The future in the past: Hildegard Peplau and interpersonal relations in nursing

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Researchers, educators and clinicians have long recognized the profound influence of the mid-twentieth century focus on interpersonal relations and relationships on nursing. Today, in nursing, as well as in medicine and other social sciences, neuroanatomy, neurobiology and neurophysiology have replaced interpersonal dynamics as keys to understanding human behavior. Yet concerns are being raised that the teaching, research and practice of the critical importance of healing relationships have been overridden by a biological focus on the experiences of health and illness. As a way to move forward, we return to Hildegard Peplau's seminal ideas about the transformative power of relationships in nursing. We propose that Peplau's formulations and, in particular, her seminal Interpersonal Relations in Nursing can provide direction. We do not propose that her formulations or her book be simply transposed from the 1950s to today's classroom and clinic. But we do believe that her ideas and writings are dynamic documents containing concepts and derived operations that can be brought to life in clinical practice. Finally, we explore Peplau's transformative idea that nursing is, at its core, an interpersonal process both to acknowledge an idea that has shaped our past and can guide us into our future.

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