Jean Watson Nursing Theory

Jean Watson Human Caring Theory

When it comes to nursing, there have been many debates over its course, practices, and advances over the past few decades.

Several nursing concepts and terminologies have evolved over time and are constantly being redefined. In this article, we will discuss Jean Watson’s Theory of Caring.

In terms of philosophical rigor, this is one of the most complex ideas about nursing currently available.

Biography of Jean Watson

As a nurse theorist and nursing professor, Jean Watson has had a tremendous impact on modern nursing and has developed the Watson Caring Science Institute. Her studies, publications, and books have all contributed to the advancement of professional nursing practice. Watson is also best known for her “Philosophy and Theory of Transpersonal Caring” and various other works such as Nursing: The Philosophy and Science of Caring. Nursing schools and hospitals worldwide have turned to Watson’s work on compassion as a resource for teaching nursing students and treating patients.

A. Early Years of Jean Watson

Margaret Jean Harmon, later married and changed her name to Jean Watson, was raised in the little West Virginia town of Welch in the Appalachian Mountains. At present, she is retired and continues to reside in Boulder, Colorado.

She was the youngest of the family’s eight children, and she grew up in a large family with a strong sense of community. Having completed her high school education in West Virginia and then her nursing education at the Lewis Gale School of Nursing in Roanoke, Virginia, Watson earned her nursing degree in 1961. Afterward, she proceeded to the University of Colorado at Boulder, wherein she earned her Baccalaureate Degree in Nursing in 1964 that would further her nursing education.

She earned her master’s degree in psychiatric health nursing from the University of Colorado’s Health Sciences Campus in 1966. Whereas, at the University of Colorado’s Graduate School, she earned a Doctorate in Educational Psychology and Counseling, which she earned in the year 1973.

B. Personal Life of Jean Watson

In 1961, Watson decided to tie the knot with her husband, Douglas, and lived with him in Colorado. After three decades, she experienced unfortunate happenings in her life in two consecutive years. She lost her left eye after encountering an accidental injury in 1997.

In the following year, Douglas, her husband, whom she regarded as her physical and spiritual partner, and her best friend died, leaving Watson and her two adult daughters, Julie and Jennifer, and five grandchildren. Consequently, these significant events in her life have contributed to formulating her third book.

The book mixes the specialized viewpoints of advanced medication with the all-encompassing center customarily related with nursing and serves as paving the way for nursing into the 21st century.

C. Employment and Appointments of Jean Watson

After earning her doctorate, Dr. Jean Watson worked in both academic and administrative posts at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, particularly as a member of the teaching staff of the Denver School of Nursing. In 1981 and 1982, she traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, India, and Taiwan for her international sabbatical studies.

After two decades, in 2005, at the Spanish El Camino is where she obtained a sabbatical for a walking pilgrimage. In 1986, Watson and his colleagues set up a Human Care Center at the University of Colorado. This is the first interdisciplinary center in the United States devoted to utilizing human care expertise for clinical practice, science, administration, and leadership in the field.

In addition to clinical and educational programs, Watson and others host and sponsor social gatherings, community service events, and other charitable endeavors. International collaborations with researchers and colleagues from all over the world, such as those from Australia, Brazil, Canada, East Asia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Thailand, and Venezuela, are part of these efforts.

The University of Colorado’s International Certificate Program in Caring Healing continues these activities, and Watson also offers graduate-level theoretical courses in the field.

Watson was Chairman and Vice-President of the Undergraduate Course at the University Of Colorado School Of Nursing. She participated in the designing and administration of the nursing Ph.D. program. Between 1978 and 1981, she served as coordinator and director in the postgraduate degree at the University of Colorado School Of Nursing, where she served as the chairperson and the assistant dean of the undergraduate program.

From 1983 to 1990, Watson served as an Associate Director of Nursing Practice at University Hospital and was also a Dean of the University of Colorado School of Nursing. She had a crucial role in the establishment of a post-baccalaureate nursing curriculum. And in 2005, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree was given a new name after the Nursing Doctorate (ND) was established as a professional clinical doctorate in human care, health, and healing. A DNP is characterized by 

 “nurses who have extensive clinical experience can advance in the healthcare industry by obtaining an advanced nursing degree.” Following over a decade, from 1993 to 1996, Watson served on the NLN’s Executive Committee and Governing Board and served as an officer for the National Leadership Network, where she held the position of president. Afterward, the Watson Caring Science Institute was created in 2008 as a non-profit foundation to promote Caring science around the globe.

D. Works of Jean Watson

Dr. Jean Watson authors eleven (11) books; she is also the co-author of six (6), and she has published a large number of essays in journals related to nursing. Her nursing theory is based on her conception of nursing philosophy and science. Later, she added “Caritas,” which made clear that caring and love go hand in hand.

E. Awards and Honors of Jean Watson

At various points in her professional life, Watson has been actively involved in a wide range of community projects, including Boulder County Hospice, where she was a founding member and active participant. It’s also during this time that she has won many scholarships, awards, university grants, extramural funds for her department’s administrative projects, and government grants and awards for research and higher study in her profession.

The CU School of Nursing honored Watson in 1992 for her contributions to the field of nursing and as an outstanding professor. Aside from that, she also obtained additional honorary doctorate degrees, including those from Gteborg University in Sweden, Luton University in the UK, and the University of Montreal (in Quebec, Canada), and six from American universities.

In the following year (1993), she acquired the National League for Nursing (NLN) Martha E. Rogers Award, the NLN also gave her an award of honorary lifetime certificate as a holistic nurse (1997), and in 1998 she was acknowledged by the New York University as Distinguished Nurse Scholar. Then, in the following year, she obtained the Fetzer Institute’s National Norman Cousins Award, and in that year also, she accepted the country’s first Murchison-Scoville Endowed Chair of Caring Science.

Furthermore, she has indeed gathered various leadership achievements, which include honorary doctoral degrees from different institutions across the globe. In 2013, the American Academy of Nursing recognized her contributions to nursing.

2. Jean Watson’s Human Caring Theory

Watson postulates that the role of a nurse is to keep patients healthy, manage illness, treat disease, and ultimately restore their health. In addition to promoting good health, it also focuses on disease treatment. She asserts that nursing is more than just administering medication; it also involves showing concern for the patients’ well-being. Watson feels that rather than a rapid medical fix, it is more important to provide empathic and compassionate care.

Maintaining Watson’s caring philosophy allows the nurse to provide compassion to reduce patients’ and families’ pain and encourage healing and dignity.

Assumptions of Jean Watson’s Human Caring Theory 

Watson’s concept is predicated on seven underlying assumptions.

  1. Caring can be shown and practiced best when shown and practiced interpersonally.
  2. Caring comprises various carative elements that work together to meet various human needs.
  3. If care is to be effective, it must encourage health and personal or family development.
  4. Caring responses are demonstrated by accepting the patient as he or she is and also how he or she may change.
  5. In a caring setting, patients can develop at their own pace and make their own decisions about their care.
  6. The science of caring goes hand in hand with the science of healing.
  7. Caring is at the heart of nursing practice.

Watson’s 10 Carative Factors

Watson provided a list of ten carative factors for nurses to bear in mind while caring for patients. She also translated the original carative factors into clinical caritas methods that identified open ways to address them.

Carative Factors (1979)Carative Processes (2001)
Establishing a “humanistic-altruistic system of value.”The “practice of loving-kindness and equanimity within the context of caring consciousness.”
Instilling “faith and hope.”“Being authentically present and enabling and sustaining the deep belief system and subjective life world of self and the one-being-cared-for.”
The “development of sensitivity to self and others.”“Cultivation of one’s own spiritual practices and transpersonal self, going beyond ego self, opening to others with sensitivity and compassion.”
Formation of “helping and trusting, human care relationship.”“Developing and sustaining a helping-trusting, authentic caring relationship.”
Allowance of “expressing positive and negative feelings.”“Being present to, and supportive of, the expression of positive and negative feelings as a connection with a deeper spirit of self and the one-being-cared-for.”
Employing “Creative problem-solving caring process.”“Creative use of self and all ways of knowing as part of the caring process; to engage in the artistry of caring-healing practices.”
Use of “Transpersonal teaching-learning.”“Engaging in genuine teaching-learning experience that attends to the unity of being and meaning, attempting to stay within others’ frames of reference.”
Promotion of “Supportive, protective, and/or corrective mental, physical, societal, and spiritual environment.”“Creating healing environment at all levels (physical as well as non-physical), subtle environment of energy and consciousness, whereby wholeness, beauty, comfort, dignity, and peace are potentiated.”
“Assistance in meeting basic human needs”“Assisting with basic needs, with an intentional caring consciousness, administering “human care essentials,” which potentiate alignment of mind-body-spirit, wholeness, and unity of being in all aspects of care; tending to both the embodied spirit and evolving spiritual emergence.”
Existential-phenomenological-spiritual forces. (Watson, 1988b, p. 75)“Opening and attending to spiritual-mysterious and existential dimensions of one’s own life-death; soul care for self and the one-being-cared-for. (Watson, 2001, p. 347)”.

Watson’s Hierarchy of Needs

  • Basic Needs Order: Biophysical requirements, also known as survival requirements or needs. According to Watson’s hierarchy of needs, the most basic wants are the biophysical ones, such as the need to survive. These include the requirement for food, warmth, shelter, and liquids, as well as the demand for excretion and ventilation.
  • Psychological Needs Order: Functional or psychological requirements. In Watson’s hierarchy, the next level is the psychophysical demands, also referred to as functional necessities. Physical activity, inactivity, and sexuality are examples of these needs and preferences.
  • Psychological Needs Order: Psychosocial Requirements or Esteem Requirements. The need for achievement and belonging are two of the more complex and higher-order psychosocial demands people have.
  • Self-fulfillment Needs. Aspiration for Personal and/or Professional Development. Self-actualization, often known as the quest for personal and interpersonal progress, is a fundamental human need situated atop Watson’s hierarchy of needs.

Major Concepts of Watson’s Theory of Human Caring

  • Actual Caring Occasion. According to Watson (1999), care occasions occur when the nurse and the patient come together in their individuality, resulting in an opportunity for caring. There are several ways that nurses and patients can take advantage of their time together, such as sharing and healing.
  • Transpersonal. The nurse’s caring mindfulness and moral commitment to uphold and protect human dignity as well as the higher/inner self are at the core of Watson (1999) ‘s definition of a transpersonal caring relationship. The term “transpersonal” refers to an intersubjective human-to-human interaction in which the nurse’s person impacts the other and vice versa. Both are fully present in the moment and feel a sense of one with the other person. This incredible field becomes a part of both their own history and futures. In order to achieve such a caring goal, both individuals must be participating in the process.

Another take on the transpersonal approach is that: A patient’s comfort and recovery can be enhanced by a “transpersonal” approach that allows one to transcend one’s own ego and focus on the patient’s spiritual well-being. A transpersonal caring relationship’s goal is to protect, enhance and maintain a person’s dignity, humanity and wholeness.

  • Society. The principles that society instills in its members govern how they should act and what their life’s work should entail. According to Watson, a human being is a valuable member of society who deserves to be treated with kindness, compassion, respect, understanding, and the overall philosophical view of the self as a fully integrated and fully functioning unit. The human being is seen as more than the sum of his or her parts and as distinct from them.
  • Health. The mental, physical, and spiritual well-being are all intertwined, and health is a measure of the degree to which these three components are in harmony with one another. Being healthy is defined as being physically, mentally, and socially well, maintaining an adaptive-maintenance level of daily functioning; and being free from sickness.
  • Nursing. The goals of nursing include the promotion of health, the prevention of disease, the treatment of unwell patients, and the restoration of health. In the field of nursing, people and their health-illness experiences are studied by professionals, scientific, esthetic, personal, and ethical human relations.


  • Phenomenal Field. A phenomenal field corresponds to the individual’s frame of reference or to everything that makes up a person’s experience as a human being. There are many aspects to the phenomenal field, including feelings, physiological sensations, ideas, spiritual beliefs, goals, expectations, environmental factors, and meanings of one’s perceptions. Phenomenal fields are made up of the sum of a person’s past life experiences as well as their current state of consciousness and their projected future selves.
  • Time. Both the past and the present are real, but the past is more subjective, and the present is more objective. The past and future are not clearly distinct but are in a different state of existence. The events of the past, the present, and the future all mix together and blend into one.
  • Self. According to Rogers, the “I” or “ME” gestalt is made up of perceptions about the “I” or “ME,” as well as perceptions about how the “I” or “ME” is connected to other people and different parts of life.

3. Jean Watson’s Human Caring Theory and the Nursing Process

In providing patient-centered care, the nursing process uses critical thinking and a methodical approach. When delivering patient care, nurses employ the nursing process to conduct clinical reasoning and make clinical judgments. It follows a similar path to that of a scientific investigation where both try to address the problem and find a solution.

  • Assessment. This involves observing, recognizing, and analyzing the problem, using relevant knowledge from the literature, and incorporating conceptual information in the framework development process.
  • Planning. This includes a conceptual framework for problem-solving that facilitates the exploration of various variables. Data collection methods and subjects are outlined in this document.
  • Intervention. It is the execution of the strategy or plan in its entirety, including the gathering of data.
  • Evaluation. This includes the interpretation of the data, the degree of success, and the generalizability of the outcome. Nursing theories and extra hypotheses may potentially arise from this investigation.

4. Analysis of Watson’s Theory


  • Human caring is that it is perceived as very natural and effortless by the majority of nurses. People in the healthcare industry can benefit from the framework by using it to guide and enhance their work, as it allows them to focus on the most rewarding facets of the job while simultaneously providing the best possible care for their patients. It is Watson’s contention that by utilizing THC, the nurse can take advantage of the transpersonal relationship that has developed with the patient, perhaps resulting in healing for both the one being cared for and the caregiver.
  • When it came to describing her notions such as caring and love, carative factors, and Caritas, Watson regarded the use of non-technical, smart, free-flowing, and developing language as a means of effectively conveying her concepts.
  • The theory is also reasonable because the carative elements are based on broad hypotheses that provide a strong foundation for the entire structure. On the basis of the assumptions that have been made, the carative factors can be deduced and related to the hierarchy of demands.
  • Watson’s thesis should be viewed as a moral and intellectual foundation for nursing practice. The framework’s scope covers a wide range of health and illness-related events. Health and death are also covered by the theory. This broadens its scope and makes it more applicable to many different situations.


  • While the theory contributes, the concept does not provide specific instructions on cultivating real caring-healing relationships; rather, it provides general guidelines. Nurses who are searching for specific directions may not feel confident in their abilities to implement this concept on their own.
  • Watson’s idea can only be put into practice if a nurse commits herself solely to herself and the patient, which requires a moral and spiritual commitment. Thus, some have expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of effort required to put the caritas into action. People who are interested in Watson’s emphasis on personal growth may find it appealing. Others may not be interested in Watson’s emphasis on personal growth. This brings light to the question, “Is it possible for every nurse to achieve this level of dedication?”
  • Critics have claimed that her theoretical framework is difficult to test in a practical setting.


Watson’s transpersonal human care factors can help educators and nurses better comprehend what it means to be conscious of others’ needsRethinking what “human caring” means can help nursing students and educators learn how to teach and learn about transpersonal states, as well as how to feel and experience them. Jean Watson’s Human Caring Theory advocates a sort of deep, interrelated human care that necessitates the use of transpersonal skills. Teaching prospective nurses about transpersonal processes and Watson’s theory is important. And to help students understand human caring experiences and build supportive environments, the suggestions presented in this article are just the beginning.

Nursing References

Ackley, B. J., Ladwig, G. B., Makic, M. B., Martinez-Kratz, M. R., & Zanotti, M. (2020). Nursing diagnoses handbook: An evidence-based guide to planning care. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.  Buy on Amazon

Gulanick, M., & Myers, J. L. (2017). Nursing care plans: Diagnoses, interventions, & outcomes. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier. Buy on Amazon

Ignatavicius, D. D., Workman, M. L., Rebar, C. R., & Heimgartner, N. M. (2018). Medical-surgical nursing: Concepts for interprofessional collaborative care. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.  Buy on Amazon

Silvestri, L. A. (2020). Saunders comprehensive review for the NCLEX-RN examination. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.  Buy on Amazon


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Anna Curran. RN, BSN, PHN

Anna Curran. RN-BC, BSN, PHN, CMSRN I am a Critical Care ER nurse. I have been in this field for over 30 years. I also began teaching BSN and LVN students and found that by writing additional study guides helped their knowledge base, especially when it was time to take the NCLEX examinations.

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