• empowerment;
  • critical social theory

This is the first study which describes British nurses' views on the concept of empowerment. Despite the frequent call for nurses to empower patients there was no evidence in the literature about British nurses' views. The study was carried out prior to a course exploring empowerment for practice. Focus groups were used to gather the data. Critical social theory and the work of Paulo Freire (1972) and Jurgen Habermas (1971, 1979) was used as a theoretical framework to underpin the enquiry. Taped interview transcripts were analysed thematically. Four categories emerged from the data to provide the framework for the themes: ‘empowerment’, ‘having personal power’, ‘relationships within the multidisciplinary team’, and ‘feeling right about oneself’. It is suggested that the nurses in this study manifested signs of being oppressed and striving for liberation. The limitations of the study are identified, but the overall conclusion is that the teaching of critical social theories as an empowerment paradigm is relevant in nurse education today.