Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Dr. Irene Harris on veterans’ moral injury

Transforming Chaplaincy welcomes guest commentator Dr. J. Irene Harris, who is a psychologist in the Minneapolis VA Health Care System. Dr. Harris is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Counseling Psychology and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota. For this Idea in Brief, Dr. Harris comments on Evans WR, Stanley MA, Barrera TL, Exline JJ, Pargament KI, and Teng EJ (2017). “Morally injurious events and psychological distress among veterans: examining the mediating role of religious and spiritual struggles.” Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy; published online, November 20, 2017, ahead of print.

We thank Dr. Harris for her insight today and encourage chaplains and researchers – even those not working directly with veterans – to explore the article:

Evans et. al. provide a valuable resource for chaplains and mental health providers who are jointly primary responders to moral injury.  The article outlines the nature of moral injury, what is known about its etiology, and the relationships between spiritual struggle, moral injury, and mental health outcomes among veterans. These findings likely generalize to military personnel, first responders, and others who survive morally complex traumas, such as abuse from clergy. The primary finding – that spiritual struggles fully mediate the relationship between exposure to potentially morally injurious experiences and anxiety/PTSD – clarifies a potential etiology in the multidimensional environmental and psychological context of moral injury.  This finding also clarifies the roles that chaplains need to play in addressing moral injury, and outlines the many types of spiritual distress relevant to treating the phenomenon.  The article begins a road map to allowing mental health providers and chaplains to collaborate in the continued quest to assist veterans and others in overcoming the consequences of moral injury.

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