Nowadays quickly changing world sets plenty of challenges for people causing stress and life-changing events. In this connection, the theory of meaning elaborated by Patricia Starck seems to be one of the solutions to overcome the rapid pace of life helping to handle everyday stress.
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Definition of Theory
The middle-range theory of meaning was developed by Starck from Frankl’s theory of logotherapy and adjusted for the average person. Frankl considered the pursuit of life meaning as the basic motivational force of logotherapy. According to his theory, a man in any condition and any situation tends to sense the validity of his existence in the correlation with other people and the world (Smith & Liehr, 2013). In her turn, Starck applies three components including life purpose, human suffering, and freedom to choose (Fitzpatrick & McCarthy, 2014). The purpose of life is determined as finding a meaning. Human suffering means a variety of unpleasant concepts beginning from discomfort to despair. Finally, freedom to choose is identified as a selection between several alternatives controlled by the person.
Focusing on nursing education, the theory of meaning seems to be one of the influential tools to help patients to cope with their stress. It helps to identify the patients their life purpose through overcoming loss and suffering. According to Starck, a man is free, responsible, and spiritual. The sphere of his spiritual desires can be attributed to the meaning and freedom of choice, intentionality, creativity, the ability to love, intuition and inspiration, ideas and ideals, and conscience. Having determined the patient’s spiritual constituent, it is possible to reduce his stress level.
The theory helps the patient to identify and eliminate factors that prevent him from pursuing meaningful life goals. In this connection, the role of the nurse is to accompany the patient helping him in the realization of the possibilities of meaning. The theory has proved its effectiveness in crisis prevention and intervention and in the prevention of aggressive behavior and depression as well as suicidal behavior (Smith & Liehr, 2013). It might be applied against all kinds of neuroses, particularly, against anxiety and phobic disorders. A special place is taken by the theory of meaning in the palliative care system. Additionally, good progress has been achieved during work with prisoners.
Another argument in support of the theory is an existential analysis. In particular, the theory does not try to convince the patients in something by means of rational arguments but helps them to determine their own individual meaning. Starck’s theory is based on the idea that meaning is an objective reality. The man is called to realize his freedom and the responsibility to make the best possible solution in relation to himself and the world through the recognition and realization of the meaning of each situation (Rizvi, 2009).
In this context, it should be emphasized that the meaning is objective by nature and is related to specific situations as people along with the environment are constantly changing. Thus, the theory of meaning is not intended to declare a general meaning of life. Instead, the patients are to get help on the way to greater openness and flexibility, which will help them to make their daily lives more meaningful.
What is more, according to investigations of Fitzpatrick and McCarthy (2014), the theory also was applied as a foundation for a number of researches. For example, Starck determined the subjective structure of suffering that was especially noticeable among patients without family support. In order to examine the patients, the scholar designed Meaning in Suffering Test (MIST) to analyze the patients’ perceptions (Fitzpatrick & McCarthy, 2014). The theory was used among other terminally ill patients in a nursing environment.
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It is clear from these observations that the theory of meaning plays an important role in the theoretical part of nursing as well. It is also crucial to note that the theory of meaning might be utilized in interdisciplinary researches in perspective. However, there is also a tendency to use some of the theory concepts separately by other researchers in their projects. For instance, one of the experiments was conducted in Hungary among smokers and non-smokers. As a result, the study reflected considerable differences between their meanings of life.
Speaking of limitations, it is essential to point out that currently the theory of meaning cannot be completely used in interdisciplinary investigations (Fitzpatrick & McCarthy, 2014). It needs to be developed properly and then used in its totality. According to Egnew (2009), “suffering subsumes nonphysical dimensions – social, psychological, cultural, spiritual – associated with being a person that is relatively unaddressed in medical training” (p. 171). Consequently, there is a need to develop the mentioned areas more deeply to appropriately render assistance to patients.
To draw the conclusion, one can say that the theory of meaning is based on the theoretical assertions of Frankl. The theory of meaning by Starck consists of three basic elements such as follows: life purpose, human suffering, and freedom to choose. The mentioned theory is rather significant for both theoretical and practical nursing as it is a valuable tool to study patients’ perceptions of the meaning.
Egnew, T. R. (2009). Suffering, Meaning, and Healing: Challenges of Contemporary Medicine. The Annals of Family Medicine, 7(2), 170-175.
Fitzpatrick, J. J., & McCarthy, G. (2014). Theories guiding nursing research and practice: Making nursing knowledge development explicit. New York, NY: Springer.
Rizvi, S. (2009). 7 questions with Patricia Starck.
Smith, M. J., & Liehr, P. R. (2013). Middle-range theory for nursing. New York, NY: Springer.