Virginia Henderson’s Theory of Needs

Theory/Author Name and Background

There are many theorists who have already made considerable contributions in order to facilitate and determine a working process of any nurse. Virginia Henderson was one of the well-known nurses and theorists who focused on the place of patients in nursing care, evaluated their needs, and underlined the peculiar features of a healing process. She, as well as many other nursing theorists, believed that nursing philosophy and ideology had to be committed to the idea that “nursing requires a knowledge base for practice that is distinct from that of medicine” (Chinn & Kramer, 2015, p. 29).

Theory Selection

Virginia Henderson is the author of the Nursing Need Theory, one of the main theories in nursing practice that aims at discussing the importance of patient’s independence and its ability to speed up the progress of nursing care in hospitals. The core of the theory is the development and understanding of the roles and functions of a nurse, as well as the relations that can be developed by a nurse while helping people meet their needs (Snowden, Donnell, & Duffy, 2014). The peculiar feature of this theory is Henderson’s attempt to cover several aspects of nursing and prove their importance. The choice of this theory for the analysis is explained by the possibility to investigate not only the concept of nursing and its definition, but also to comprehend the role of patients in care and the development of nursing activities regarding 14 main human needs. Virginia Henderson’s Theory of Needs

Virginia Henderson’s Theory of NeedsTheorist’s Background

Virginia Henderson was born in Kansas City, MO, in 1897.Being the fifth out of eight children in a family of a lawyer, she got a chance to study at her family boy’s school. Soon, she graduated from the US school of nursing in Washington and continued her education at the Columbia University. Her interest in nursing was developed during WWI and increased with time, as well as her desire to help sick or wounded people who were in need of appropriate care (Masters, 2014). Henderson traveled a lot to explain how to take care of sick people and improve nursing and health care. Her international experience, observations, and deep knowledge of nursing contributed her theory development and helped to create the guides for nurses. Virginia Henderson’s Theory of Needs

References to the Theory

In 1939, Henderson began to revise and edit a nursing textbook because of the death of its original author. In several years, she became the co-author of the next editions. In 1960, her Basic Principles of Nursing Care was published for the first time. This book was translated into approximately 20 languages (Masters, 2014). 1978 was the year when the book Principles and Practice of Nursing was published. It was the original work where Henderson gave a clear definition of nursing saying that nursing aimed at assisting sick and well people in performing the activities that could contribute to health or recovery (Henderson & Nite, 1978). She died at the age of 98 in 1996. Her last works were devoted to international teaching and speaking in the field of nursing and health care. Though the authors, like Strout (2012), say that Henderson’s theory lacks clear definitions of wellness, her works are used by millions of nurses worldwide to improve the quality of nursing care and health care (Ahtisham & Jacoline, 2015). Virginia Henderson’s Theory of Needs

Phenomenon of Concern in the Theory

According to Henderson and her theory, the major phenomenon of concerns includes the role of interpersonal relations, the quality of a caring process, a goal-attainment nature, and the process of adaptation to the conditions under which care should be provided. Patients are the people with needs that are closely connected to their health and the necessity to improve it by any means (Ahtisham & Jacoline, 2015). The main problem that Henderson wanted to solve was the recognition of those needs and understanding care by all nurses and other medical workers at different levels. Virginia Henderson’s Theory of Needs

Theory Description

Type of Reasoning

Taking into consideration the fact that Henderson tried to several statements (14 needs of patients and the peculiarities of nursing care) in order to reach one certain logical conclusion, it is possible to say that her theory is based on deductive reasoning. A clear and explicit definition of nursing is the key to the theory under the analysis. Henderson wanted to explain what nursing could mean and supported her discussions by means of new suggestions and guides for nurses. Virginia Henderson’s Theory of Needs

She deduced the definition of nursing by means of 14 properly developed needs that included physiological and psychological aspects of nursing and health care. In other words, to assess the logical adequacy of the theory developed by Henderson, a person should study all assumptions and statements given. Therefore, it is correct to say that the deductive type of reasoning is properly chosen by Henderson for the creation of the Need Theory.

Major Concepts of the Theory

People may find the concepts and assumptions developed by Henderson similar to the ideas developed in other spheres of life, for example, those discussed in terms of the Maslow’s theory of needs. The main concepts of the theory are 14 fundamental human needs supported by the existing physiology, culture, interactions, and independence in communication nurses may develop with different people (Chinn & Kramer, 2015). All concepts of the theory are operationally defined and consistently used. For example, Henderson explained that patients had to breathe normally and eliminate body wastes, eat and drink adequately, sleep and rest, move or maintain postures that were desirable, select clothes independently, maintain body temperature and keep the body clean, avoid dangers and share emotions, needs, and fears with other people, work to be accomplished, participate in recreation, and learn or satisfy the curiosity that could promote the improvement or development of health (Alligood, 2014).

In addition to these main concepts, the theory is characterized by the introduction of four main concepts, including an individual with their basic needs, the environment or the setting under which a patient can learn how to live healthy, health that is based on the accomplishment of all 14 needs, and nursing the aim of which is to assist patients and provide them with independence and support.

Definition of the Concepts

One of the main limitations of the theory developed by Henderson in the middle of the 1900s was the provision of implicit definitions of almost each concept. For example, the author says that every patient has a number of needs that have to be taken into consideration by every nurse while providing them with care and support. Needs may vary, and Henderson describes each need in brief but clear sentences so that the learner could use them any time and rely on the definitions under different conditions. However, it is hard to guess what some statements mean, and what standards have to be applied. One of the human needs discussed in the theory is to breathe normally. Still, it is impossible to find enough information about what is “normal” in this case. Each patient has different characteristics, and breathing can depend on them. Therefore, an implicit nature of definitions is inherent to the theory of needs introduced by Henderson.

Relationships among the Major Concepts

At the same time, the theory under discussion demonstrates strong relations among the major concepts. A person and human needs determine the environment in which it is possible to promote health and develop various nursing practices. Human needs turn out to be the basics of nursing care because they promote the combination of a physiological balance, emotional stability, the environmental changes, and the importance of social interactions. The nursing role is also an integral part of the theory because nurses help patients understand their rights and opportunities and determine dependence and independence.

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Assumptions of the Theory

There are two main assumptions of Henderson’s theory. Strout (2012) admits that these assumptions are not explicit because they fail to explain the idea of nursing care and wellbeing that is the main goal for all patients. For example, the idea that nurses should take care of patients till they can care for themselves independently is supported by the statement that patients should have the desire to return to health and choose the activities that promote health. However, such assumption remains to be implicit because it is possible to develop a number of interpretations of nursing care, patient’s desires, and needs.

Henderson mentioned that nursing care was crucial for patients, but she failed to identify the boundaries and standards of such care. Another assumption that is used to underline the theory is connected with the nurses’ willingness to serve and devote themselves to their patients any time. Still, this statement is also implicit because no details of how to organize care are given. Finally, there is one explicit assumption about the importance of nursing education. Patients’ needs and care can be understood and properly offered in case a nurse has the university level education in such fields as arts and sciences. The explicitness of this statement is proved by the possibility to understand what kind of education is required, and what fields have to be involved.

Nursing Metaparadigm Concepts

Nursing is the discipline that differs from other fields due to a proper development metaparadigm. There are four metaparadigm concepts that create the boundaries and limitations of nursing and identify the goal of nursing in terms of such frameworks as nursing, a person, the environment, and health (Chinn & Kramer, 2015). The chosen Henderson’s theory has a description of the four concepts of nursing. A person is defined as an individual who has a number of basic needs that determine health and should be assisted in order to achieve health, independence, and physiological/emotional balance. The environment is not explicitly defined in the theory.

Still, Henderson explained that the environment had to be properly organized as it included all external conditions that could influence human life and health development. Health is implicitly introduced in the theory as the quality of life that is based on human needs and functions. Patients are independent when they are healthy, and they suffer from the lack of independence when they are in hospitals. Nurses have to promote independence, meaning to promote health among patients. Finally, nursing is the last concept that is properly defined in the theory. Henderson (as cited in Alligood, 2014) offers the definition of nursing saying that “the unique function of the nurse is to assist the individual, sick or well, in the performance of those activities contributing to health or its recovery (or to peaceful death) that he would perform unaided…” (p. 45). Though the main concepts are explicitly explained in the theory, Henderson’s approach is frequently used in nursing education and practice.

Clarity of the Theory

Though the Need Theory is defined as one of the main contributions demonstrated by Henderson in the field of nursing, it is characterized by a little of structural clarify. The author did not introduce a model that represented the theory. It is not clear how to use the theory or implement it. However, there is the semantic clarity because all terms and concepts are clear and easily understood. The definitions and examples are simple and can be easily used. There are lucidness and consistency in the theory because Henderson wanted to teach and explain the concepts to all people so that they could learn how nursing care and patients’ needs were connected.

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Theory and Nursing Actions

Any nursing theory should serve as a helpful guide for nurses to organize their activities and improve their knowledge. The Need Theory developed by Henderson can guide nursing actions in different ways. For example, it can help nurses and other medical workers comprehend the importance of independence of patients. Nurses investigate all 14 basic needs of patients and learn how to assess, plan and evaluate their possibilities regarding those needs. Besides, nurses can clarify the steps in terms of which they help patients maintain their health and promote the recovery from illness that causes dependence on something or someone.

Henderson offered the theory with the help of which nurses were able to comprehend the needs of their patients and clarify the standards they had to meet, including education, knowledge, skills, and desire to assist. Though nurses may be confused by the lack of the connection between physiological and other characteristics of people, they get a clear guide to the areas that have to be investigated, including eating habits, the choice of clothes, or rest options. Besides, nurses learn how to communicate with people, what questions should be posed, and why patients’ independence should be the core of nursing care. The implicit nature of assumptions provides nurses with an opportunity to develop their own understandings and explanations that may improve the field of nursing in different ways. Virginia Henderson’s Theory of Needs

Theory and Education as the Main Area of Nursing

Taking into consideration the history, development, and concepts of the chosen theory, it is possible to explain how it can be used in one of four main areas of nursing which are practice, education, informatics, and administration. Education is the field of nursing where the Need Theory plays an important role. The theory and all its components have to be properly educated and explained in order to promote effective practice and administration. In terms of education, learners can improve their level of knowledge and enlarge their skills. It is not enough to say that human needs are considered when nursing care is given. Nurses should comprehend the essence of each need, identify their roles, and realize why patients’ independence cannot be ignored even in nursing. Health is independence, and it is the main educational aspect to be considered by nurses who perform the roles of educators and learners. Virginia Henderson’s Theory of Needs


Ahtisham, Y., & Jacoline, S. (2015). Integrating nursing theory and process into practice: Virginia’s Henderson need theory. International Journal of Caring Sciences, 8(2), 443-450.

Alligood, M.R. (2014). Nursing theorists and their work. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Health Sciences.

Chinn, P.L., & Kramer, M.K. (2015). Knowledge development in nursing: Theory and Process (9th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Health Sciences.

Henderson, V., & Nite, G. (1978). Principles and practice of nursing. New York, NY: Macmillan.

Masters, K. (2014). Nursing theories: A framework for professional practice. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Snowden, A., Donnell, A., & Duffy, T. (2014). Pioneering theories in nursing. London, UK: Andrews UK Limited.

Strout, K. (2012). Wellness promotion and the institute of medicine’s future of nursing report: Are nurses ready? Holistic Nursing Practice, 26(3), 129-136.