Dr. Michele DeMarco
Welcome. I’m glad you’re here.
I’m Michele — a therapist, clinical ethicist, writer, and academic researcher working at the leading edge of one of the most important, but little-known areas of trauma and healing today. It’s called moral injury and its cousin moral distress (the field generally is also referred to as moral trauma). And it’s different than depression, anxiety, feelings of burnout or defeat, even posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In brief, moral injury happens when our core moral foundations or expectations are violated in high stakes situations. These violations can happen from actions a person took themselves (such as harming another person, whether it was intentional, unintentional, or unavoidable); actions a person witnessed, including betrayal (like abuse, violence, infidelity, discrimination, or being wrongly accused); actions a person was forced to do against their will or better judgment (like abandoning or neglecting someone; also lying, cheating, or falsifying information because a higher-up commanded or pressured you too); and actions that a person couldn’t take to prevent a bad situation from happening (like natural disasters, accidents, suicide, and medical injury or illness). Violations like these recast the way we see ourselves, others, and the world, and they cause changes in behavior that signal a loss of trust, connection, self-worth, and meaning.
Moral distress happens when institutional or systemic barriers prevent us from acting with integrity, particularly when it comes to fundamental moral principles and ethical responsibilities. It also happens when others don’t grasp a moral imperative that is clear to us, or from repeatedly not having our values respected, either individually or collectively.
All these painful experiences are commonly called “soul wounds,” because they cut to our core or essence — to the very things that define us.
Moral trauma can feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world. Feelings of shame, guilt, despair, outrage, and disgust are common, as are powerlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness. People often question themselves, others, life, or their God/higher power. They struggle to find meaning, purpose, and peace. The also pull away from important relationships. In some cases, they even have suicidal thoughts.
While these fundamental human struggles have plagued people for millennia, the field of moral trauma is finally gaining attention, in large part because of two wars in the Middle East, the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on public health, and the social, political, and economic unrest (on all sides of the spectrum) that resulted in its wake. Finally, we know what to call this painful and disorienting experience, how to identify it, and increasingly, how to help people transform and heal from it.
I’ve been involved in primary research on moral trauma and written on it extensively. I’ve also created a writing therapy called Embodied Disclosure Therapy (EDT) that has shown to be helpful in early studies.
This site — which I’ve named “Soul Console” — is for people like you to better understand what a “soul wound” is, how it lives inside us, and how that shapes the stories we tell ourselves and how that affects our relationships with others and the world. Most importantly, it’s a first step in knowing what to do about it.
Here, you’ll find resources for those who are struggling with moral injury or moral distress, including books, articles, infographics, inspirations, and self-assessments. I have also developed courses (online and in-person) that help to build moral resilience to both address and help buttress future moral pain or adversity.
If you’re a journalist, editor, or producer and would like to request an interview for a story, video, speaking engagement, or podcast, please reach out here.
If you’re an institution or group who is interested in organizational consulting, please contact us here.
Honoring pain, reconciling difficult truths, and restoring moral integrity for a whole, healthy, and fully engaged life starts here.
We cannot recreate our lives going backward.
We can only reclaim our life moving forward.
-Michele DeMarco, PhD, from Holding Onto Air: The Art and Science of Building a Resilient Spirit
“Is That What It’s Called?!”
with Jon Debauch, Founder, Mr. Spirituality Podcast
Digging deep, clearing the air, and getting down to brass tax about what moral injury and soul wounds really are — and what must be done to reclaim your sense of self, heal essential relationships, and move forward in life with integrity, peace, and hope. Part 1 of my conversation with Jon Debauch.
NEW BOOK BY MICHELE
HOLDING ONTO AIR: The Art and Science of Building a Resilient Spirit
"Michele DeMarco has written a wise and welcoming guide to what comes after survival — the rebuilding of hope, spirit, resilience, and joy." — Anne Lamott, New York Times best-selling author.
A top mental health writer, trauma researcher, and survivor illuminates the dual nature of loss — the science behind it and art of transforming it with a breakthrough book and truly holistic approach.
After experiencing two rare heart attacks at age 33 — and a third a decade later, Dr. Michele DeMarco knows trauma intimately.
With poignant wisdom and refreshing insight Dr. DeMarco explodes traditional myths of resilience and shows what it takes to thrive through any of life’s challenges. She situates meaningful challenge and loss specifically in the context of “lost innocence,” and challenges common notions that we can think our way out of despair and back to a “normal” happy life when the unimaginable shatters it.
Leveraging advances in emotion science, somatic psychology, neuroscience, and trauma, Holding Onto Air brings the body and spirit into the solution, as much as the mind, and so presents a truly integrated, “whole person” approach to recovering from lost innocence and building resilience. It also makes spirit accessible for anyone of any background or belief — or no aligned belief.
More than a rudimentary map for navigating grief and loss’ rocky terrain (with tired tropes and shop-worn strategies), Dr. DeMarco offers a unique and trusted guide for an arduous journey every human being will have to face — the realization of evil, pain, or mortality that occurs after a person experiences trauma.
Coming Fall 2023, by Berrett-Koehler!
Not sure where to begin?
We can help with that.
Michele has lots to share.
Get started here.
Here is a curated collection of writings, conversations, and resources that are the heart and soul of my work. I hope you’ll check them out.
Soul Console Community
Welcome to the Soul Console Community
Soul Console is a burgeoning community, grounded in trust and validation, and chock-full of resources that can help you regain a sense of wholeness and integrity. Whether you’re feeling crushing emotion, the fear of stigma, numbing from scars, the sense that others “wouldn’t understand,” “couldn’t understand,” “don’t really care,” or would “judge you,” you needn’t suffer any longer in solitary and self-severing silence.
New Course By Michele
ResilientU: Healing Writing to Cultivate Moral Resilience
Join us for this new 28-day self-guided course that helps you build your “moral muscle,” so that in any situation, you can hold your center, act with confidence, and maintain your integrity. It's one of the few scientifically backed writing programs out there.
Opening October 1, 2023