Our mission is to provide moral injury and moral distress education and recovery services for diverse populations.
Our recovery programs use small-group processes facilitated by trained peers who understand experiences of moral distress and moral injury. Our groups alleviate moral injury through the cultivation of compassionate, non-judgmental relationships that encourage empathy, enhance self-worth, enable shared meaning-making, restore moral agency and offer resilience skills to face the future with anticipation and curiosity.
Peer-facilitated small groups create an egalitarian, mutually supportive context for vulnerability and sharing of morally injurious experiences. They enable trust without fear of moral judgment, diagnosis or evaluation. They can be an effective alternative to mental health treatment or a valuable concurrent process for those diagnosed with PTSD or other mental health conditions.
Our educational programs and conferences, both in-person and virtual, offer:
- Information about moral injury and diverse recovery strategies from a variety of experts in fields such as social work, the arts, psychology, healthcare, and religion
- Opportunities for firsthand experiences of approaches and strategies for recovery
- Training to facilitate small group processes
In June 2017, the Rev. Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock became a Senior Vice President at VOA in charge of creating moral injury programs. VOA founded the Shay Moral Injury Center in January 2018, named in honor of her friend, psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Shay, who treated Vietnam-era veterans at a Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Boston from 1987-2007. He coined the term moral injury in 1994 to refer to the “undoing of character” caused by the moral anguish of combat veterans, suffering which had been subsumed and pathologized under the diagnosis of PTSD in 1980. While not a mental health disorder, moral injury is a significant factor in identity crises and losses of faith, meaning or life purpose caused by high-stakes situations such as war. Dr. Shay received a MacArthur Fellowship for his work in 2007.
In March 2017, in partnership with the Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School, VOA invited Dr. Shay and his Boston colleague, Dr. James Monroe, to guide the creation of an evidence-based, peer-facilitated moral injury recovery program for military veterans called Resilience Strength Training (RST). Dr. Shay served as a consultant for the program during its successful pilot phase that ran from November 2017 to June 2019.
In September 2017, the Center held its first national conference on moral injury in Princeton, NJ, co-hosted by the Soul Repair Center. The second conference was held at the University of Southern California in 2019 and was co-hosted by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health Services. The third conference in 2021 was a virtual event co-hosted by Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC.
In 2020, the Shay Center used successful elements from RST to create a small-group, peer-facilitated, hour-long, confidential online program, Resilience Strength Time (ReST) Open to the public, VOA|ReST is an opportunity for anyone to process moral distress and moral injury. In addition, VOA has customized ReST for military veterans, healthcare workers and first responders. The Center launched its first online course in 2021 for professionals and graduate students to learn more about moral injury and recovery strategies.