Virginia Henderson’s Need Theory: A Comprehensive Guide for Nursing Students

Nursing is constantly evolving and growing, with new theories and approaches emerging to improve patient care and outcomes. One of the most influential nursing theorists was Virginia Henderson, widely recognized for her groundbreaking work in the field. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of Virginia Henderson’s Need Theory, including its background, key elements, and application in nursing practice.

Background of Virginia Henderson

Virginia Henderson was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1897. She obtained her nursing degree from the Army School of Nursing in 1921 and worked as a nurse and researcher. Henderson was a pioneering figure in nursing theory, and her work has had a lasting impact on the field.

Henderson was particularly interested in patient-centered care and believed that the nurse had a role to support patients in achieving their goals and needs. As a result, she developed the Need Theory, one of the most important contributions to nursing theory in the 20th century.

Overview of Virginia Henderson’s Need Theory

The Need Theory is a patient-centered approach to nursing that focuses on meeting the patient’s basic needs to promote health and well-being. Virginia Henderson based the theory on the premise that every person’s basic needs must be met to achieve optimal health and that the nurse’s role is to help the patient meet those needs.

The main concept of the Need Theory is that patients have 14 basic needs, including the need for food, water, elimination, sleep, communication, and mobility, among others. The theory emphasizes the importance of the nurse assessing the patient’s needs, developing a care plan, and evaluating the effectiveness of the care provided.

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One of the critical elements of the Need Theory is that the patient is seen as an active participant in their care. The theory recognizes that the patient can make decisions and take action to meet their needs and that the nurse should support and facilitate this process.

Compared to other nursing theories, the Need Theory stands out for its patient-centered approach and focus on basic needs. While other theories may focus more on the physical aspects of care, the Need Theory takes a more holistic approach. It recognizes the importance of social, psychological, and spiritual needs in addition to physical needs.

Application of Virginia Henderson’s Need Theory in Nursing

The Need Theory has many applications in nursing, particularly assessing, planning, and evaluating care.

In assessment, the nurse is responsible for determining the patient’s needs and developing a care plan to meet those needs. This includes conducting a comprehensive evaluation of the patient’s physical, social, psychological, and spiritual needs.

Once the needs have been identified, the nurse can develop a care plan to address those needs. The care plan should be individualized and tailored to the patient’s needs and regularly updated as the patient’s needs change.

Finally, the effectiveness of the care provided must be evaluated to determine whether the patient’s needs have been met and to identify any areas for improvement. This involves regular monitoring and assessment of the patient’s condition, response to care, and ongoing communication with the patient and their family to ensure their needs are met.

Critique of Virginia Henderson’s Need Theory

Henderson’s Need Theory has been widely accepted and utilized in nursing practice, but it has its limitations and criticisms. This section will explore some of the most commonly cited issues with the theory and how they impact its application.

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Limitations and criticisms

One of the main criticisms of Henderson’s Need Theory is that it can take time to operationalize. The theory’s broad, holistic approach to patient needs can make it challenging to translate into concrete, actionable steps for nursing practice. Additionally, the theory has been criticized for lacking attention to the broader social and cultural factors that influence patient needs and experiences.

Another limitation of the Need Theory is that it does not consider the potential for patient resistance to care. Patients may have their own beliefs, values, and priorities that conflict with the care plan developed by the nurse, which can make it challenging to address their needs effectively.

Integration with other theories

Despite these limitations, Henderson’s Need Theory has been integrated into various other nursing theories to expand and enhance its scope. For example, it has been combined with cognitive-behavioral approaches to understand better and address the psychological and emotional aspects of patient needs. Additionally, the theory has been integrated with patient-centered care models to prioritize individualized needs and experiences.

Relevance in today’s nursing practice

Despite the limitations and criticisms of Henderson’s Need Theory, it remains a highly relevant and influential model for nursing practice today. Its broad, holistic approach to patient needs is a valuable framework for understanding and addressing each patient’s unique and complex needs. Additionally, its integration with other theories has expanded its scope and made it more applicable to a broader range of clinical situations.


In conclusion, Virginia Henderson’s Need Theory provides a comprehensive framework for understanding and addressing each patient’s unique needs. Its broad, holistic approach considers the physiological, psychological, and social aspects of patient needs, and it has been widely accepted and utilized in nursing practice. Despite its limitations, the Need Theory remains relevant and influential in today’s nursing practice, particularly when integrated with other theories to expand its scope.

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The significance of the Need Theory for nursing students cannot be overstated. Understanding the theory is essential for effective and compassionate nursing care, as it provides a framework for understanding and addressing the complex needs of each patient. Furthermore, studying the Need Theory can help nursing students develop critical thinking skills, as they must consider and evaluate the strengths and limitations of the theory in different clinical situations.

Video Guide


What are the 14 needs of Virginia Henderson?

The 14 basic needs identified by Virginia Henderson are the need for food and water, elimination, sleep and rest, communication, worship, play and leisure, work, education, health maintenance, self-actualization, safety and protection, social interaction, love and affection, and creation.

What are the four main concepts of Henderson’s theory?

The four main concepts of Henderson’s theory are the definition of nursing, the goal of nursing, the role of the nurse, and the patient’s needs.

What is the purpose of the nursing need theory?

The purpose of nursing need theory is to provide a framework for understanding the patient’s needs and to guide the nurse in developing appropriate care plans and evaluating the effectiveness of the care provided.

What is an example of a theory of need?

An example of a need theory is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which outlines a progression of needs that individuals must meet to reach self-actualization.

What is an example of the application of Virginia Henderson’s theory?

An example of the application of Virginia Henderson’s theory is a nurse working with a patient to identify their health maintenance needs, develop a plan to meet those needs, and evaluate the effectiveness of the care provided.

What are the three levels of nurse-patient relationships, according to Virginia Henderson?

According to Virginia Henderson, the three levels of nurse-patient relationships are the stranger relationship, the acquaintance relationship, and the therapeutic relationship.

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