Chapter 6. The Role of Phenomenology in Psychiatric Diagnosis and Classification

  1. Mario Maj3,
  2. Wolfgang Gaebel4,
  3. Juan José López-Ibor5 and
  4. Norman Sartorius6
  1. Josef Parnas1 and
  2. Dan Zahavi2

Published Online: 24 APR 2002

DOI: 10.1002/047084647X.ch6

Psychiatric Diagnosis and Classification

Psychiatric Diagnosis and Classification

How to Cite

Parnas, J. and Zahavi, D. (2002) The Role of Phenomenology in Psychiatric Diagnosis and Classification, in Psychiatric Diagnosis and Classification (eds M. Maj, W. Gaebel, J. J. López-Ibor and N. Sartorius), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/047084647X.ch6

Editor Information

  1. 3

    University of Naples, Italy

  2. 4

    University of Düsseldorf, Germany

  3. 5

    Complutense University of Madrid, Spain

  4. 6

    University of Geneva, Switzerland

Author Information

  1. 1

    Department of Psychiatry, Hvidovre Hospital, Brondbyoestervej 160, 2650 Hvidovre, Denmark

  2. 2

    Danish Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, Vimmelskaflet 41 A, DK-1161 Copenhagen, Denmark

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 24 APR 2002
  2. Published Print: 15 APR 2002

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780471496816

Online ISBN: 9780470846476



  • taxonomy;
  • psychopathology;
  • phenomenology;
  • consciousness;
  • structure;
  • experience;
  • typology;
  • operationalism;
  • Jaspers;
  • Husserl


Contemporary psychopathology, with its epistemological roots in the logical positivism, is mainly guided by reliability concerns. Consciousness or subjectivity is phobically avoided on the theoretical level and dramatically downplayed on the pragmatic level, with seriously deleterious consequences for diagnosis and research. Yet, a typology of subjective experience will remain an intrinsic aspect of any coherent psychiatric taxonomy. We review the available descriptive approaches: contemporary operational psychopathology, Jaspers' descriptive method and the so-called “continental” phenomenology. The latter does not consider subjectivity as a physical/spatial object but as a medium allowing the world to manifest itself; it aims at grasping essential structural/formal features of experience and existence and has developed suitable methodologies for this task. We introduce these methodologies through a condensed presentation of the fundamental features of consciousness: experiential awareness and self-awareness, time-consciousness, intentionality (object-directedness), embodiment, and intersubjectivity. We argue that phenomenology is acutely relevant for a much-needed renaissance of psychopathology.