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College Continues Caring Science Legacy

Heart-brain-body communications is the science that supports caring science


The CU College of Nursing is bringing caring back to the forefront of nursing with new Caring Science track in the PhD program under the leadership of the Watson Caring Science Endowed Chair, Sara HortonDeutsch, PhD, PMHCNS, RN, FAAN, ANEF.

The two main principles of Caring Science are that caregivers must care for themselves in order to care for another, and the quality provider interaction is a result of two individuals having an authentic heart-to-heart connection in order to heal.

One problem nurses seem to face when embracing Caring Science principles is finding the time to practice them. With daily demands and the stress that comes along with being a caregiver, nurses are feeling more overwhelmed than ever.

Caring Science can not only help health care providers to care for themselves, but also enables them to be more present and fully understand and address patient needs. It can also be extended into research theories and methods. Recently, the Watson Caring Science Institute teamed up with HeartMath® to provide scientific rationale for explaining caring science.

HeartMath provides nurses with scientific data and with tools to address their stresses and anxieties so they can adhere to the first principle of Caring Science, which in turn enhances the authenticity of their human to human connections.

The practices and goals of HeartMath, according to their website, are as follows: “Since our inception, we have been developing and delivering research-based, practical, and reliable tools and technologies that enable people to align and connect their heart, mind, and emotions to produce transformative outcomes—more flow and less stress.” In 2002, the company launched a program to develop technologies based on heart-brain-body communications research. It is the science that comes out of this type of research that supports Caring Science.

This body of research is not in its infancy. One of the original heart-brain-body communications studies from the 1960’s and 70’s by John and Beatrice Lacy linked the heart-brain connection to bodily health. The pair discussed the heart as somewhat of a neurological organ with its own nervous system, with which it would “talk” to the brain.

In studies since, this idea of a “heart-brain” continued to permeate studies, creating a field of neurocardiology. This field has shown that the heart is a neurological, endocrine, and immune organ.

HeartMath took this idea and connected it to Caring Science with their Quick Coherence® process. In this process, heartfocus, heart-focused breathing, and heart-feeling are three steps to align a person’s inner systems, which results in healthier heart rhythms and improved patient outcomes. These ideas parallel several of the Caritas practices that are taught in Caring Science.

The University of Colorado College of Nursing will offer a PhD Caring Science track starting fall 2015 designed to prepare health care professionals to strengthen and expand the intellectual, reflective, philosophical, and theoretical underpinnings of Caring Science. Building on the work of CU College of Nursing Dean Emerita Jean Watson, PhD, AHN-C, FAAN, who held the nation’s first Caring Science Endowed Chair, students investigate the relationships between caring science theory, knowledge of the humanities, and health care outcomes. “[Caring Science] brings a stronger foundation to the science of nursing by restoring human caring and healing and health, and also providing the foundation of the philosophical orientation toward humanity and the covenant that nursing has with society,” says Watson.

The program calls for students seeking to transform themselves and health care systems, to integrate and restore caring-healing into their lives and professions, and to provide a deeper meaning, purpose, dignity, and wholeness to health care providers, patients, institutions, and societies. Horton-Deutsch will serve as the main faculty for the new PhD track: “I am so excited to help carry the torch and move this work forward at such an essential time when there is such a need for world healing and health and health care,” she says.

If nurses don’t want to earn a full PhD, they can train to be Caritas Coaches through the Watson Caring Science Institute. The Caritas Coaches Education Program (CCEP) is a unique, six-month educational program that is structured as an experiential, aesthetic, personal, ethical, and intellectual course designed to prepare clinicians, educators, caregivers, and leaders with the knowledge, experience, and informed practices of Caring Science and Theory of Human Caring.

With a combination of innovative teaching-learning methodologies, self-reflection, and authentic dialogue, CCEP prepares participants in living out heart-centered Caritas relation-modeling practices for the self, other, and systems.

Information about the CCEP is available at nursing.ucdenver. edu/CEPD. For more about the PhD Caring Science track, visit nursing.ucdenver.edu/PhD.​