The person in the room: How relating holistically contributes to an effective patient-care provider alliance


  • Leslie A. Penner University of Manitoba
  • Kerstin Roger University of Manitoba



holistic care, empathy, identity, neurological illness, qualitative inquiry


The purpose of this paper is to explore how relating to the ‘whole’ person – both the physical body and the invisible aspects of the ‘self’ – is essential in the establishment of a strong therapeutic alliance between patients and health care providers. Our work is based on interviews conducted with individuals affected by neurological illnesses (patients and family care providers). Hsieh and Shannon’s (2005) conventional content analysis was used to analyze the data. Under the broad theme of ‘maintaining a coherent sense of self’ we identified four distinct sub-themes related to interactions with health care providers. The results elucidate the more complex and deep needs of patients who must access care on an ongoing basis, and highlight the important role that care providers play in supporting individuals who are experiencing physical, spiritual and social losses. Care must attend to the deep needs of these individuals by communicating in a style that addresses both emotional and cognitive needs of patients, by thorough and holistic assessment and by appropriate referrals.

Author Biographies

Leslie A. Penner, University of Manitoba

Leslie Penner received her MSc in Family Social Sciences from the University of Manitoba. She has been employed as a Registered Psychiatric Nurse for several years, and in this capacity, has worked in family mediation and in acute care psychiatry, both in community and hospital settings. Her research interests include neurological illness experiences, health and wellbeing of nurses, and issues related to therapeutic relationships.

Kerstin Roger, University of Manitoba

Kerstin Roger holds a Masters in Education (Applied Psychology), and PhD in Sociology and Equity Studies in Education from the University of Toronto. She has been certified as a Clinical Psychotherapist and Supervisor in Ontario, and was in private practice for several years in Toronto. In 2004-06, she completed a Post-Doctoral Health Science Centre Foundation Fellowship. Her research interests include end of life/terminal medical conditions and issues related to aging.



How to Cite

Penner, L. A., & Roger, K. (2013). The person in the room: How relating holistically contributes to an effective patient-care provider alliance. Communication and Medicine, 9(1), 49–58.