The circle of strength and power : Experiences of empowerment in intensive care

Abstract: Patients and next of kin in intensive care often experience powerlessness, anxiety and distress and intensive care staff are repeatedly exposed to traumatic situations and demanding events. Empowerment has been described as a process of overcoming a sense of powerlessness and a model through which people may develop a sense of inner strength through connections with others. The aim of this thesis was to describe empowerment as experienced by patients, next of kin and staff in intensive care and to compare patient's experiences with staff and next of kin beliefs. Empowerment is reflected in this thesis as experiences of inner strength and power and of participation/self-determination.The study was based on open-ended interviews with 11 patients, 12 next of kin and 12 staff members from two intensive care units in southern Sweden. A phenomenological perspective was applied in three studies, while a qualitative content analysis was used in the forth study.Findings showed that nourishing relationships were of crucial importance, and contributed to every participant's experiences of empowerment regardless of whether he/she was an intensive care patient, a next of kin or a staff member. Patients were found to be strengthened and empowered by a positive environment where their own inherent joy of life and will to fight was stimulated, where they felt safe and a sense of value and motivation were encouraged and where they were taken seriously and listened to. Next of kin were extremely important to patients' experiences of safety, value, human warmth and motivation, and patients were strengthened when their next of kin were acknowledge and welcomed by staff.Next of kin in intensive care were strengthened and empowered by a caring atmosphere in which they received continuous, straightforward and honest information that left room for some hope and in which closeness to the patient was facilitated and medical care was experienced as the best possible. Some informants were also empowered by family support and/or participation in caring for the patient. Intensive care staff were empowered by both internal processes such as feelings of doing good, increased self-esteem/self-confidence and increased knowledge and skills, and by external processes such as nourishing meetings, excitement and challenge, well functioning teamwork and good atmosphere.When comparing patient experiences with staff and next of kin beliefs, there was agreement regarding joy of life and will to fight being essential to patients' experiences of inner strength and power, but staff and next of kin seemed to see this as a more constant individual viewpoint or characteristic than the patient did. Next of kin, and especially staff, seemed to regard the patient as more unconscious and unable to participate in the communication and interaction process than the patient him/herself experienced. A mutual and friendly relationship was experienced by the patients as highly empowering, while a more professional relationship was emphasized by the staff. These findings could serve as a basis for reflection about patient, next of kin and staff experiences of strength and power and if empowerment is seen as a dimension in quality of care, the findings from this thesis ought to be taken into consideration to increase the quality of care in intensive care.