Background Currently, no single definition of self‐care is broadly accepted in the literature. Definitions vary as to (i) who engages in self‐care behaviour; (ii) what motivates self‐care behaviours; and (iii) the extent to which healthcare professionals are involved. Perspectives of self‐care differ between healthcare professionals and the general public, and between healthcare professionals in different disciplines and different roles. As different professions view self‐care within their own domain of practice, we are left with a multitude of explanations and descriptions. This variety of conceptualisations does impact and complicate research on self‐care. As part of a larger enquiry focused on the clarification of this complex concept, this study provides a content analysis of documented definitions of self‐care, and a summary of the evolution of the definition of self‐care over time.
Objectives To examine the diversity of definitions of self‐care from the perspectives of research, practice, policy and industry, and to identify themes or trends in the evolution of the definition of self‐care over time.
Search strategy The search strategy was designed in consultation with a library scientist to find both published and unpublished papers. A three‐step search strategy was used to locate the literature. The databases searched included CINAHL, Medline, EMBASE, PsycINFO, AMED, Cochrane Library, Scirus and Mednar.
Data collection and analysis The definition of self‐care was extracted from each paper included in the study. Using an inductive process, a content analysis was performed identifying common terms and phrases from the definitions. The definitions were then divided into four decades, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, and the evolution of the definition of self‐care was examined.
Results and conclusions In this study we sought to clarify the concept of self‐care by examining in detail the definition of self‐care. Content analysis of 139 definitions identified seven components of the definition and a range of terms that were applicable to each component. Evolution of the definition over time showed a more expansive definition by the end of the 2000s. Current and evolving definitions of self‐care would benefit by being comprehensive and encompassing as many facets of the concept as possible.
Implications for practice Healthcare professionals assess, guide, instruct and support individuals as they initiate or engage in self‐care. Using a comprehensive definition of self‐care would provide an anchor linking each discipline as they interact not only with the individual but also among themselves.
Implications for research The concept of self‐care is a many‐layered one. Identifying the components in the definition of the term delineates the different areas for potential research in this area. When planning a research project, the definition of the key concept guides the research and shapes the approach to the investigation. For researchers in this area, this study illustrates the wealth and diversity of the definitions of self‐care.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.