Patients' self-care behaviours have a major role in diabetes management. Diabetes education provides the required knowledge, but despite this, self-care is often suboptimal. The degree to which patients follow advice as regards the various self-care behaviours is determined by their health beliefs (Illness Representations or Personal Models) of diabetes. Psychometric studies have tried to categorize and measure the beliefs about illness that influence patients to adhere to treatment recommendations in diabetes. Various models have been proposed to explain the relationship between beliefs and behaviour. Leventhal's Self-Regulatory Model, which takes account of the emotional as well as the objective rational response to illness, currently seems to offer the best system for identifying the determinants of patient self-care behaviour. A review of interventions indicates those based on psychological theory offer professionals the best chance of maximizing their patients' contribution to diabetes self-management and achieving improved outcomes, both glycaemic and psychosocial. Studies designed specifically to modify illness representations are now being undertaken. This brief review aims to summarize developments in this area of psychological theory over the last 20 years and the implications for promoting better self-care behaviour in diabetes.