling Association, in 2017.

He became interested in forgiveness through his practice in couple counseling; he began writing about its clinical uses in the 1980s and conducting research on it in 1990. In the last thirty years, he has studied forgiveness, justice, faith, and a variety of virtues under the general rubric of positive psychology. He became interested in their relationship after his mother’s murder and brother’s subsequent suicide. He has studied a variety of topics relevant to positive psychology, the branch of psychology dealing with virtue for self and other. These topics include forgiveness, humility, gratitude, mercy, inspiration, marriage enrichment, altruism, love, and religion and spirituality. Recently, he has studied and written most about forgiveness and humility. (Yes, he studies other people!) He attributes his success to the many wonderful students and colleagues he has had the privilege of working with over the years.

University of Missouri-Columbia
Ph.D., Psychology (Counseling), 1978

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
M.S.N.E., Nuclear Engineering, 1970

University of Missouri-Columbia
M.A., Psychology (Counseling), 1976

University of Tennessee-Knoxville
B.S.N.E., Nuclear Engineering, 1968

  • Positive Psychology
  • Positive Psychological Interventions
  • Family Topics
  • Forgiveness
  • Marriage
  • Religion and Spirituality
  • Humility
  • American Psychological Association: Fellow, two divisions
  • Association for Psychological Science: Fellow
  • American Association of Christian Counselors: member
  • Christian Association for Psychological Studies: member

After four decades, Everett Worthington, leading expert on forgiveness, set to retire from VCU’s Department of Psychology
VCU News

Taped to the office wall of Everett Worthington, Ph.D., a Virginia Commonwealth University counseling psychology professor and a leading scholar in the field of forgiveness research, is the staggeringly ambitious to-do list for his upcoming retirement. Among the goals? Influence the way couples, countries, political systems, Christian denominations and cultures practice forgiveness. “My mission,” the list reads, “is: ‘To do all I can to promote forgiveness in every willing heart, home and homeland.’ That mission MUST govern the content of my decisions.”...
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The Healing Power of Self-Forgiveness
Richmond Mag

“What we know about stress is that it has its way over time. Even at a cellular level, stress deregulates the body’s systems,” says Everett Worthington, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. “The key is that [self-forgiveness] is a stress and coping process.” Worthington is author of numerous books and academic papers on forgiveness, reconciliation and related topics. What began as an area of research interest quickly became personal for him: His mother’s murder in 1996 prompted him to think about forgiveness and other virtues in new ways; his brother’s suicide in 2005 led him to process some big questions regarding self-forgiveness...
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One Of Trump's Biggest Flaws Might Be What Gets Him Elected
The Huffington Post

In other words, our psyche views unapologetic confidence as powerful. And that can play a role in a presidential candidate’s image, according Everett Worthington, Jr., a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Theory and Application. “For people who are attempting to project an image of strength as the dominant personality characteristic, like Donald Trump has done, too much rides on maintaining an in-your-face, unapologetic stance,” Worthington told The Huffington Post. It’s important to maintain a consistent behavior when running for office, Worthington says, because it helps build a strong support base. This likely means we’re not going to see Trump’s remorseless demeanor disappear anytime soon...
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Mother of KC girl struck by stray bullet, owner of gun find the power to carry on
The Kansas City Star

And the benefits of forgiveness go far beyond emotions and spirit, said Everett Worthington, a clinical psychologist at Virginia Commonwealth University who has researched the value of forgiveness. Studies have shown that those who cling to anger or guilt have more cardiovascular problems and suppressed immune systems, Worthington said. Those who forgive are less depressed, have fewer anger problems and lower levels of obsessive-compulsive disorders, he said. “From a psychological standpoint, you get a sense of resolution that doesn’t keep empowering rumination,” Worthington said. “People still know what they’ve done, but they don’t have to keep playing it over and over again.”...
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17 Things We Know About Forgiveness
The Cut

3. Humans are less likely to forgive public figures than loved ones. With personal forgiveness, the resentment we feel is usually going to weigh more heavily on us, says sociologist Everett Worthington — but this actually motivates us to reconcile...
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Forgiving the Man Who Murdered My Mom
Christianity Today

There are many ways to walk with God. Some, like the Boulevard, are smooth, like being born and raised in a Christian home and making a natural transition to personal faith. Others, like the Rainbow Falls, take people so far from the mountain peak that they forget where they are headed. They slog through a leg-wearying, back-wrenching hike until they suddenly break out into freedom. Others are like the Alum Cave Trail. It moves from Arch Rock to Inspiration Point to, perhaps, catching a glimpse of "the eye" (a gap that sunlight can stream through). The Alum Cave journey to God moves from vista to vista. Not seeing the endpoint until that drink of living water, the hiker is led upward by memorable experiences. I am an Alum Cave kind of Christian. My walk with God has been a series of vistas at which I changed direction.
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Spiritually Formative Practices and Stress-Related Disorders, Healing with Spiritual Practices: Proven Techniques for Disorders from Addictions and Anxiety to Cancer and Chronic Pain
Everett L Worthington Jr, Loren L Toussaint, Brandon J Griffin, Don E Davis, Joshua N Hook, 2018
In this chapter, we propose that spiritually formative practices have the potential to alleviate stress-related health problems and promote well-being. Although this proposition has not been directly tested, we provide a theoretical rationale based on a psychological need to have a coherent sense of identity. People strive to be consistent. When people identify with a value but act inconsistently with that value, they experience dissonance. Dissonance may lead to anxiety, depression, anger, and negative health behaviors that exacerbate stress-related health problems. On the other hand, consistency between one's behavior and virtue-promoting values can lead to a sense of coherent identity that provides resources to cope with stress, enhancing outcomes such as subjective well-being, interpersonal connection, and religious/spiritual well-being.
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Evaluation of an online self‐help version of the REACH forgiveness program: Outcomes and predictors of persistence in a community sample, Journal of Clinical Psychology
Jennifer A Nation, Eleanor H Wertheim, Everett L Worthington Jr, 2018
We evaluated outcomes of an online, self‐directed REACH forgiveness intervention for community‐based adults. Because many participants dropped out before program completion, predictors of program persistence were also examined.
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The Need for Evidence-Based, Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapies, Professional Psychology: Research and Practice
P. Scott Richards; Everett L. Worthington, 2010
Despite a proliferation of spiritually oriented psychotherapies during the past 2 decades in the mental health professions, outcome research is lacking. In this present article, 6 published outcome reviews that shed light on the efficacy of these psychotherapies are discussed. Although there is general support for the efficacy of spiritually oriented treatment approaches, the data base is relatively small and has methodological limitations. Spiritually oriented cognitive approaches for religious clients with depression and anxiety meet evidence-based standards of efficacy. Several other spiritually oriented approaches are probably efficacious but need additional investigation. Methodological recommendations for improving the quality of future studies in this domain are made. Philosophically and methodologically pluralistic research strategies that do not reduce spiritual phenomena into a naturalistic and materialistic framework are recommended.
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Religious differences in reporting and expressing humility, Psychology of Religion and Spirituality
Daryl R Van Tongeren, Don E Davis, Joshua N Hook, Wade Rowatt, Everett L Worthington Jr, 2018
Humility is a central virtue of many world religions. In this paper, we explored whether religious and nonreligious individuals conceptualize and respond to humility differently. In Study 1, we surveyed 361 students and found that religious participants described themselves as more humble than nonreligious participants. In Study 2, we studied community members in 2 samples (N= 180, Sample A; N= 112, Sample B) using Amazon's Mechanical Turk (mTurk). We found that experimentally priming humility had different effects based on religious affiliation. After receiving criticism about their social attitudes (Sample A) or religious beliefs (Sample B), religious participants primed with humility reported lower retaliatory intentions and nonreligious participants reported greater retaliatory intentions relative to a neutral prime.
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Embarrassment of riches in the measurement of humility: A critical review of 22 measures, The Journal of Positive Psychology
Stacey E McElroy-Heltzel, Don E Davis, Cirleen DeBlaere, Everett L Worthington Jr, Joshua N Hook, 2018
Less than ten years ago, humility science seemed stuck with intractable measurement problems. Due to theoretical innovations, measures have proliferated in recent years. Humility science now faces a critical task of reconciling definitions and measures. We reviewed 22 measures of humility, including (a) survey measures of general humility,(b) survey measures of humility subdomains,(c) indirect measures of humility, and (d) state measures of humility. We coded each item of each measure into a humility content domain and compared the various content areas covered by each measure. Then, we described the scale structure and evidence pertaining to reliability and validity. Finally, we identified the relatively stronger measures of humility and recommended a consolidated definition of humility.
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