The present study investigates patients’ opinion on what constitutes good psychiatric care. It was a qualitative study using an open-ended in-depth interview centring on the patient's experiences of receiving psychiatric care. The subjects were selected to ensure maximum variation and heterogeneity. A model of deliberate sampling for heterogeneity and a modified, stratified sampling method were used. One outpatient and one inpatient sample were selected. The description and analysis of data were based on a variable-oriented, cross-case technique. The analysis was made separately for the two sub-samples. The main result for both samples was the emergence of one main category: the quality of the helping encounter. The quality of the relationship between patient and therapist/staff, and being understood by the therapist/staff, formed the most central aspects of good care. For the inpatient group the analyses also pointed to stability and structure and relief of pressure as main categories. Though the focus of the study was on satisfaction with general psychiatric care, the results revealed a construct initially identified within the field of psychotherapy, namely the ‘helping alliance’, as the most crucial factor. The results also gave some further indications of what bring about a good therapeutic relationship; and prominent in this study, and not very often reported in the context of helping alliance, was that ambivalence, time and meaning were important constituents of the relationship. The findings emphasize the importance and quality of the therapeutic relationship and point to the incorporation of psychotherapeutic principles in all provider–patient relationships in general psychiatric care.