This study focuses on an under-researched area, namely the fulfilment of basic psychological needs of student teachers during their first teaching experiences. Based on the Self-determination Theory of Ryan and Deci [(2002). Overview of self-determination theory: An organismic dialectical perspective. In E.L. Deci, R.M. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of self-determination research (pp. 3-33). Rochester: The University of Rochester Press] and the work of Epstein [(1998a). Cognitive-experiential self-theory: A dual-process personality theory with implications for diagnosis and psychotherapy. In R.F. Bornstein, J.M. Masling (Eds.), Empirical perspectives on the psychoanalytic unconscious (pp. 99-140). Washington, DC: APA; (1998b). Constructive thinking: The key to emotional intelligence. Westport: Praeger], it could be demonstrated that need fulfilment has a strong influence on student teachers' teaching experiences, especially in a non-rational way, for instance through feelings and images. Thwarting of the needs appears to be correlated with images showing fight, flight, and freeze tendencies, whereas need fulfilment concurs with flow tendencies. The fulfilment of the need for competence, relatedness, and autonomy in student teachers is considerably less than in experienced teachers. We discuss the consequences for research in this field, and recommendations for teacher education. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.