Conversations About Ethics: Moral Injury

Event Date & Time

October 5, 2020 at 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m.


Two virtual presentations will be held on Oct. 5

Event Details:
What causes "moral injury" and how can someone recover from it? Find out during two virtual events co-sponsored by the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics on Oct. 5 featuring Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, senior vice president and director of the Shay Moral Injury Center at Volunteers of America.

Two free virtual events:

11:00 a.m.-1:30 p.m. CDT: "What Makes Us Moral? Morality, Trauma and Moral Injury

Moral injury, which refers to suffering due to moral emotions such as shame, guilt, remorse, outrage, despair, mistrust, and self-isolation, emerged among VA clinicians working with military combat veterans beginning in 1994 (Shay). A key 2009 essay (Litz, et. al.)  suggested that the DSM-V post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) anxiety-based trauma framework was inadequate to account for the moral suffering of veterans.

This workshop will offer an understanding of how conscience is shaped, the range of morally injurious experiences that might disrupt moral identity; definitions of moral injury; what the current state of research is in applying a moral injury framework both to veterans and to new populations such as child welfare and front-line medical care workers; and how two religious systems understand moral failure and offer strategies for restoring moral resilience as the capacity for empathy, trust, and handling moral complexity, confusion, or setbacks.

7:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m. CDT: Moral Injury and Its Challenges to Current Mental Health Models

Until 1980, combat trauma in military veterans was regarded as a personal psychological weakness and individual failure reflected in terms such as “irritable heart,” “shell-shock,” and “combat fatigue.” A number of social movements, such as Veteran, feminist, and Holocaust survivor advocacy groups succeeded in creating the PTSD diagnosis in DSM-III, filling an important diagnosis gap in psychiatry, in that understands the cause of it is the result of an event the individual experienced, rather than a personal weakness.

Despite twenty years of research and improved understandings of neuroscience and PTSD, suicide rates continued to climb, and more alarming, there's a climb in younger veterans. In 2009, a group of VA clinicians suggested something else was going wrong, and they called that something else moral injury.

Moral injury challenges the limits of a PTSD diagnosis for understanding the moral emotions in response to violence, war and other high-stakes situations and a medicalized framework of pathology for understanding human moral suffering. The lecture will discuss the importance of spiritual and philosophical questions in understanding normal human responses to harm and failure and how peer specialists, spiritual practitioners, and clinicians can collaborate in supporting recovery from moral injury.

Please Note: Both events have reached Zoom capacity -- but we are planning to livestream to YouTube for those unable to register.

Daytime Workshop:

Evening Lecture:

For questions or more information, please contact the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics at 210-567-0795 or

Register now

About the Speaker(s)

Rita Nakashima Brock, Rel. M., M.A., and Ph.D., is senior vice president and director of the Shay Moral Injury Center at Volunteers of America. She was raised in a military family and was the first Asian American woman to earn a doctorate in theology. Dr. Brock was Director of the Radcliffe Fellowship Program at Harvard University from 1997-2001, a fellow at the Harvard Divinity School Center for Values in Public Life, 2001-2002, and a Visiting Scholar at the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley from 2002-2012. In 2012, she co-founded the Soul Repair Center, Brite Divinity School at TCU, with Col. (Chaplain) Herman Keizer Jr., U.S. Army veteran, and directed it until May 2017. Her most recent book is Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury After War, co-authored with Gabriella Lettini, the first book written on moral injury.