The Many Tentacles of Moral Injury

While the term moral injury (MI) was originally envisioned to address the gap between PTSD and what Vietnam veterans were experiencing after returning from the war, our understanding of the phenomenon has grown (Shay, 2014). Due to recent scholarly work in various fields, such as servicewomen, healthcare, social work, and many others, we now know that this can appear in many domains. The precursor of MI can be a wide variety of things, such as combat, sexual assault, healthcare decision-making, resource scarcity, bullying, hazing, and all forms of injustice.

Blog | The Many Tentacles of Moral Injury | Moral Injury Support Network for ServiceWomen, Inc.

The Widespread Impact of Moral Injury

Given that this term refers to the trauma that occurs when one’s sense of moral rightness is violated, MI’s tentacles are everywhere, and there is virtually no industry where one could not put together a viable research project and gather important data. In other words, there is no human endeavor on this planet where moral injury does not have a chance of occurring.

How Moral Injury Affects Supporting Professions

In addition, studies have shown that MI can not only do damage to those who are the direct victims of trauma, but it can affect others who are simply trying to help survivors. Chaplains, social workers, psychiatrists, nurses, physicians, and first responders of all kinds can suffer the consequences through secondary trauma.

Beyond Individuals: Impact on Communities and Nations

Furthermore, it has been suggested that the tentacles of moral injury can spread even further. For instance, researchers have made the case that whole communities, even nations, can be affected by MI. They have questioned whether non-white ethnic communities in many Western nations are suffering from this due to perceived racial injustices.

An Inclusive Call to Action

As researchers and professionals continue to delve deeply into this topic and share their findings, it becomes apparent that this mental trauma cuts across every discipline and is probably the source of most people’s deep pain. Given that moral injury is so pervasive and the information is so important, we are offering access to the recordings, slides, and handouts from the conference. Many disciplines, including psychology, social work, chaplaincy, occupational and physical therapy, and counseling can benefit from the knowledge in the recordings.


Shay, J. (2014). Moral injury. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 31(2), 182-191.

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