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A literature review on the concept of intimacy in nursing


Angela Williams, School of Health Science, University of Wales Swansea, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK. E-mail:


A literature review on the concept of intimacy in nursing

Aim. This paper explores the concept of intimacy in nursing.

Rationale. Intimacy is an increasingly important concept in nursing and feature of the nurse–patient relationship, which is perceived to be intrinsic to the proposed therapeutic potential of nursing. The introduction to the paper highlights the theoretical enthusiasm and endorsement of intimacy, the apparent lack of conceptual clarity from a nursing perspective and little published research investigating intimacy in practice.

Method. Literature is reviewed from nursing and a variety of health–related disciplines.

Findings. The paper traces the historical background of the nurse–patient relationship and intimacy and highlights the change in value from detachment and distancing to intimacy, commitment and involvement. The nature of intimacy is examined and a concept analysis based on literature from psychology and psychiatric medicine is critically analysed. Intimacy is suggested to have psychological, emotional and physical aspects, which are explored. An ethnographic research study on intimacy in nursing is reviewed, which also recognizes physical and emotional dimensions of the concept and the importance of sufficient resources to allow the close relationships advocated. Attention is drawn to the constraints on intimacy imposed by the current market–led health service. Literature and research on the implications and consequences of intimacy for the nurse are discussed. These report practical difficulties of maintaining close relationships with individual patients and the potential for over-involvement and emotional labour.

Conclusion. The paper concludes with the increasing importance attached to intimacy in nursing and its complex, ill-defined nature. This serves to highlight the importance of research aimed at exploring and clarifying intimacy and further illustrating the therapeutic potential of nursing.

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