Interpersonal Aspects of Nursing

Contributor: Peggy Chinn
August 23, 2018

Author – Joyce Travelbee, RN, BS, MS

Years First Published – 1966, 1971
Major Concepts

Coping with illness and suffering
Human-to-human relationship phases: (1) the original encounter, (2) emerging identities, (3) empathy, and (4) sympathy


Grand theory

Brief Description

Nursing is an interpersonal process aimed at assisting individuals, families, or communities to prevent or cope with the processes of illness and suffering and, if necessary, to find meaning in the experiences. Nursing’s purpose is achieved through human-to-human relationships, which are established by a disciplined intellectual approach to problems, combined with therapeutic use of self. Human-to-human relationships require transcending roles of nurse and patient to establish relatedness and rapport and respond to the humanness of others. Nursing activities are a means to establishing relatedness and rapport and achieving nursing’s purpose. Nurses’ values and beliefs determine the quality of nursing care provided and thus the extent to which nurses are able to help the ill find meaning in their situation.

Illness and suffering are spiritual, emotional, and physical experiences. The nurse assists the ill patient to experience hope as a means of coping with illness and suffering. Communication, a central concept for Travelbee, implies guiding, planning, and purposely directing interaction to fulfill nursing’s purpose. Communication is instrumental in establishing relatedness and rapport (knowing persons), ascertaining and meeting nursing needs, and fulfilling nursing’s purpose. Communication also implies that exchanged messages are understood. Communication techniques should enable the nurse to explore and understand the meaning of the person’s communication. Establishment of the human-to-human relationship is phasic. The phases are (1) the original encounter, (2) emerging identities, (3) empathy, and (4) sympathy (1971). In such a relationship the needs of the person are met. Achievement of a human-to-human relationship requires openness to experiences and freedom to use personal and experiential background to appreciate and understand the experiences of others.

Health and illness may be defined subjectively and objectively. Objective criteria depend on cultural and societal norms, whereas subjective criteria are peculiar to the human being. The meaning of the symptoms of illness (or criteria for health) for the person is more significant than affixing a label of health or illness to its results. (from Chinn, P. L., & Kramer, M. (2018). Knowledge Development in Nursing: Theory and Process (10th ed.). St Louis: Elsevier.)

Primary Sources

Travelbee, J. (1966). Interpersonal aspects of nursing. Philadelphia: FA Davis.
Travelbee, J. (1971). Interpersonal aspects of nursing (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: FA Davis.


Joyce Travelbee (1926 – 1973)

In 1956, Travelbee earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Louisiana State University. She was given a Master of Science in Nursing degree in 1959 from Yale University. Her career dealt predominantly with psychiatric nursing and education. She worked as a psychiatric nursing instructor at the DePaul Hospital Affiliate School in New Orleans, Louisiana, and worked later in the Charity Hospital School of Nursing in Louisiana State University, New York University, and the University of Mississippi. (from