The aim of this study is to obtain insight, from a patient's perspective, into the results and essential components of treatment in specialist settings for so-called ‘difficult’ patients in mental health care. In cases where usual hospital treatment is not successful, a temporary transfer to another, specialist hospital may provide a solution. We investigated which aspects of specialist treatment available to ‘difficult’ patients are perceived as essential by the patients and what are the results of this treatment in their perception. A qualitative research design based on the Grounded Theory method was used. To generate data, 14 semi-structured interviews were held with 12 patients who were admitted to a specialist hospital in the Netherlands. Almost all respondents rated the results of the specialist treatment as positive. The therapeutic climate was perceived as extremely strict, with a strong focus on structure, cooperation and safety. This approach had a stabilizing effect on the patients, even at times when they were not motivated. Most patients developed a motivation for change, marked by a growing and more explicit determination of their future goals. We concluded that a highly structured treatment environment aimed at patient stabilization is helpful to most ‘difficult’ patients.