Aims. This paper reports a study to identify associations between ideas of health and rehabilitation in groups of women having first-hand experience of long-term sickness absence.
Background. As a central part of their work, nurses have to be able to understand people in distress. When someone is unable to work because of illness, nurses are one of the central professional categories involved in their rehabilitation.
Methods. Data were collected by Q-sort grid and biographical interviews from 82 women aged 30–49 years who had either been absent from work because of sickness for 60 days or more, or were receiving a disability pension. The data were first analysed by patterns and structures obtained from a modified factor analysis. The second phase of the analysis dealt with relocating the results from the statistical analyses to their social context.
Results. Six opinions representing different conceptions of health, illness, and rehabilitation were identified. These ranged from reflecting high levels of trust in the health care system to reliance on ‘nature's course’ and emphasizing the meaning of ‘feeling all right’.
Conclusions. For women on long-term sick leave, it is reasonable to expect that their communication with rehabilitation professionals will be founded in a mutual understanding of basic concepts. However, the disparate opinions about health and rehabilitation identified in this study show that future studies need to investigate the prospective value of this categorization to see whether and how these conceptions affect rehabilitation practices.