Peplau’s Theory of Interpersonal Relations

Nurse and patient relationships are very important while a patient is being cared for. If there is something bothering the patient the nurse should know what is wrong. Hildegard Peplau developed a theory, Interpersonal Theory, this theory was developed so nurses better know their patients. This theory also teaches nurses how to better nurse patient relationships. Hildegard Peplau was born on September 1, 1909 in Reading, Pennsylvania. Peplau was one out of six children and was the daughter of Gustav and Ottylie Peplau. At a young age she saw what a flu epidemic could do and saw what illness and death could do to families. Hildegard) She knew when she was a teenager that she didn’t want to rely on someone else to take care of her. She didn’t want to be like her mother and rely on someone else. Her father was also an authoritarian parent. Meaning he disciplined his kids hard. She didn’t want to live with someone else like that. To pursue her dreams though, it was going to be tough. This was because she was a woman. Not much opportunity was available to women who wanted to go to college and pursue a career. In 1931 she graduated from Pottstown, Pennsylvania School of Nursing. She then started her career as a nurse.

Her first nursing job was a staff nurse at a hospital. She then got a job as a school nurse at Bennington College in Vermont by recommendation. While working there in 1943 she earned a bachelor’s degree in interpersonal psychology. (Hildegard) After earning the bachelor’s degree, Peplau joined the military and served in the Army Nurse Corps. When she was done serving in the military, Peplau started teaching. Stated on nursing-resource. com, “At Rutgers, Peplau created the first graduate level program for the preparation of clinical specialists in psychiatric nursing” (April 8, 2012). Peplau mostly taught interpersonal concepts.

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In 1974 she retired from the Rutgers Hospital where she worked most of her nursing career. In the years that she worked she received many rewards and honors. She was rewarded with the highest honor a nurse can get, the Christiane Reimann Prize. From all of her nursing experience, Peplau got the name “The Mother of Psychiatric Nursing”. Stated in the book Hildegard Peplau by Barbra J. Callaway, (2002, 172-173) “…she devoted herself to the redefinition, clarification, and expansion of nursing services to psychiatric patients-and left an enduring mark on graduate education for clinical specialization in nursing. She wanted to teach nursing in a way that nurses could have a special relationship with their patients. When Peplau returned to teach at Teachers College, she wanted to use the interpersonal relation to teach her students. She also wanted to teach her students to think for themselves. Paplau gave her students the opportunity to learn real life situations. She would have group therapy sessions in class, she also had psychiatric doctors come in and talk to the class. She had the students play roles as the patient, doctor and nurse.

This would give them an all-around perspective of the health field and what patients really go through. This would help the students learn how to build a nurse-patient relationship. Paplau had her students do clinicals at Brooklyn State Hospital. The students would deal with patients who had beyond treatable psychiatric conditions. She wanted to show the students how hard a doctors work was. She also wanted to show them what taking care of a patient can do. Stated by Callaway (2002), the students had to spend one hour for two weeks with their patients for each week for a year.

After a while staff started noticing that the patients were more alert, they started feeding and bathing themselves. Callaway (2002, 172-173) mentioned that, “The attendant’s reported this to the physicians who maintained that changes occurred where only superficial, that there was no actual improvement in the mental stated of their patients. ” (2002) According to Peplau there were changes, she was using psychotherapy to help the patients get better. The interpersonal theory was originated by Harry Sullivan in the 1930’s. It was developed to help patients with mental illnesses.

It was used as an alternative from medication. Gerald Klerman helped develop the theory. Klerman was an expert in depression and schizophrenia (2009). It was developed to help patients with mental illnesses. It was used as an alternative from medication. Stated by Graham Sloan in the article, The overview and history of interpersonal psychotherapy, “Interpersonal psychotherapy is a structured and time-limited psychological intervention for depression designed to focus on social and interpersonal functioning to ease symptomatic change” (Sloan, 2009).

This therapy was to help patients who had mental illnesses and who were not responding to medication. It would give the patients interpersonal relationships with their healthcare professional. Giving that one on one time to the patients, it gave them the attention they needed and helped them with their mental illness. The interpersonal theory is used everywhere. It is mostly used on patients with mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders, etc. Even though it is not a permanent treatment, its effects are immense.

With the theory patients get interaction with health care professionals, such as doctors, nurses, therapist, counselors, etc. This helps them with the problems they are going through. Just having someone there to talk to them helps immensely. Part of Peplau’s theory is that she used nursing roles to help patients. Stated by Willow Wisp on eHow, “Peplau’s theory lists six primary nursing roles: stranger, teacher, resource manager, counselor, surrogate and leader. ” (April 10, 2012) These roles would help the patient get closer to the nurse and help them become acquainted.

There are also secondary roles as well. However, the nurse does not spend much time on these with the patient. The secondary roles include tutor, researcher, mediator, technical expert, and safety manager (Wisp, April 10, 2012). Peplau also used phases of process from her theory. They were orientation, identification, exploitation and resolution. During this time the nurse would try to get to know the patient and try and figure out what their mental status was. If they accomplish the identification, and exploitation, they would then try and figure out a resolution.

Nurses use this theory every day. They are the ones who spend the most time with the patients and know them better than any of the faculty. By using the interpersonal theory patients do not have to rely on medication to get better. By working with the nurses the patients can learn how to lean on someone. The interpersonal theory has come a long way and will continue to be used by staff of the medical field. Medication is not always the answer, just being there for the patient will help them.

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Peplau’s Theory of Interpersonal Relations. (2016, Sep 16). Retrieved from