Increasingly, people with mental health problems in Ireland and in the UK are receiving mental health services in the community. The aim of this study was to identify the predominant approaches to care used by community psychiatric nurses (CPNs) and the theoretical bases of their practice. One hundred and sixteen questionnaires out of 203 sent to CPNs throughout Ireland were returned, giving a response rate of 57.1%. In addition, 33 home visits by 13 CPNs were observed. The findings showed that over 96% of the sample were in full-time employment; most (71.4%) worked a 9-5 weekday shift; 31% had a postregistration counselling qualification, and about a quarter were based in hospitals. The average caseload size was 61 and the service was predominantly a closed referral one. The main client care activities were: assessment of clients, medication management, health promotion, and client and family support. From the observations, there was no evidence of CPNs practising cognitive, behaviour therapy or family therapies to any great extent. This study provides baseline data for monitoring trends in community mental health nursing in Ireland, and for informing future policy regarding service provision and training of CPNs.