Watson’s Theory and Philosophy of Human Caring/ Unitary Caring Science

Contributor: Jacqueline Fawcett
September 13, 2018
View FITNE Video Interview of Jean Watson
by Jacqueline Fawcett

Author – (Margaret) Jean Watson, RN; AHN-BC; PhD; FAAN; LL (Living Legend)

Exemplars –



Year First Published – 1979
© 2018 Jacqueline Fawcett
Major Concepts


  • Self
  • Phenomenal Field
  • Intersubjectivity




  • Practice of Loving Kindness and Equanimity Within the Context of Caring Consciousness
  • Being Authentically Present and Enabling and Sustaining the Deep Belief System and Subjective Life World of Self and One-Being-Cared-For
  • Cultivation of One’s Own Spiritual Practices and Transpersonal Self, Going Beyond Ego Self, Opening to Others with Sensitivity and Compassion
  • Developing and Sustaining a Helping-Trusting, Authentic Caring Relationship
  • Being Present To, and Supportive Of, the Expression of Positive and Negative Feelings as a Connection With Deeper Spirit of Self and the One-Being-Cared-For
  • Creative Use of Self and All Ways of Knowing as Part of the Caring Process; To Engage in Artistry of Caring-Healing Practices
  • Engaging in Genuine Teaching-Learning Experience that Attends to Unity of Being and Meaning, Attempting to Stay Within Others’ Frames of Reference
  • Creating Healing Environments at All Levels (Physical as well as Non-Physical, Subtle Environment of Energy and Consciousness, Whereby Wholeness, Beauty, Comfort, Dignity, and Peace are Potentiated)
  • 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 Embodied Spirit and Evolving Spiritual Emergence
  • 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


  • Requirements for a Transpersonal Caring Relationship
  • Authentic Presencing

Watson’s work is now considered both a philosophy as well as grand view of nursing. The work has evolved to ‘Unitary Caring Science’ as a model for nursing science, based upon a unitary worldview/ related to the maturing unitary transformative paradigm for nursing’s phenomena, including energetic caring/healing practices.  See Watson, J. (2018) Unitary Caring Science. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado

Brief Description 

“Watson’s work . . . focuses on the human component of caring and the moment-to-moment encounters between the one who is caring and the one who is being cared for, especially the caring activities performed by nurses as they interact with others. . . . The ultimate goal of nursing for Watson (1996) is ‘protection, enhancement, and preservation of human dignity and humanity’ (p. 148). Another goal ‘is to help persons gain a higher degree of harmony within the mind, body, and soul which generates self-knowledge, self-reverence, self-healing, and self-care processes while increasing diversity’ (Watson, 1985, p. 49). Watson (1985) went on to say that nursing is directed toward ‘finding meaning in one’s own existence and experiences, discovering inner power and control, and potentiating instances of transcendence and self-healing’ (p. 74).”

(From Fawcett, J., & DeSanto-Madeya, S. (2013). Contemporary nursing knowledge: Analysis and evaluation of nursing models and theories (3rd ed., pp. 402, 405). Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis.;
Watson, J. (1985). Nursing: Human science and human care: A theory of nursing. Norwalk, CT: Appleton-Century-Crofts. [Reprinted 1988. New York, NY: National League for Nursing.];
Watson, M. J. (1996). Watson’s theory of transpersonal caring. In P. Hinton Walker & B. Neuman (Eds.), Blueprint for use of nursing models (pp. 141–184). New York, NY: NLN Press.)

Primary Sources

Watson, J. (1979). Nursing: The philosophy and science of caring. Boston, MA: Little, Brown. [Second printing, 1985. Boulder, CO: Colorado Associated University Press.]

Watson, J. (1985). Nursing: Human science and human care. Norwalk, CT: Appleton-Century-Crofts. [Second printing, 1988. Boulder, CO: Colorado Associated University Press. Third printing, 1988. New York, NY: National League for Nursing. Reprinted, 1999. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett].

Watson, J. (1989). Watson’s philosophy and theory of human caring in nursing. In J. P. Riehl Sisca (Ed.), Conceptual models for nursing practice (3rd ed., pp. 219–236). Norwalk, CT: Appleton & Lange.

Watson, J. (1993). Rediscovering caring and healing arts. Nursing Standard, 9(7), 18–19.

Watson, J. (1997). The theory of human caring: Retrospective and prospective. Nursing Science Quarterly, 10, 49–52.

Watson, J. (1999). Postmodern nursing and beyond. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone.

Watson, M.J. (1988). New dimensions of human caring theory. Nursing Science Quarterly, 1, 175–181.

Watson, M.J. (1996). Watson’s theory of transpersonal caring. In P. Hinton Walker & B. Neuman (Eds.), Blueprint for use of nursing models (pp. 141–184). New York, NY: NLN Press.

Watson, J. (2002). Illuminating the spiritual journey. Jean Watson tells her story. In P. Burkhardt & M.G. Nagai-Jacobson (Eds.), Spirituality: Living our connectedness. New York< NY: Delmar.

Watson, J. (2005). Caring science as sacred science. Philadelphia, PA: F. A Davis.

Watson, J. (2006). Nurses caring and sharing. American Nurse Today, 1(3), 27-28.

Watson, J. (2007). Theoretical questions and concerns: Response from a caring science framework. Nursing Science Quarterly, 20, 13-15.

Watson, J. (2008). Nursing: The philosophy and science of caring (rev. ed.). Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado

Watson, J. (2015). Jean Watson’s theory of human caring. In M. C. Smith & M. E. Parker (Eds.), Nursing theories and nursing practice (4th ed., pp. 321-339). Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis.

Watson, J. (2018) Unitary Caring Science. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado

Watson, J., & Smith, M.C. (2002). Caring science and the science of unitary human beings: A trans-theoretical discourse for nursing knowledge development. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 37, 452-461.


(Margaret) Jean Watson (1940 – )


  • Ph.D. in educational psychology and counseling (1973), University of Colorado, Boulder, CO
  • Graduate study in social and clinical psychology (1970), University of Colorado Graduate School, Boulder, CO
  • 1966 M.S. in psychiatric mental-health nursing with a minor in psychology (1966), University of Colorado Medical Center, Denver, CO
  • B.S. in nursing (1964), University of Colorado, Boulder, CO
  • Diploma in nursing (1961), Lewis-Gale School of Nursing, Roanoke, VA
  • Honorary doctorates from Universidad Maria Auxiliadora, Lima, Peru (2017); Univeridad Popular del Cesar, Colombia, South America (2017)


  • Staff nurse position at North Carolina Baptist Hospital, Bowman Gray Medical Center, Winston-Salem, NC (1961-1962); Cheyenne Memorial Hospital, Cheyenne, WY (1966)
  • Staff nurse and administrative positions at Mt. Airy Psychiatric Hospital, Denver, CO (1961, 1962); Boulder Memorial Hospital, Boulder, CO (1962-1963);
  • Faculty positions at College of Nursing, University of Wyoming, Cheyenne and Laramie, WY (1966-1969, 1971-1972)
  • Faculty and administrative positions, University of Colorado School of Nursing, Denver, CO (1973-2012), including Dean (1984-1990)
  • Founder and Director, Center for Human Caring, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, CO (1986-1997)
  • Visiting faculty position, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA (Fall 1982)
  • International Kellogg Fellowship and Study: Perth, Australia, (New Zealand, India, Taiwan, R.O.C., and Thailand) (1981-1982)
  • International Fulbright Research Award – Sweden; Lectureship, Additional
    Study: Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Denmark, and United Kingdom (1990-1991)
  • Currently, Founder and Director, Watson Caring Science Institute
  • Distinguished Professor & Dean Emerita, University of Colorado College of Nursing, Anschutz Medical Center campus, Denver, CO
  • View CV here

(From https://www.watsoncaringscience.org/jean-bio/)

1989 Video Interview of Jean Watson by Jacqueline Fawcett