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Jean Watson’s Nursing Theory

Abigail A Volk

Carroll University


There are many different theories in nursing all emphasizing various ways to promote healing

and wellness of a patient. The theories can range from altering temperatures, to sanitation

procedures, to self care and even a change in the lighting. Parts of many theories are factored

into today’s nursing practices for a more holistic and adaptable approach to address the needs of

a patient. In choosing a theory I think is most important, I came across Jean Watsons’ ideas of

human caring implemented in nursing. Instantly I knew this is the theory I would most like to

emulate when working with patients. Her theory is challenging and motivating, but can never

completely be accomplished because it is overly idealistic to be connected and involved with all

the patients at that level. However, it is possible to continually strive to care deeply for each

client. Understanding the client and having a personal connection with them is much more

important in the healing process than following procedures. Anyone can implement a predefined

set of tasks. A truly gifted nurse can relate to patients by providing emotional and spiritual well-

being which in turns affects their physical well-being. Watson believes that faith, hope, and a

positive outlook can greatly affect wellness even more so than medicine and tasks. This is why I

picked Jean Watson’s theory. She believes in what I strive to achieve when working with people.

Jean Watson’s Nursing Theory

In West Virginia a driven and accomplished woman was born. In 1988, forty years later,

her nursing theory of “human science and human care” was published (Smith, 2004). This

outstanding woman is Jean Watson. She began her education with a BSN from the University of

Colorado then went on to earn her MS and PhD in educational psychology and counseling

(Smith, 2004). During that time she was learning and developing her ideas and perspectives on

nursing. After Watson became well educated she founded the original center for human caring.

She has also held positions such as Dean of Nursing, a Fellow in the American Academy of

Nursing, and is a previous President of the National League for Nursing. Among those

accomplishments she also is a published author that has received a number of honors for her

writings (Smith, 2004).

Before her theory was developed, she first published a book called “The Philosophy and

Science of Caring”, she believes this is only a perspective of nursing not a theory. The main

focus in Watson’s nursing perspective is “that nursing is a human process and places a high

value on the caring relationship between the nurse and the recipient of care” (Sourial, 1996). To

Watson, philosophy and a strong value system make up the practice of caring. Watson values a

humanistic approach when caring for clients. She believes that today the concept of true care is

being overlooked by the technology and responsibilities involved with nursing (Sourial, 1996).

Watson takes this point seriously because at this time in history technology was booming.

Televisions became common and computers were now vital to society. Watson made a list of ten

‘carative factors’ to bring us back to a more humanistic approach. When technique and

technology are removed, this list it is the core of nursing (Sourial, 1996). These factors include

her beliefs, concepts, knowledge and principals relating to clients behavior. Watson’s second

book titled, “Nursing Human Science and Human Care - A Theory of Nursing”, had many of

her previous perspectives of caring but is now integrated into a theory (Sourial, 1996).

Overall Jean Watson believes that caring is the central concept in healing and nursing.

The first three points in her theory have to do with “the human care process” (Berman, Snyder,

Kozier, Erb, 2008, p.47). The second three concepts relate to transactions of human care, this is

where the caring goes to another level of mind, body and soul to connect with a client. Having a

strong foundation of trust with the patient can relieve the client of stress. This way the patient

can concentrate on healing. Watson believes that the only way to show someone you care is to

display it interpersonally. When caring for a patient Watson gives the client the opportunity to

choose the best action for them at that point in time. She believes that the client can evaluate

himself and communicate his thoughts to the nurse (Sourial, 1996).

The structure of caring is based off of the ten ‘carative factors’. The first of the factors is

humanistic and altruistic value system (Berman, 2008, p.47). She believes that kids share values

with their parents and will show the characteristics of altruistic behavior that has been modeled

for them. She also believes that an effective nurse has an altruistic mind set towards others. The

second factor is faith-hope and how they contribute to the healing process (Berman, 2008, p.47).

Nurses can use faith to heal the soul and bring peace to the mental state of a patient. The third is

sensitivity to others. Watson believes that a nurse needs to be able to feel emotion as it is meant

to be felt and be considerate of the situation. A great nurse will strive to be genuinely sensitive.

Personal growth and self-actualization is realized between the nurse and the patient (Sourial,


Fourth is developing a helping-trust relationship (Berman, 2008, p.47). In Watson’s

theory she says that congruence, empathy, warmth, and communication will develop a trusting

and authentic relationship. The fifth is expressing feelings both positive and negative. If the

patient is expressing positive feeling then the nurse is to be encouraging. If the patient is

expressing negative feelings then the nurse is to be compassionate. In return it will help the nurse

understand the reasons to the client’s behavior. The sixth ‘carative factor’ is the use of creative

problem solving methods (Berman, 2008, p.47). Creativity in applying methods allows for

control, prediction and promotes self correction. It is important to try various methods and test

out what works best in a variety of situations. The seventh factor explains how important it is to

educate the patient. While educating, observe clients feelings about the procedures. This will

give you insight on their feelings. The eighth factor involves creating a healing environment. A

major part of the theory is to provide the client with a safe feeling and privacy. The ninth has to

do with assistance with gratification (Berman, 2008, p.47). Watson thinks that there is a

hierarchy of needs. A caring nurse will evaluate all the needs of the client and put them in order

of importance including spiritual needs. The last factor is allowing existential-phenomenological

(Berman, 2008, p.47). This means understanding situations from another point of view.

Watson theory adds a very human dimension to nursing that is satisfying yet challenging.

She wants every nurse to be the best in order to give the client what is deserved. The emphasis of

her theory is on caring for the client rather than the science, technology and process. The quality

of care is greatly altered when implementing Watson’s human caring theory by using her

‘carative factors’. Both the nurse and the patient benefit by the spiritual emotional and physical

healing. Watson’s unique approach changed the focus of nursing today and for generations to



Berman, A., Snyder, S. J., Kozier, B., & Erb, G. (2008). Kozier and Erb’s fundamentals of

nursing: Concepts, process, and practice (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River: Pearson and


Smith, M. (2004). Review of Research Related to Watson's Theory of Caring. Nursing Science

Quarterly,17(1), 13-25. doi:10.1177/0894318403260545.

Sourial, S. (1996). An analysis and evaluation of Watson's theory of human care. Journal of

Advanced Nursing, 24(2), 400-404. doi:10.1111/1365-2648.ep8556189.