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The excesses of care: a matter of understanding the asymmetry of power

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The aim of the article is to illustrate concrete problems in the asymmetrical nurse–patient power relationship. It is an ethical demand that the nurse is faced with the challenges that the power in the relation is administered so that the patient's room for action is expanded and trust maintained. It is an essential message in care philosophy, but in clinical practice, success is not always achievable. A hidden and more or less unconscious restriction of the patient's room for action may result in the excesses of care. Three selected aspects: dependence, trust, and power described by the Danish philosopher K.E. L√łgstrup and the Norwegian nursing philosopher Kari Martinsen's care philosophy has inspired this empirically based examination of some current barriers in the asymmetrical nurse–patient relationship. On the basis of qualitative interviews with six patients and six nurses, the research thus provides an identifying and problem‐exploratory examination of some current obstacles in which the handling of trust and power reflects the excesses of care. The findings develop three themes. ‘Being a burden’ acknowledges that the balance of power will always tip to the nurse's advantage. The second theme, ‘Doing only what's absolutely necessary’, shows how a fixation with ‘technicalism’ creates a distance between people that may constrain the patient's room for action. The last theme is concerning the nurse's ability to navigate between closeness and distance is essential in avoiding ‘the excesses of care’, paternalism, and overprotectiveness. A situation in which distance takes the upper hand and care turns into paternalism. A different situation would arise if the nurse's emotions became sentimental or intimate with the result that closeness gets the upper hand. To avoid a harmful exercise of power and the excesses of care, the findings have demonstrated that a relationship‐based caring is a demand for situation‐specific sensitive attention skills.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Associate Professor, Department of Nursing Science, School of Public Health & Institute of Clinical Medicine, Aarhus University, Denmark

Publication date: October 1, 2012


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