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Modeling and Role-Modeling Theory

Dr. Helen C. Erickson is a visionary who spent much of the first part of her life developing the concepts of the Modeling and Role-Modeling (MRM) theory. After a wealth of clinical experience in nursing and extensive education and research, her nursing theory was presented in book form that was co-authored with Evelyn M. Tomlin and Mary Ann Swain and has changed the focus of nursing practice.

Years before the Modeling and Role-Modeling theory was developed, Helen Erickson was a spiritual person seeking her reason for being. Some of these thoughts are documented in the book, Modeling and Role-Modeling: A View from the Client's World. As a young nurse, she realized that her view of nursing was not the same as many of her colleagues but, unable to effect change at that time, worked in clinical practice and gave her patients the benefit of her insights. It was not until years later that the theory was formed and presented to the nursing profession.


Simply stated, the theory recognizes that all people are more than a sum of their parts. It is based on a number of previous studies and theories but differs in that it integrates the studies into one theory. Modeling refers to the process of understanding the world from the patient's perspective. Role-modeling is based on the theory that all people want to be with others and want to have a role in society. It uses the patient's view of the world to help the patient meet needs, grow and heal. The three basic concepts recognize how people are alike, how people are different from each other and what nurses do to facilitate healing. Individual components are present in each basic concept.

Simliarites to Previous Nursing Theories

  • All people are a combination of body, mind, emotion and spirit. These parts interact with one another and one is not more important than the other.
  • Each person has basic needs that affect behavior. A need is not met until the person perceives that it is met, and growth cannot occur until this happens. Unmet needs produce anxiety that often causes physical or psychological illness.
  • Affiliated individuation is a term that is unique to the Modeling and Role-Modeling theory. It recognizes that all people need to have support systems that accept them while maintaining their individuality.
  • People attach themselves to objects that meet their needs and suffer their loss whether real or perceived. Losses that are unresolved lead to ongoing needs deficiencies.
  • Psychosocial stages influence the development of attitudes and strengths such as willpower and self-control. The successful completion of these stages during the growth period influences a person's ability to withstand stress and react in a healthy or unhealthy way.
  • Cognitive abilities develop in an ordered fashion, and people's thinking abilities depend on this sequence.

Differences to Previous Nursing Theories

  • Intrinsic abilities are influenced by genetics and prenatal and perinatal occurrences.
  • Each person has a unique perspective of his or her environment that is influenced by past experiences.
  • Each person responds to stressors in different ways.
  • The potential to adapt to stress varies with each person. It can be measured by the amount of anxiety, stress and equilibrium present. Sometimes, coping with stress results is draining to available resources and subsystems.
  • The MRM theory borrowed from Selye's general adaptation syndrome (GAS) and incorporated that into its concepts concerning stressful stimuli. The GAS addresses alarm reaction, resistance and exhaustion. A more holistic view of changes involving the endocrine, GI and lymphatic systems is presented by the MRM theory.
  • Self-care differs among people and includes knowledge of resources, actions and themselves.
  • Information about what has contributed to a problem or illness varies widely with different people. They also differ in their understanding of what will help or detract from their good health.
  • Differences in internal and external resources for optimum health and dealing with stress are recognized.
  • The ability to take action to promote health is taken into consideration. This includes conscious and unconscious actions.

Nursing Actions

  • Nurses help patients facilitate their own health by guiding them to identify and develop their own strengths to improve health.
  • The nurse nurtures the patient by supporting him or her to integrate all physical, psychological and spiritual systems in the process toward health.
  • The nurse accepts each patient as a worthwhile person.

Intervention Goals

  • Nurses build trust with patients by keeping promises, meeting physical and safety needs, using touch and building esteem with positive affirmations.
  • Nurses promote the expectation of positive futures by accepting patients as they are and giving positive expectations of future events.
  • Patients are given control by involving them in their own care. Nurses offer options in the care plan and recognize accomplishments as they occur.
  • Nurses recognize and promote patients' strengths.
  • Patients are encouraged and involved in setting health intervention goals that fit with their view of the world.
High quality, holistic care is the nursing goal of the MRM theory that recognizes each patient as an individual with individual needs. It involves the patient in his or her own care and regards the nurse as a facilitator. The spiritual nature of the patient is considered as important as the physical and emotional aspects. Since the introduction of the Modeling and Role-Modeling theory by Dr. Erickson, it has had a lasting and profound effect on nursing practice. It is recognized as a specialty by the American Nurses Association and is the basis for research projects and dissertations.

Publications related to Modeling and Role-Modeling Theory

  • Modeling and Role-Modeling: A Theory and Paradigm for Nurses
  • Erickson, H. and Kinney, C., Ed. Modeling and Role-Modeling: Theory, Research and Practice
  • Erickson, Helen C. Self-Care Knowledge: Relations Among the Concepts Support, Hope, Control, Satisfaction with Daily Life and Physical Health Status

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