Verbal aggression against health-care staff can induce considerable stress. Compared to physical aggression, systematic studies on verbal aggression are lacking.A qualitative focus group study was conducted in several clinical settings in north-western Germany: acute mental health care, forensic mental health care, children and adolescent psychiatry, residential care for mentally ill persons, general hospital, and nursing home. 74 staff members from various professions participated in 8 focus groups.Various forms of verbal aggression were reported, from verbal abuse over threats to non-compliant behaviour. Backgrounds for verbal aggression by patients were usually non-satisfaction with the situation or the treatment, organisational problems, and mental disorders. Staff reported about various coping strategies such as ignorance and rationalisation, but also helplessness. Compared to physical aggression, the severity of verbal aggression was rated non-uniformly. A clear boundary between verbal aggression and 'normal' speech acts could not be drawn, as subjective and individual factors play an important role while interpreting aggressive acts.Verbal aggression is a relevant stressor for health-care staff which has been widely neglected in care institutions. Prevention efforts may include situational coping (e. g., communication training) and psychological coping (e. g., resilience enhancement).