Jean Watson’s Caring Theory

Published 06 Jan 2017


Nursing theories are undeniably being taken for granted because they are not yet facts. Little do these people know that without nursing theories, health care would not be as efficient and effective as it is today. Because of this, this paper is designed to appreciate the theory with Jean Watson as proponent. Her theory on caring will prove how important it is for nurses to show concern to their patients. The relationship of the nurse and the patient is crucial in the recovery and healing stage of the patient, and this theory explains all the reasons why.

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Nursing theories are important in health care, and not a lot of nurses and other medical practitioners know that. Some of them think that nursing theories are only for school, in which student nurses review these for a long exam or a simple class recitation. Nursing theories are as important as nursing facts because without these theories, nurses would not be able to fully apply what they have learned in school. One of the most effective theorists of all times is Jean Watson. She is known for her Theory of Caring.

Before Jean Watson’s Caring Theory is discussed, it will help to know the theorist’s background first. Watson is a nursing scholar who now resides in Boulder, Colorado but was born and raised in West Virginia (McEwen and Willis, 2007, p. 191).

She had her undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado where she finished psychology and nursing. Her hunger for knowledge manifested when she finished her master’s degree. She had psychiatric-mental health nursing as her MA, and educational psychology and counseling as her Ph.D (McEwen and Willis, 2007, p. 191).

“At the School of Nursing in University of Colorado, Watson is the Murchinson-Scoville Chair in Caring Science and also a Distinguished Professor in Nursing. She is the founder of the Colorado’s Center for Human Caring (McEwen and Willis, 2007, p. 191).” She is also affiliated to the American Academy of Nursing and it is no surprise that she has received numerous honorary doctoral degrees and other honors both from the national and the international scene (McEwen and Willis, 2007, p. 191).

Because of her theory of human caring, and her philosophies that shaped her opinions and insights, Jean Watson was able to publish a book explaining her theory. Today, her theory is being taught in schools. Nurses from the different parts of the globe study her thoughts and insights (McEwen and Willis, 2007, p. 191).

According to Jean Watson, her theory is bound by three basic elements. The first element is the carative factor. “When it comes to ‘caractive’ factor, Watson includes ten steps in her theoretical framework (McEwen and Willis, 2007, p. 191).” The “Caractive” Factor

These ten steps include altruistic and humanistic system of values, presence of hope and love, being sensitive not only to the self but also to other people, fostering relationships that are trustworthy and helpful, expressing feelings which can either be positive or negative, being able to know how to solve problems and be caring at the same time, how to learn and how to teach in a transpersonal manner, developing a supportive environment, being able to assist the needs of fellow humans and lastly, being sensitive to forces that are spiritual, phenomenological and existential (Johnson and Bayliss, 2004, p. 173).

As Watson developed her theory, she made it known the idea of “clinical caritas process” which is now what people study in lieu of her “caractive” factors. With these new processes, it can be seen that there is a larger and more enormous spiritual dimension involved. Caritas is a Greek word that means to give attention, to treasure or to cherish. Now, below are some ways in which Watson applies the caractive factors in caring for clinical patients (Johnson and Bayliss, 2004, p. 173).

Caritas can be applied when practicing love, equanimity and kindness as long as a nurse is under conscious caring. A nurse should also be present because the one being taken care of has to have his or her subjective world and belief system supported and enabled. Patients must be taught how to sustain and develop their transpersonal selves, their spiritual practices, compassion and the way they are sensitive with other people (Johnson and Bayliss, 2004, p. 173).

Caring relationship must be developed at all times, and must be sustained with trust and a helping environment. It is also important to support and be aware of how a patient expresses feelings, be it negative or positive, in order for the patient to be closer with his or her inner self (Johnson and Bayliss, 2004, p. 173). Of course, this way, the bonding between the nurse and the patient is also cultivated.

To properly care for the patient, it is important to be creative, too, because this way, the nurse will surely have to find ways to know how to care for the patient in a better way. “Creativity is important when it comes to healing and caring practices” (Johnson and Bayliss, 2004, p. 173). Of course, caring is an art, so creativity is needed in this theory.

It is also important to engage in a real experience bound by teaching and learning. In a real teaching-learning experience, the nurse must be able to let the patient know how to unite meaning and being and at the same time, the nurse should also be able to teach the patient to stay inside the frame of reference of other people (Johnson and Bayliss, 2004, p. 173).

A healing environment is also important for a patient, be it a physical or a non-physical environment. The healing environment must be characterized by peace, dignity, comfort, beauty, wholeness, consciousness and of course, energy (Johnson and Bayliss, 2004, p. 173).

Assisting the patient with his or her basic needs is also crucial, because this is where a nurse administers the essentials of human care. When these essentials are employed, it automatically means that the mind, body and spirit of the patient are all united. He or she has to understand the unity of being and wholeness (Marriner-Tomey and Alligood, 2006, p. 105).

This way, the nurse is able to evolve the emergence of the spirit, and attend to the embodied spirit in a patient. Human care in Watson’s theory is therefore not just all about caring for the sick, but for showing kindness and concern for the soul (Marriner-Tomey and Alligood, 2006, p. 105).

The Transpersonal Caring Relationship

The second element of Watson’s theory is the “transpersonal caring relationship”.

Transpersonal caring relationship, according to Watson, “focuses not on ordinary care, but on a special one that relies on the following: the moral commitment of the nurse when it comes to shielding human dignity and spiritual self, and that is just one” (Marriner-Tomey and Alligood, 2006, p. 105).

The caring consciousness of the nurse which he or she expresses in order to honor and preserve the self and the soul, thereby not decreasing the perspective for a person into someone with a moral status of a material thing is another. The caring consciousness of the nurse is also needed when it comes to healing because with this process, what takes place are connection that’s intentional along with perception and experience (Marriner-Tomey and Alligood, 2006, p. 105).

Transpersonal relationship is about how a nurse does not only administer objective assessment but beyond it as well. A nurse should care about the deeper meaning of the patient’s health care. He or she should understand the subjective part of the patient’s personality.

A nurse does not only assist the doctor or assist the patient when taking in medicine. A nurse is also responsible for helping the patient understand his or her perspective and in this way, the mutuality between the patient and the nurse is better appreciated (Marriner-Tomey and Alligood, 2006, p. 105).

Mutuality, of course, has to be achieved the whole time because this is important to the relationship as the patient is healing and recovering. As a result, one is called the “caring one”, and the other is referred to as the one being cared for. They both connect to look for wholeness and meaning (Marriner-Tomey and Alligood, 2006, p. 105). What is truly achieved in this connection is pain’s spiritual transcendence.

Why, then, is the term “transpersonal” used? Transpersonal, in this context, is about going beyond the ego today, right at this moment, as an inpidual reaches more profound and more defined spiritual connections in encouraging healing and comfort. The goal of this theory’s element is to promote inner harmony, wholeness, humanity and dignity, and at the same time preserve all of these (Marriner-Tomey and Alligood, 2006, p. 105).

The Caring Moment or The Caring Occasion

According to Watson, a caring moment is the time when a patient and a nurse unites, fostering human caring. The two engage in human-to-human interaction even when they both are different from each other. A field matches an inpidual’s frame of reference. Summing up the experience of humans, it can be found out that this is made of meaning, perceptions, considerations, expectations, goals, beliefs, thoughts, sensations and feelings. All these depend on the history of the inpidual’s life, and everything that happened to him or her in the past. It is also based on the present moment, and of course, on how the person sees his or her future (Marriner-Tomey and Alligood, 2006, p. 105).

Clinical Application

To apply this theory, then, a nurse must be aware of Jean Watson’s theory for him or her to know that he or she should stay beside a patient and for sharing a caring moment. This way, the nurse will know how to properly handle the patient and the situation as the nurse discusses the various goals of a patient’s hospitalization (Zraigat, 2007, p. 5).

The patient, on the other hand, will learn how to understand why he is in the hospital. He will learn to accept the treatments being administered to him. He will be aware of the status of his health and therefore, he himself will find ways to make his situation better (Zraigat, 2007, p. 5).

A nurse will share a caring moment with the patient. The nurse will assure the patient that whatever grief is being experienced at the moment, the nurse experiences it, too. The nurse will learn to find ways through this theory, on how to reach out to the patient emotionally, while making sure that the patient is comfortable (Zraigat, 2007, p. 6).


  • Johnson, B. M. and Bayliss, P. (2004). An Introduction to Theory and Reasoning in Nursing. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • Marriner-Tomey, A. and Alligood, M.R.. (2006). Nursing Theorists and Their Work. Mosby/Elsevier.
  • McEwen, M. and Wills, E. (2007). Theoretical Basis for Nursing. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • Taylor, C., C. Lillis and LeMone, P. (2000). Fundamentals of Nursing: The Art and Science of Nursing Care. Lippincott.
  • Zraigat, H. (2007). Integration of Watson’s Theory Within Nursing Practice. North Dakota State University.
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