North American psychiatric literature describes the current method of psychiatric diagnostic assessment as "phenomenological"; however, it is unclear what phenomenology 1 means in this context. This paper investigates the meaning and impact of some of the major philosophical and psychiatric definitions of phenomenology on contemporary psychiatric assessment. Employing a comparative analysis of selected definitions of phenomenology, this paper argues that North American psychiatric assessment does not reflect any of these definitions of phenomenology. Instead, within the context of psychiatric assessment, phenomenology has taken on an idiosyncratic, clinical meaning of signs and symptoms. However, this does not mean that phenomenology has had no impact on North American psychiatry. This paper contends that phenomenology has made contributions to psychiatry, particularly in the area of psychotherapy and especially in self-psychological psychotherapy. The importance of the concept of empathy within psychotherapy is evidence of the continuing influence of philosophical phenomenology on psychiatry. This paper concludes that phenomenology can provide an important complementary perspective to the dominant methods of North American psychiatric practice.