Moral injury: a mechanism for war-related psychological trauma in military family members

Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 2013 Dec;16(4):365-75. doi: 10.1007/s10567-013-0146-y.


Recent research has provided compelling evidence of mental health problems in military spouses and children, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), related to the war-zone deployments, combat exposures, and post-deployment mental health symptoms experienced by military service members in the family. One obstacle to further research and federal programs targeting the psychological health of military family members has been the lack of a clear, compelling, and testable model to explain how war-zone events can result in psychological trauma in military spouses and children. In this article, we propose a possible mechanism for deployment-related psychological trauma in military spouses and children based on the concept of moral injury, a model that has been developed to better understand how service members and veterans may develop PTSD and other serious mental and behavioral problems in the wake of war-zone events that inflict damage to moral belief systems rather by threatening personal life and safety. After describing means of adapting the moral injury model to family systems, we discuss the clinical implications of moral injury, and describe a model for its psychological treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Family / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Military Personnel / psychology*
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Morals*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • United States