The nurse-patient relationship has traditiolly been viewed as the essence of nursing practice. This paper disputes that the ideals of such a relationship occur effortlessly in nursing practice. Findings from a phenomenological study of individuals hospitalized with a depressive illness found that a therapeutic relationship did not come instinctively to the mental health nurses, and that there was a dichotomy between the close relationship expected by patients and the distant relationship provided by nurses. It is unclear whether nurses' distancing behaviour was as a result of the participant's depressive illness, a normal part of nursing practice, or whether other features such as nurses' workloads were an influencing factor. Further research is required to explore this issue.