The social policy background to the proliferation of patient satisfaction surveys is a desire for increased patient representation and participation. Within this context, it is assumed that satisfaction surveys embody patients' evaluations of services. However, as most surveys report high satisfaction levels, the interpretation of satisfaction as the outcome of an active evaluation has been called into question. The aim of this study is to identify whether and how service users evaluate services. This was made possible through unstructured in-depth interviews with users of mental health services and through more structured discussion around their responses on a patient satisfaction questionnaire (CSQ 18B) whose psychometric properties has been well documented. Twenty-nine people with current or recent contact with mental health services within the British National Health Service were interviewed. The data revealed that service users frequently described their experiences in positive or negative terms. However, the process by which these experiences were transformed into "evaluations" of the service was complex. Consequently, many expressions of "satisfaction" on the CSQ 18B hid a variety of reported negative experiences. An explanation for this lack of correspondence is outlined.