BACKGROUND : The biopsychosocial model emphasises the role of human relationships in psychiatric care. Therapeutic relationships that improve treatment outcome and provide containment are desperately needed by patients in distress. Despite the importance of human relationships, they are neglected in an era dominated by biological psychiatry. AIM : This qualitative research project explores the experiences, perceptions and subsequent needs of patients. The role of therapeutic relationships, and the factors that patients felt influenced their relationship with their therapists, were examined. SETTING : A psychiatric training hospital in South Africa. METHOD : Thirty in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 inpatients. A qualitative, explorative-descriptive, collective case study design was used. Purposive sampling ensured maximum variation and richness of information. Grounded theory methods were used to analyse transcribed recordings. RESULTS : Patients valued therapeutic relationships that provide containment and potentially obviate the need for ‘measures of control’. A model of containment was developed to demonstrate the various factors that interact in the attempt to provide containment to patients
in a psychiatric training hospital system. CONCLUSION : Training hospitals should emphasise the role of therapeutic relationships in achieving containment and positive treatment outcomes. In developing countries, severe shortcomings in mental healthcare resources hinder the building of personal therapeutic relationships.