Abstract The word ‘empowerment’ has become a popular term, widely used as an important claim, also within the health services. In this paper the concept's philosophical roots are traced from Freire and his ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ to the philosophical thoughts of Hegel, Habermas, and Sartre. An understanding of the concept, as a way to facilitate coping and well-being in patients through reflection and dialogue, emerges. Within an empowerment strategy the important claim on the nurse and the patient will be to reveal the patient's own resources and limitations in times with sickness and reduced functionality to promote the patient's choice to act and cope. From this point of view an education-programme for the frail elderly is outlined. If the nurse wants to empower the elderly patient she has to be willing to be educated through the dialogue with the patient, and to look for the patient's own meaning of being frail and elderly. The coping and self-care solutions for the patient may then even be different from the preferences of the nurse, and this does not mean that the empowerment strategy is a failure or that the patient then has to continue without the assistance from the nurse. Within an empowerment strategy, in the Freirerian sense, the important thing is that both the patient and the nurse together critically reflect on the meanings of the sickness so that the patient can be able to make his own conscious choices.