Marjorie M. McCarthy, Psy.D., is a 2016 graduate of the PsyD Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, Santa Barbara
Ron Pilato, Psy.D., Dissertation Chair
Sharleen O'Brien, Psy.D., Second Faculty
CAPT William P. Nash, M.D., MD USN (Ret.), External Expert
Moral Injury, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; PTSD; Combat Veterans, Iraq, Afghanistan, War, Children, child soldiers, War, Military, Shame, Guilt, Unforgivable, Qualitative, moral repair
War-zone stressors among Service members can lead to adverse psychological consequences that fall outside the scope of post-traumatic stress disorder. Combat stressors can also result in moral injury. Moral injury is an emerging psychological construct. One proposed definition of moral injury is the perpetration of, failure to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations. The current study used this proposed definition to conduct a qualitative phenomenological investigation of the lived experience of moral injury among combat Veterans of the wars in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Eight male combat Veterans who self-identified as having the experience of moral injury as put forth in the proposed definition, were individually interviewed. Qualitative analysis was utilized to uncover themes related to morally injurious events and psychological sequela. The findings revealed support for the proposed definition of moral injury as well as six themes describing morally injurious experiences: shame, guilt, and feeling unforgivable connected to the involvement of children in war; shame, guilt, and anger for taking part in killing others; shame, guilt, anger, and feeling unforgivable when they did not speak-out regarding morally injurious events they were a part of as a group; no longer holding the same religious/spiritual beliefs; a loss of meaning in life after viewing death and a sense that they deserved to be disgraced after the way they handled the human remains of the enemy and witnessing others disgrace human remains of the enemy; and difficulty reconnecting emotionally with loved ones after their morally injurious experiences in combat. The most endorsed theme by the Veterans related to morally injurious experiences with children in war. Results suggest an important area for future research could help to define ways to prepare Service members for encountering child soldiers as well as potential ways to manage witnessing the suffering of children in war. The electronic version of the dissertation is accessible at the Ohiolink ETD center http://www.ohiolink.edu/etd.
McCarthy, M. M. (2016). An Exploration of Moral Injury as Experienced by Combat Veterans. https://aura.antioch.edu/etds/317