Twelve patients receiving acute in-patient psychiatric care in Queensland, Australia, participated in semi-structured interviews to elicit their perceptions of seclusion. All respondents had experienced time in seclusion within the 7 days prior to interview. Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed and analysed using content analysis. Five major themes emerged: use of seclusion, emotional impact, sensory deprivation, maintaining control and staff-patient interaction. The prevailing negativity towards seclusion underscores the need for ongoing critical review of its use. In particular, the relationship between patient responses to seclusion and the circumstances in which seclusion takes place requires greater consideration. Interventions such as providing information to patients about seclusion, increased interaction with patients during seclusion, attention to privacy and effective debriefing following seclusion may help to reduce the emotional impact of the practice.