Moral injury and moral healing in prolonged exposure for combat-related PTSD: A case study.

Evans, W. R., Russell, L. H., Hall-Clark, B. N., Fina, B. A., Brown, L. A., Foa, E. B., & Peterson, A. L., for the Consortium to Alleviate PTSD.
May 1, 2021

Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 28(2), 210–223.

Prolonged Exposure (PE) is a highly effective treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) across a variety of delivery formats and samples. However, for military service members, the treatment tends to be less effective than for civilians. One explanation for the reduced response to PE in military service members is the frequency, intensity, and heterogeneity of combat trauma. Combat trauma may yield a variety of posttraumatic responses, including moral injury, or the psychosocial-spiritual suffering consequent of exposure to moral injurious events. Despite rapidly increasing research on combat-related moral injury, little clinical guidance exists on how or if moral injury may be addressed via trauma-focused treatments such as PE. This case report describes the facilitation of moral healing for a U.S. Army soldier with combat-related PTSD in a 3-week intensive outpatient PE program. While PTSD symptoms were reduced from pre- to posttreatment, even more substantial treatment gains were observed in the soldier’s functional changes, engagement with values-based activities, and his reported willingness to embrace moral pain. Although not explicit in the PE manual, targeting these latter outcomes in PE can facilitate moral healing in service members with PTSD. This case report provides a detailed description of how PE procedures were targeted to address moral injury and where theory-driven augmentations were included to facilitate moral healing.