The essentials of compassionate care

When we practise transpersonal care, we demonstrate our love for our patients and colleagues.

When we practise transpersonal care, we demonstrate our love for our patients and colleagues.

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Reflective practice and caring science are two concepts that are essential to the delivery of compassionate care.

The first is a systematic way of thinking about the care we give, the effect it has and how we can improve it.

The second is a philosophical-ethical-ontological approach that emphasises self-knowledge, self-discovery and shared human experiences and relationships (Watson 2008).

It provides a framework for healthcare professionals to listen to, and engage with, patients and colleagues.

Habitual reflection can affect the development of a healthy work environment and promote nurse satisfaction, so grounding reflection in caring science helps us care for ourselves, others and the environment.

Integrating knowledge

Reflective practice is about tapping into the human experience, our knowledge and understanding, as well as the knowledge and understanding of others.

It often begins with listening to and observing what is going on in ourselves and among those around us. By doing so, we can identify where there is a need for care.

Once we recognise there is such a need, the next stage involves appreciating, valuing and integrating our knowledge, whether this is personal, empirical, aesthetic or ethical, into our response so we can provide the best possible compassionate care.

By being more present, authentic and intentional in what we do, we can provide the highest form of care: care for the body-mind-spirit through the formation of ‘transpersonal caring relationships’.

A true transpersonal caring relationship involves recognising and honouring the biogenic, or reciprocal life-giving and life-receiving, nature of interactions between people.

These forms of interaction begin with caring moments, when nurses bring their full presence into each encounter with another human being, usually their patients.

Healing and wholeness

When nurses engage collectively in reflective practice grounded in caring science, they are attending to health, healing and wholeness.

Caring science provides a moral and ethical way of being that requires patience, careful planning and bold action, particularly when we feel obligated to raise concerns about situations that are inconsistent with the life-giving, life-receiving nature of transpersonal care.

For example, if a nurse enters a patient’s room and uses a technical skill without acknowledging the person they are caring for, this action is inconsistent with reflective practice and caring science.

Furthermore, if a colleague observes this behaviour, they should address the inconsistency to raise the nurse’s consciousness in a life-giving and life-receiving way.

This may require an explanation of how using a technical skill for a patient should meet a human need in a transpersonal way that honours the patient and the nurse.

The personal-professional life of a reflective practitioner who practises through the lens of caring science is underlined by a conviction and belief in transpersonal care.

Our connections with others provide indelible examples of what happens when we care compassionately. It results in love for all living things.

Find out more

  • Watson J (2008) Nursing: The Philosophy and Science of Caring. University of Colorado Press, Boulder CO.
  • Sara Horton-Deutsch and Gwen Sherwood’s book, Reflective Practice: Transforming Education and Improving Outcomes, second edition, is published by Sigma Theta Tau International.

About the authors


Sara Horton-Deutsch is Watson caring science endowed chair, College of Nursing, University of Colorado


Gwen Sherwood is professor and associate dean for academic affairs, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill School of Nursing

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