Nurses' meaning of caring with patients in acute psychiatric hospital settings: a grounded theory study

Int J Nurs Stud. 2008 Feb;45(2):203-23. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2006.08.018. Epub 2006 Oct 16.


Background: The concept of caring is described as intangible, abstract, and invisible in nursing practice. This has translated into a view of caring as a personal choice or natural obligation rather than a deliberate process. While there has been movement to delineate caring within nursing in general, the psychiatric nurse's perspective on caring has been absent from theoretical works and measures constructed to describe nurse's work.

Objectives: To develop a substantive grounded theory of caring from the perspective of Registered Nurses working with patients in three Canadian acute psychiatric hospital settings.

Design: The qualitative research design of grounded theory methodology was used to develop a theory of caring.

Settings: Three urban, acute psychiatric hospital settings in Canada. Two were general hospitals and one was a psychiatric hospital.

Participants: Registered Nurses (N=17) licensed with the College of Nurses of Ontario.

Method: In-depth interviews with Registered Nurses were conducted using theoretical sampling. The data were analysed using constant comparative analysis.

Results: Protective empowering is the basic social psychological process that represents Registered Nurses' caring with patients in acute psychiatric hospital settings. Nurses accomplish protective empowering through six main categories of: (1) respecting the patient; (2) not taking the patient's behaviour personally; (3) keeping the patient safe; (4) encouraging the patient's health; (5) authentic relating; and (6) interactive teaching. The six main categories were accomplished through 27 subcategories. In the theory of protective empowering, the goal is to help patients participate in activities contributing to convalescence, health, and/or quality of life.

Conclusions: The theory of protective empowering provides six main categories and 27 subcategories that can be transferred to funding formulas, patient health record documentation systems, nurse orientation and education programs, nurse role descriptions, and used in guiding discussions about organizational values of patient-centred care within a collaborative multidisciplinary context.

MeSH terms

  • Hospitals, Psychiatric*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / nursing*
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Nurse-Patient Relations
  • Nurses*
  • Ontario