Beyond the metaphysical: health-promoting existential mechanisms and their impact on the health status of clients


Dean Whitehead, Senior Lecturer and Doctoral Student, University of Plymouth, Faculty of Health and Social Work, Veysey Building, Earl Richards Road North, Exeter, Devon, EX2 6AS, UK (tel.: 01392 475155; e-mail:


• This paper aims to conceptualize the issues that surround the notion of existential health. It also seeks to establish the impact that existential issues have upon the health of the individual client and how these might explicitly be applied in clinical practice settings.

• The ability of clients to draw upon their own existential resources as a fundamental part of their health care experience often goes unrecognized in nursing. Whilst existential mechanisms may be theoretically recognized, as a valid aspect of an individual's unique and personal identity, they are not an established part of the health care activity of nurses.

• Entrenched biomedical frameworks of care delivery and the interchangeable use of metaphysical health states with existential health states in the established literature present particular dilemmas for the acknowledgement of existential health in clients.

• A review of the literature has been conducted.

• This account argues that the failure to recognize and assess a client's existential health status represents a major omission on the part of the clinical nurse. These nurses are, in effect, denying their clients the right to exercise and mobilize an important and valuable health resource.