She wants to highlight the importance of existential care

What is your research area about?

"My research is focused on existential care issues in different contexts. It is about people's existential issues and learning in connection with health, illness, suffering and caring, and aims to create knowledge about what it means for patients and their loved ones. Through learning research, I want to gain more knowledge about how people's own abilities can be strengthened in order to regain health and vitality, but also about how carers can develop competencies that can strengthen patients' health processes."

"An existential perspective is based on human existence and is about how it is to be human and contains a lot of questions about the nature of human existence and the meaning of life. The existential questions are probably always with us humans, but they come up especially when existence is in some way threatened or challenged."

Why is your research area important?

"In order to understand how complex health is, we also need to understand it in relation to our existence. It is not enough to look at health alone in a natural science perspective, such as biology. The existential experience of health is intertwined with the biological, and these cannot be separated. Threats, such as severe illness, make evident our biological vulnerability but also the existential vulnerability that we encounter in existential caring."

"Caring science with its focus on the existential dimension of the patient also complements the medical knowledge. Such a perspective opens up ideas on how we can develop, that we can make a change and that life can take a new direction. Instead of seeing these two topics as in opposition, we can work to bridge the differences by having these two fields of knowledge enrich each other."

How would you explain the subject of caring science?

"I have had the privilege of working with other researchers to participate in developing the subject of caring science, a work that has been going on since the early 1990s. Caring science as a theoretical subject is the theories, concepts, and yes the knowledge of humankind that we need to understand health, illness, suffering and caring. A theoretical structure with its anchoring in existence philosophy has emerged and developed into life-world-oriented caring science at the University of Borås."

What do you see for challenges in your research area?

"Often there is a naïve understanding of the concept of existence, that it is only about death, but it is also often fear, both for patients and carers. Existential care issues are about what is important to us, what carries meaning. One challenge is to highlight the importance of the need to raise existential health issues in many more contexts than what is happening today. We need to better equip our students so that they bring with them an approach to meet patients' existential wonderings. Another major challenge for our research is to obtain external funds for these type of research issues."

What research projects are you working on right now?

"My latest project has to do with studies that deal with the existence of young adults and how they experience anxiety, in this such a strong worry that their everyday lives are affected. The purpose of the project is to develop knowledge that can support and strengthen health processes in young adults living in an existence characterised by existential worry. The goal is to develop a caring approach that is based on an existential perspective for these very young adult women and men, whom we know through other studies and reports from the National Board of Health and Welfare risk more serious forms of mental illness later in life. It is extremely important to take note of these young adults early."

What are your plans for your research and career in general?

"As a professor, I will continue to develop caring science knowledge from a patient perspective where the existential dimension of patient health is taken into account. I want to participate in the development of caring science theory formation, which means that the existential dimensions are clarified in order to strengthen health processes. Thus, more concretely, describe in writing what existential caring entails."

"I will also continue to lead the Faculty's research efforts in different contexts. With the University of Borås rights to give doctoral degree in the area the Human Perspective in Care and in the research education subject caring science, I will work to ensure that doctoral education supports research issues that are directed at how conditions for good care are created and maintained. Based on knowledge of meanings in human experiences of care, new care methods can be tested in intervention research projects."

What made you start your research journey?

"Curiosity! I am a psychiatric nurse originally, and I have always wanted to understand more about the patients' worlds. My research work started with trying to understand and describe violent episodes, that is, when patients in psychiatric care became threatening and perhaps aggressive. What is the patient experiencing then? How is it to be carer then? I wanted to know more about these questions and that curiosity drove my research interest."

How has your journey to professorship looked?

"It has been quite long. I received my doctorate in 2004, became Associate Professor in Caring Science 2011 and professor 2018. I have worked in a leadership role in recent years, now as Department Head, at the same time as I have worked on my research, which of course means that my qualification has taken a little longer."

How will we notice that Gunilla Carlsson has become a professor?

"Since 2011, I have worked as a Director of Studies and today as Head of Department, my plan is to finish up in these roles at the end of the year and then be able to devote myself to being a researching instructor again."

What do you want to achieve before retiring?

“I, together with my colleagues in the research group in life-world research, continue to develop the subject of caring science, with a special focus on developing a theoretical basis for care from an existential perspective that can be applied in clinical practice."



More about Gunilla Carlsson

What do you prefer to do when you have a day off?

"Be together with my husband Bosse with our children and grandchildren, and with the family's American Staffordshire Terrier by the name of Boss, hopefully out in the boat at Läjet outside Varberg. Love to travel, though then more than one day off required!”

What makes you laugh?

"I laugh easily, anything funny makes me laugh."

What makes you angry?


How do you want to be perceived by colleagues?

"As an open and clear colleague offering mutual respect."

What are you most proud of?

"I am most proud of my wonderful family!"

Read more

Gunilla Carlsson's research profile

Text: Henrik Grönberg
Photo: Suss Wilén
Translation: Eva Medin