Last modified on February 7th, 2023 at 05:34 pm
Our mission is to provide moral injury and moral distress education and customized recovery services to diverse populations.
Our recovery programs use small-group processes facilitated by trained peers who understand experiences of moral distress and moral injury and want to provide ways for others to recover. 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 by enabling 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) for frontline care givers, healthcare workers, first responders, veterans, and others to process moral distress and moral injury. The Center also created online courses for professionals and graduate students to learn more about moral injury and recovery strategies.
Rita Nakashima Brock, Rel. M., M.A., Ph.D., has been Senior Vice President for Moral Injury Programs at Volunteers of America since June 2017. She was born in Japan and raised in a Buddhist family for six years until she was moved to the U.S. by her stepfather, who raised her in the U.S. military. She is the first Asian American woman to earn a doctorate in philosophy of religion and theology and is a Commissioned Minister in the Capital Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She is an award-winning writer, and she and Dr. Gabriella Lettini co-authored of one of the first books written on moral injury, Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury After War (Beacon 2012).
Dr. Brock was a professor from 1979-1997 before becoming the Director of the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College in 1997. After she served on a team to create the plan for the Radcliffe-Harvard merger in 1999, she became Director of the Fellowship Program at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. From 2001-2002, she was a fellow at the Harvard Divinity School Center for Values in Public Life, and from 2002-2012, she was a visiting scholar at the Starr King School for the Ministry at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA and co-founder and director of Faith Voices for the Common Good from 2004-2012. She was also the senior religion editor at The New Press from 2006-2008. From 2012-2017, she directed the Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University, which she co-founded with COL (Chaplain) Herman Keizer, Jr. (USA, ret.).