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Health Behavior Theories


Actions that individuals take that impact health are known as health behaviors. Examples of health behaviors include the level of exercise, dietary intake, and use of substances. Health behaviors can influence health in either a positive or negative manner. Nurse practitioners have a pivotal role in changing patients’ health behaviors using education and health promotion to achieve outcomes in individuals, families, and communities. Understanding theories of health behavior can assist the NP in realizing meaningful change, which is an important aspect of preventing and managing the disease.

Health Behavior Theories

Health Belief Model

The health belief model [HBM] was developed by psychologists at the US Public Health Service in the 1950s (Glanz, Burke, & Rimer, 2018). The psychologists wondered why community members did not take advantage of tuberculosis screenings available free of charge. They theorized that beliefs about susceptibility to the disease and perceptions about the benefits of prevention influenced the community members’ willingness to act on obtaining the screening (Glanz et al., 2018).

There are six constructs that theorists have identified as important in influencing patient decision-making about whether or not to take action with health behavior modification. These include:

1. Perceived susceptibility: patients must believe they are susceptible to the condition

2. Perceived severity: patients must believe the condition has serious consequences if left unattended

3. Perceived benefits: patients must believe that taking some kind of action reduces their susceptibility

4. Perceived barriers: patients must believe that the benefits of acting are greater than the barriers perceived

5. Cue to action: patients are exposed to something that causes them to act, such as an ad or discussion with a provider

6. Self-efficacy: patients feel they can succeed when performing an action

(Glanz et al., 2018).

Transtheoretical Model of Behavioral Change

The transtheoretical model of behavioral change posits that patients have varying degrees of readiness to change behaviors to increase or regain health (Glanz et al., 2018). The model examines stages of change as a method of explaining patients’ readiness to comply:

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According to the model, nurse practitioners must recognize the patient’s current stage of change; some patients may not be ready to begin thinking about a change, while others need help planning the execution of healthy behavior.

Social Cognitive Theory

Social Cognitive Theory [SCT] includes a model that explains human behavior as it relates to the way that personal factors, environmental influences, and behavior interact with each individual (Glanz et al., 2018). One of the major tenets of SCT is that people learn not only through experiences but also by observing others’ successes and failures.

Behavior modification is a major component of SCT. Behavior modifications can include interventions such as self-monitoring, setting goals, and contracting for behaviors (Glanz et al., 2018). In order to successfully implement behavior modification strategies, it is important to increase patients’ self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is one’s confidence in acting even in the face of obstacles to that action. Nurse practitioners can work with patients to increase self-efficacy by:

1. Setting small goals that are achievable

2. Contracting for behavior and including rewards for success

3. Reinforcing and monitoring behaviors

(Glanz et al., 2018)

Family Theory


Family theory incorporates the concept that healthcare providers, especially nurse practitioners, treat more than just the individual at each encounter. Family dynamics, interactions, and involvement all play important roles in the success or failure of health interventions.

Family Systems Theory

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Family Systems Theory explains the dynamics of families as individuals within a family unit who come together to create an interdependent system (Kaakinen, 2010). In this theory, the family will work to maintain stability through either adaptive or maladaptive actions. It is important to consider that an action or change in any member of the family will impact each member of the family as well as the family unit as a whole (Kaakinen, 2010). Family Systems Theory operates using the following concepts:

· The parts of the system (family) are interconnected: when one person in the family is ill, each family member has an impact from the illness.

· The whole is greater than the sum of its parts: while each family member has a role, the family as a whole has its own role and functions.

· The system (family) must have boundaries between it and its environment: this determines what external assistance, such as health care or social systems, the family is willing to accept.

· Systems can be broken into subsystems: a family unit can further be examined as relationships between siblings, parent-child, or partners.

(Kaakinen, 2010)

The theory can be used to identify concerns that may arise, for instance, when one family member is diagnosed with a chronic illness.

Family Assessment and Intervention Model

The Family Stress and Intervention Model is a method to focus on a family’s current stressors and help them identify interventions for success. The Model identifies basic assumptions of family:

· Each family is unique, but all families have a similar basic structure

· Wellness is a continuum related to the energy available to provide support within the family unit

· A number of variables, such as physiological, sociocultural, spiritual, and psychological, interact to create the family. The specific way these variables interact determines how the family will respond to stress.

· Families respond to their environment to create a “line of defense” against stressors and act together to protect the family as a whole

(Kaakinen, 2010)

The Family Systems Stressor-Strength Inventory (FS3I) was developed in order to assist nurses who work with families in stressful health situations. The instrument queries family members in three areas: general stressors, specific stressors, and family strengths (Kaakinen, 2010). Nurse practitioners can use the tool to identify strengths in the family and assist with development in areas of need.

The Praxis Theory of Suffering


A person lying in a hospital bed  Description automatically generatedWhen you read this week’s title, which includes the word ‘praxis’, you may ask yourself, “What is Praxis'” exactly? As your textbook authors state, “The praxis part of the praxis theory of suffering refers to pragmatic interventions…”(Morse, 2018, p. 603). Thus, it is important for the nurse practitioner to not only identify suffering and its components but also to identify interventions that can assist patients and families to the acknowledgment, transition, and release of suffering.

The Praxis Theory of Suffering

Janice Morse and her colleagues developed the Praxis Theory of Suffering by identifying patient, family, and nursing behaviors related to suffering and comforting. Suffering is identified as an emotional state recognized by distinct behaviors associated with pain or loss (Morse, 2018). Suffering is comprised of two different states: enduring and emotional suffering.


Enduring is encountered at the onset of the suffering experience. It is the “response to the actual or threatened loss that causes feelings of chaos” (Morse, 2018, p. 608). Attributes of this state include:

· Maintaining control of self: patients or families suppress emotions to help them appear in control

· Living in the present moment: individuals focus on tasks at hand rather than looking forward to what the future may entail.

· Removing oneself from the situation: Patients and families may avoid places or situations that bring discomfort and instead focus on deliberate tasks as a distraction.

· Being aware of the danger and consequences of emotional disintegration: individuals resist crying or “breaking down” during this state.

(Morse, 2018)

Patients and families who are enduring often present as scared, anxious, frightened, terrified, or out of control with their actions and nonverbal cues.

Emotional Suffering

Emotional suffering is the process of the individual finally acknowledging the loss. This state can include behaviors such as crying, repeated talking about the loss, and sorrowful expressions (Morse, 2018). Often, individuals experiencing loss together will transition from enduring to emotional suffering within a similar time frame. Different members within a group can also shift back and forth from enduring to emotional suffering to providing support to one another (Morse, 2018).


In Morse’s theory, comfort occurs when the nurse recognizes suffering and provides comforting actions to the patient or family (Morse, 2018). The comforting interaction loop is a continuous process of assessment, intervention, and evaluation of comfort strategies and outcomes. Strategies used to provide comfort are varied and must be appropriate to the situation. For instance, when a patient is in physical pain, an appropriate comfort strategy may be medication or positioning; when a patient is afraid of a traumatic procedure, such as a nasogastric tube insertion, using a soothing voice and instruction about the procedure while it is occurring may be the appropriate comfort strategy (Morse, 2018).




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