Nursing care and understanding the experiences of others: a Gadamerian perspective

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A personal and professional issue that confronts all nurses is that of attempting to understand the experiences of our patients or clients. The position taken here is that understanding another person as a human being is much more than being able to explain their experience according to a particular model of ill-health. Rather, it is an issue of human dignity and respectfulness. Gadamerian hermeneutics has been used in nursing research to articulate the process of understanding and to develop interpretations of particular experiences. Gadamer's exposition of understanding shows that we need to be aware that our understanding of other people is developed through a fusion of our own history, language and culture with that of the other person. This occurs through a hermeneutic question–answer dialogue in which we put our ideas at risk of being modified or rejected in the process. Understanding then, is a perceptual and conceptual process in which we fully participate. In this way, the experience of understanding those we nurse increases our understanding of ourselves as well as enhancing our ability to further understand others.

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