Peplau’s Theory of Interpersonal Relations

Contributor: Jacqueline Fawcett
September 12, 2018

Author – Hildegard Peplau, RN; EdD; FAAN; LL (Living Legend)

Year First Published – 1952

© 2018 Jacqueline Fawcett

Major Concepts


  • Orientation Phase
  • Working Phase
    • Identification
    • Exploitation
  • Termination Phase


  • Observation
  • Participant Observation
  • Reframing Empathic Linkages
  • Communication
  • Interpersonal Techniques
  • Principle of Clarity
  • Principle of Continuity
  • Recording
  • Data Analysis
  • Phases of the Nurse-Patient Relationship
  • Roles
  • Relations
  • Pattern Integrations

A middle-range descriptive theory

Brief Description

“Peplau’s work is a middle-range descriptive classification theory that focuses on the phases of the interpersonal process that occur when an ill person and a nurse come together to resolve a health-related difficulty.” (Fawcett, J., & DeSanto-Madeya, S. (2013). Contemporary nursing knowledge: Analysis and evaluation of nursing models and theories (3rd ed., p. 382). Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis)

Selected Primary Sources

O’Toole, A.W., & Welt, S.R. (Eds.). (1989). Interpersonal theory in nursing practice: Selected works of Hildegard E. Peplau. New York, NY: Springer.

Peplau, H.E. (1952). Interpersonal relations in nursing: A conceptual frame of reference for psychodynamic nursing. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. [Reprinted 1989. London, UK: Macmillan Education Ltd. Reprinted 1991. New York, NY: Springer.] (Translated into nine languages) . Check availability here

Peplau, H.E. (1964). Basic principles of patient counseling. Philadelphia: Smith, Kline and French Laboratories.

Peplau, H.E. (1965). The heart of nursing: Interpersonal relations. Canadian Nurse, 61, 273–275.

Peplau, H.E. (1992). Interpersonal relations: A theoretical framework for application in nursing practice. Nursing Science Quarterly, 5, 13–18.

Peplau, H. E. (1991). Interpersonal relations in nursing: A conceptual frame of reference for psychodynamic nursing. New York, NY: Springer.

Peplau, H.E. (1997). Peplau’s theory of interpersonal relations. Nursing Science Quarterly, 10, 162–167


Hildegard Peplau (1909-1999)


  • Diploma (1931), Pottstown, PA School of NursingBS in interpersonal psychology (1943), Bennington College, VT
  • MS and EdD, Teachers College, Columbia University, NY
  • Honorary doctorates from Alfred University, Duke University, Indiana Universtiy, Ohio State University, Rutgers University, and the University of Ulster, Ireland.


  • Staff nurse in Pennsylvania and New York CitySchool nurse, Bennington College, VT
  • Army Nurse Corps (1943-1945)
  • Faculty positions at Teachers College, Columbia University, NY; Rutgers University College of Nursing (1954-1974)
  • Visiting faculty appointments at various universities in Africa, Latin America, Belgium (University of Leuven 1975-1976), and the United States
  • Executive Director, American Nurses Association
  • President, American Nurses Association


  • International Council of Nurses Christiane Reimann Prixe
  • American Academy of Nursing Living Legend
  • American Nurses Association Hall of Fame

(From an obituary written by Dr. Grayce Sills, with assistance from Dr. L. Anne Peplau and Bertha Reppert. Retrieved from