Hildegard Peplau

Hildegard Peplau was a nursing theorist famously known as being the "mother of psychiatric nursing" and the "nurse of the century." Peplau worked as a nurse for 50 years and was a prominent member of the American Nurses Association. She received a number of awards and honors, including the Christiane Reimann Prize.

Peplau was born in 1909 in Reading, Pennsylvania. She graduated from the Pottstown, Pennsylvania, School of Nursing in 1931 and then studied interpersonal psychology at Bennington College in Vermont with Frieda Reichmann, Erich Fromm and Harry Stack Sullivan. During World War II, she served with the Army Nurse Corps in England, where she worked with leading British and American psychiatrists. Peplau taught the first graduate psychiatric nursing classes at Teachers College, Columbia University, in the early 1950s. She spent the rest of her teaching career at Rutgers University, until her retirement in 1974.

Peplau firmly believed that nurses should be well educated in psychiatric care in order to tend to mentally ill patients. Her summer workshops focused on teaching nurses important interpersonal ideas stemming from psychology and interviewing methods. She studied the works of contemporary psychologists and sociologists dealing with the frustration/aggression hypothesis. Some of those studies were applied to her nursing techniques, while certain anxiety concepts and theories revolving around the hallucinatory process were adapted to her nursing practice.

In an interview with S. Lee Spray in 1999, Peplau describes how she and her nursing students developed critical nursing techniques by combining disciplines of medicine, psychology and practice: "And the hope is, not just mine but I think many people, that at some point the linkages between these two important fields, the basics (neuroscience, biology, and brain research) and the social sciences (the psychosocial humanistic piece), that is, the connections and the integrations of these, will be identified and formulated."

Her practice was deemed revolutionary because it required the nurse to interact with the patient on more than just a clinical level: "We took what was published theory about groups -- and there was quite a bit of it, especially in social work at that time and from that we generated a way that nurses could work with patients in a group. Now we didn't call any of this therapy at the time. It was called ‘talking with patients.' Later on it was called counseling, and it was into the 1950s before we called it psychotherapy."

In 1952, Peplau published what would be her monumental work, Interpersonal Relations in Nursing. She claimed that the nurse-patient relationship would be best taken advantage of on both sides if it were a "shared experience." The nurse should encourage patients to share any anxieties or feelings regarding their treatment. Conversation combined with observation, emotional validation and intervention would have psychologically healthy effects on patients.

Peplau's work was credited with transforming the nursing practice into a real profession, one that was not merely a watered down version of medicine, but a practical and innovative version of the nurse-patient relationship. Peplau's interpersonal process has been incorporated into the American nursing world, in both education and practice.

Barbara J. Calloway's biography gives an insightful perspective on Peplau's career and personal life. Calloway outlines Peplau's ambitions for the nursing field as such: "She believed that nursing must be able to delineate the scope of nursing practice; it must define and certify clinical competence; it must have clear minimum requirements for licensure; and, finally, it must have processes of certification for advanced or specialized practice."

Peplau was persistent in her goals and resistant to opposition, causing much controversy in her career. Until that point, nursing was considered a subordinate position dominated by women and thereby emphasizing feminine qualities. She was active in moving nursing education from hospitals to colleges, thereby promoting nursing as a significant area of study and reinforcing its educational standards.

Despite her many contributions to the nursing profession, before her death in 1999, Peplau foresaw a great many changes that still needed to be made. In an interview conducted that year, Peplau said: "Nursing must continue to develop its understanding of advanced psychiatric nursing practice, which is humanistic and psychosocial, that whole piece about the behavior of the patient, the relationship of the family behavior, and the patient's behavior (the generation of the illness piece), connections between the nurse's behavior and the patient's behavior in maintenance of illness, the way in which the interventions of the nurse can impinge on symptom reduction, and understanding the needs of the symptoms, and after that understanding laying those needs aside."

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Hildegard Peplau: Psychiatric Nurse of the Century
Barbara J. Callaway.
Springer, 2002
Hildegard E. Peplau: Leader, Practitioner, Academician, Scholar and Theorist
Sills, Grayce M.
Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, Vol. 35, No. 3, July-September 1999
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Hildegard E. Peplau: Her Contributions
Gregg, Dorothy E.
Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, Vol. 35, No. 3, July-September 1999
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Remembering Hildegard E. Peplau
Clarke, Alice R.
Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, Vol. 35, No. 3, July-September 1999
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Psychotherapeutic Strategies
Peplau, Hildegard E.
Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, Vol. 35, No. 3, July-September 1999
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Psychiatric Nurse-Accountable? to Whom? for What?
Peplau, Hildegard E.
Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, Vol. 35, No. 3, July-September 1999
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
On Semantics
Peplau, Hildegard E.
Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, Vol. 35, No. 3, July-September 1999
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Evolution of the Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist: An Interview with Hildegard E. Peplau
Spray, S. Lee.
Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, Vol. 35, No. 3, July-September 1999
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Psychotherapy of Hildegard Peplau in the Treatment of People with Serious Mental Illness
Thelander, Burton L.
Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, Vol. 33, No. 3, July-September 1997
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Living Interpersonal Theory: The Hildegard Peplau-Suzanne Lego Letters, March 1998-March 1999
Spray, Lee.
Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, Vol. 35, No. 4, October-December 1999
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator