Treating Moral Injury

We often think of pain as a physical sensation. But some of the deepest wounds we experience transcend our senses. A common example is the guilt we feel when we violate our own moral code, whether by accident or on purpose. A soldier having to kill in wartime can experience this kind of inner shame. This pain is called Moral Injury. Unlike PTSD, Moral Injury is based on moral judgment rather than fear, and it can happen to anyone. It’s critical to be able to recognize and know how to treat it.

The symptoms of Moral Injury can include feeling remorse, outrage, despair, or betrayal. An affected person may seem distant, preoccupied, overworked or irritable. It’s important to approach them with an open heart and without judgment. Often, just hearing the term Moral Injury will help them begin to process and integrate their experience.

Because Moral Injury is so varied and complicated, it has no standard diagnosis or treatment protocol. Externalizing the moral injury through drawing, writing, or guided meditation can be effective. Professional counseling and participation in group discussions with others who went through the same experience can also help.

The Center has been treating Moral Injury for several years, helping especially with the spiritual component. In 2020, we will be launching a pilot project with Haven for Hope to work with Veterans who can benefit from this treatment. If you know anyone suffering from Moral Injury, feel free to refer them to the caring professionals at The Center.