The purpose of this study is to help understand what suffering is, i e how patients and nurses describe suffering, and how suffering can be alleviated The study has a descriptive–explorative design and its approach is phenomenological–hermeneutical The informants (research group) are 11 nurses (nurses, doctors, hospital theologians) and five patients in a social-psychiatric nursing unit, based on Christian ideology The results of the study show that the ‘what’ of suffering is unclear The nurses tend to describe more the ‘why’ of suffering, I e the reason for suffering The what of suffering is pain, fear, despair, lack of strength It is a form of lack of freedom and non-motion It is a struggle between wanting and knowing, between guilt and responsibility The form of suffering tends to mould the caring relation To be touched in some way by another in a meeting can alleviate the deepest suffering Compassion will always alleviate suffering