Archives for : VA

Depoliticizing moral injury

B0000904Moral injury is a relatively new and puzzling category to the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD. Lots of researchers seem to recognize that it exists, but nobody can categorize it (Maugen and Litz). Or figure out an effective therapy for it, one that is evidence based, as they say, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or prolonged exposure therapy (PE). The practical irrelevance of these therapies when dealing with moral injury makes moral injury a challenging category. 

Events are considered morally injurious if they “transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations,” as one of the first academic papers sponsored by the VA put it (Litz, et al., pp. 696, 700). A moral injury occurs when an act shatters the moral and ethical expectations of soldiers and others, including expectations about fairness, the value of life, and that leaders will tell the truth.

Though the publications of the VA recognize the existence of moral injury, it is not a currently accepted diagnostic category. One can receive recompense and treatment for PTSD, but not for moral injury, except on an experimental basis. Shame, guilt, and anger at the self or others’ betrayal of basic human values are central to moral injury. These emotions may occur with PTSD, but they are not key to its definition. PTSD is generally regarded as a fear-based disorder (in spite of DSM-5’s currently grouping it with dissociative disorders). Moral injury is guilt and shame based (Maguen and Litz, p. 2).

As I explain below, I think the VA has depoliticized what was originally a political concept.

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Cognitive behavioral therapy is a terrible way to treat trauma. And it’s government approved.

IMG_0525_editedblack-1_edited-1The Department of Veterans Affairs may today deliver the worst trauma treatment known to man or woman.

The diagnosis of PTSD is an outgrowth of the protests over the Vietnam War. Distraught and disillusioned Vietnam veterans, together with psychiatrists such as Robert Jay Lifton and Chaim Shatan, developed the “rap groups” that provided psychological support in a community of other vets who had undergone similar experiences. Rap groups worked because they provided a place to share common experiences, including terror and remorse. Rap groups provided community and social support.

The effectiveness of rap groups eventually convinced the American Psychiatric Association to include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, though this is a long and convoluted story (see http://traumatheory.com/whats-going-on-with-dsm-5/ for more details). For some time, rap groups were employed by the VA, often with reluctance, for their members were not always easily managed (Sonnenberg, Blank, Talbott).

No more. David Morris’ recent account of his experience with cognitive behavioral therapy at the San Diego VA tells of a sign on the wall of a waiting room for a small group of vets who were about to enter therapy (p. 195).

PLEASE REFRAIN FROM TELLING WAR STORIES. YOUR STORY COULD BE A “TRIGGER” FOR SOMEONE ELSE.

If the traumatized cannot talk with each other, but only through a therapist, even in a group, then therapy is no longer about creating a community of support for those who suffer. It’s about isolating those who suffer from each other, so they can be processed individually, their trauma chopped into bits.

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