ABSTRACT: Following the closure of the large psychiatric institutions in New Zealand, there is an increasing demand for limited beds in acute inpatient facilities for acutely mentally ill patients. This change in location and downsizing of acute inpatient beds has challenged traditional roles of mental health nursing, resulting in confusion over what roles mental health nurses should now perform in the new context of care. This study compared the perceptions that registered psychiatric nurses have of their roles with their actual practice. This qualitative descriptive exploratory study observed nursing practice on three selected wards and used focus group interviews to establish from registered nurses what they perceived their roles to be. A key finding of this study was that many of the nursing roles related to delivering care from a crisis management perspective, which covers aspects such as assessment, stabilization of symptoms and discharge planning. Participants also believed that the therapeutic relationship was a fundamental role in inpatient care. Nurses used any opportunity to make it a reality such as kitchen organization, medications, or dealing with a challenging patient. This study highlighted the complexity of the roles that nurses performed and went some way to give voice to what at times seems an invisible practice.