“The line between spirituality and therapy blur at a certain depth. Carolyn Bartlett reaches that depth as she uses the Enneagram and draws on her years of experience. She reveals the struggle of each Enneagram style and, most importantly, how each style grows within it. She is realistic about the intensity of the struggle, but I find a lot of hope in her work.”
An Introduction to Carolyn’s Book
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On Christmas Eve 1991, our new neighbors invited my husband and me to their home for a holiday celebration and, during the course of the evening, introduced us to the Enneagram. We had never met them, but my daughter had been babysitting their children, and they seemed to have a lot of insight into her for having known her for such a short time. By the end of the evening, they were hinting at our Enneagram styles and sent us home with Helen Palmer’s book The Enneagram.
Never a fan of typing systems, I was initially doubtful but still intrigued by my neighbor’s insights. I eventually agreed with their “typing” of me as well as of my husband and daughter, but only after I investigated it on my own. Despite my distaste for labeling people, I found the Enneagram’s description of personality styles to be subtle, complex, and useful.
My husband John and I began to study the system in depth with Julie Foster, Helen Palmer, and David Daniels. We also took an occasional workshop from other teachers and created our own study groups. The more I learned about the Enneagram, the more I was amazed by its diagnostic acuity. It was also democratic; despite differing worldviews and motivations, each personality style was portrayed as equally gifted or equally troubled.
John and I first applied the Enneagram to our personal relationships and found it so useful we eventually applied it to our work. We are both psychotherapists and we found right away that the system deepened our understanding of our clients and showed us our own counter-transference. We also found that it greatly enhanced the other theoretical models that we used in treatment. Eventually, we began to teach it to our therapist consultation group.
Although each client has unique needs, the Enneagram suggests a general direction for treatment that is influenced by the parameters of type. The more we applied the system to our work the more we noticed that what was effective with some personality styles didn’t work as well with others. Our consultation group helped us connect the Enneagram with different approaches to psychotherapy. John and I then decided to share what we had learned with other therapists in our public seminars.
In August 1999, John and I led a workshop at the International Enneagram Association conference in Toronto. The audience was composed of psychotherapists who were applying the Enneagram in their work. To prepare for the workshop we interviewed individuals who knew their Enneagram style and had been through counseling or therapy. We wanted to know what they thought had worked for them from the perspective of type. We deliberately chose people who were not our clients and interviewed them at length. At the workshop in Toronto, we presented our results. The therapists were excited to learn what clients had to say and the idea to write this book was born.
At this point, John handed further development of the project over to me and I continued to gather information about peoples’ experiences with counseling and therapy. I ran an ad in the Enneagram Monthly magazine as well as other venues. My assessment tools included a questionnaire by mail or e-mail followed by more detailed questions in selected interviews (see appendix).
Several people of each Enneagram style gave me especially generous in-depth interviews. In addition, I spoke with friends, colleagues, and people I met at conferences, as well as those who were in our workshops. I asked questions like: “What do you wish psychotherapists and counselors understood about your type?” Or I would define the most difficult part of doing therapy with a given Enneagram style and then ask representatives of that style: “What do you suggest?”
The people who shared their personal experiences in these conversations and interviews provided most of the material in this book. I learned from them and applied their advice to my own work. My hope is that this book will help other practitioners who want to skillfully apply the Enneagram.
The Enneagram and Psychotherapy
The Enneagram is not a model of therapy itself but can be applied to any treatment approach. It exists on the boundary between secular and spiritual psychology. Spiritual psychology holds that each human being has a sacred gift to offer, but as we react defensively to the pain of human experiences, our gift is obscured. An individual’s defense can resemble their gift, but it is actually a protective mask, often referred to as a “persona”, “false self”, “fixation” or a “trance.” People labeled ‘co-dependent,’ for example, are usually gifted at being compassionate, however, they may warp the capacity to disguise and protect their early wounds. By identifying a client’s type of false self, a therapist can understand the nature of their underlying wound and see what the client really wants in its place.
Learning the Enneagram will help you in a myriad of ways. It will enhance your diagnostic acuity and help you quickly recognize people’s different motivations, coping strategies and relationship patterns. If you are a therapist or counselor it will guide you to the best treatment plans for a given client and suggest how to time and sequence your interventions. The beginning of therapy involves joining with and understanding the client’s worldview as accurately as possible. The Enneagram will help you establish rapport and build trust with greater speed and precision. Once the client feels understood and trusts the therapist, the work of change can effectively begin.
It is not easy to ask for help. Clients come to therapy for many reasons but usually, an external life change or internal feelings are causing them incongruence and pain. Sometimes this cause is an obvious event – divorce, death, job loss; other times clients arrive in therapy troubled by internal feelings like depression or free-floating anxiety. It is unusual for human beings to challenge their defensive patterns as long as the patterns are effective and most people usually have to be very uncomfortable before they call a therapist. Experiencing emotions that overwhelm their defenses, they hope therapy can help. Their vulnerable self is available to the therapeutic relationship, ready to change.
The self-exposure required by psychotherapy, however, is not entirely comfortable. Clients worry about how the therapist sees them as well as what they may discover about themselves. There is almost always a tension between trying to drop the mask while still staying protected. Then there is the question of trust: Can the client depend on the therapist to provide real help? How much self-revelation is safe? Clients at this stage may question whether change is even possible.
In fact, sitting down in a therapist’s office often heightens a client’s defenses and they may resist the situation with the very patterns they are there to change. Good therapists recognize that these defenses are at play in the circumstance and that clients will need them for protection until they feel safe.
When a therapist sees how a client’s defense works, it gives them an edge. The Enneagram helps by precisely identifying the specific defense mechanism that supports the neurotic habit – akin to an addiction – of each style. This unconscious automatic reaction keeps the client from feeling exposed, even at the cost of limiting themselves further.
The psychotherapeutic process usually begins with the therapist affirming the client’s essential self while examining the negative impact of their defensive style. Later the therapist has to shift from playing a solely supportive role and begin to encourage the client to take responsibility for what they can change. This may entail confronting them with the fact that they now inflict on others what was done to them in the past; that what once worked as a survival tool now causes suffering. A therapist needs to skillfully gauge a client’s readiness to tolerate such insights. Otherwise, the client might feel shamed, setting the therapy back.
The Enneagram can smooth this sometimes difficult transition, providing therapists with a road map they can pass along to their clients. Some clients find that learning about their Enneagram style helps them see through their behavior to underlying patterns and appreciate their defenses in a compassionate light. By learning about the common experience of other people with the same Enneagram style, clients realize they are not alone or unique in their difficulties. They also recognize there are reliable ways to transform the suffering created by their personality defenses. From this perspective, change can seem survivable and even exciting.
By studying the Enneagram, clients can better understand their own motives and begin to recognize that their personality pattern is not who they are. Since it is impossible to simultaneously observe your story and live it, this strengthens the client’s ability to be more objective about themselves. They learn to observe their defenses rather than act them out. The Enneagram can further encourage clients by providing accounts of others like them who have successfully changed.
Certainly, not all clients will be interested in the Enneagram nor is that necessary for a therapist to still make good use of it. Some clients do, however, find it valuable and the common language and perspective the system offers can enhance the therapy partnership. Many good books, workshops, and videos are available and some are listed in the bibliography.
As I mentioned, the Enneagram is also a spiritual psychology offering a larger transpersonal framework for clients to understand their lives. Something like a mid-life crisis might lead a client to see how they have identified with a mask or role in a general way. At such times their whole rationale for living can start to come apart. Major losses can also motivate clients to deeply question their usual approach to life. From there they may unearth feelings of pain, loneliness, and despair – whatever their defenses have protected them from.
A therapist who understands how to use the Enneagram in a spiritual way can help clients recognize their deeper gifts and their essential nature. The therapist might also communicate to the client that their defensive persona doesn’t need to immediately be fixed or replaced. Learning to live with fewer defenses, in a way that allows the clients to express their essential qualities and gifts, is sometimes a better goal. Learning to endure the void that opens from the collapse of old defenses is its own gift and supports the client’s spiritual and psychological transformation.
What Does and Does Not Work
The people I interviewed from each Enneagram style consistently revealed patterns of success and failure. Each group shared stories of well-meaning therapists who colluded with their defenses and missed opportunities to effectively intervene. These relationships were safe but produced no change. Other therapists failed in a more provocative way by challenging their client’s story before the client felt understood, causing them to feel more defensive.
Each group reported similar patterns of ineffective counseling for their style, usually because the therapists either argued with their client’s worldview or inappropriately merged with it. Some examples included: fearful Sixes having their worst-case scenarios opposed by a therapist who just met them; self-critical Ones being told immediately that they are not that bad; therapists setting goals for passive Nine clients and seductive Two clients becoming personal friends with the therapist. If therapists do not effectively negotiate these dynamics, meaningful change is unlikely.
If the psychotherapist is able to create an environment in which the client feels understood and believes that the therapist has something to offer, then the opportunity for deeper work emerges. In each chapter, I’ve included stories about how treatment succeeded or failed. Several individuals of each Enneagram style generously read a rough draft of their style’s chapter and gave me feedback. I kept only what was most true to their experience and eliminated what they did not relate to. This allowed me to refine the content further, to present a more general picture of what people with each style would want therapists to understand. Of course, therapists may see a direction for treatment that conflicts with what the client believes is best, but these guidelines should still be helpful.
One interesting finding was that it did not matter if the therapist or client knew the Enneagram at the time of therapy. The therapists described as most helpful still intervened in ways that addressed the dilemmas of the client’s Enneagram style. This both reinforces the validity of the Enneagram and affirms that good therapists intuitively provide treatments that match their clients’ needs. However, retrospective reports of negative experiences were also consistent by type and in those cases, the Enneagram’s insights might have improved the outcome.
Transference and Counter-transference
Treatment failures often seemed related to therapists failing to recognize transference – what the client projects onto the therapist – and counter-transference – what the therapist projects onto the client. Learning to use the Enneagram skillfully often helps the therapist identify his or her own bias – positive or negative – and recognize its impact on treatment. For example, if a Two therapist finds themselves wanting to take milk and cookies to their client’s children or a Three therapist gets attached to producing results for a managed care company, they might realize they are caught in counter-transference.
The Enneagram offers an excellent framework to precisely interpret and transcend counter-transference. Typical patterns are described in each chapter. Appendix One also offers additional comments from therapists on the counter-transferential reactions of their style.
Nature Versus Nurture
The question of nature versus nurture – whether a personality style is innate or created by a child’s parenting and early environment – comes up often in Enneagram literature. Some authors have described specific family dynamics as the etiology of someone’s Enneagram style. This argument is especially seductive when you work with the stories and patterns of your clients and listen to personal histories that seem to “cause” their style-specific defenses. However, all of this information is reported tautologically – from the biased perspective of the style.
Infants and young children already seem to exhibit the tendencies of a character style.* Whether the cause is nature or nurture, seeing the world through the perspective of type provides a sense of security. It helps a child make sense of overwhelming amounts of information by unconsciously selecting what fits with what he or she already knows. Family and culture symbiotically match and respond to the child’s efforts, providing a feedback loop that reinforces the child’s budding assumptions about the nature of existence. In a family with nine children, each with a different Enneagram style, each child would find sufficient evidence to confirm their bias. Parents often blame themselves for “causing” their child to “suffer” a particular Enneagram style, but I think its ultimate origins are a mystery.
Nevertheless family and culture provide the child’s formative sense of safety, which influences the degree to which personality defenses are created and carried into the future. How strongly we feel we need protection is determined by our basic sense of safety or lack of the same. This is usually most influenced by our early family life, environment, and culture. This early milieu is often referred to as the “holding” environment. As therapists, we are working with the holding environments our clients once knew and their responses to it according to type.
Psychological Systems and the Enneagram
Most psychotherapists are taught to identify and work with pathology models that include terms like “major depression” and “psychosis.” Teachings that emphasize psychiatric diagnosis are sometimes referred to as a “medical model.” There is a continuum in assessment and treatment models from those that focus on pathology to those that frame most behavior as ordinary. Many schools with a humanistic bent resist labeling because of its negative impact but minimizing an appropriate psychiatric diagnosis can also lead to treatment failure.
People with both humanistic and medical models have been recently developing psychological applications for the Enneagram. While the roots of the Enneagram are obscure and possibly ancient, its history in the context of therapy begins very recently. Claudio Naranjo is a psychiatrist, Gestalt therapist, and author from whom many leading teachers in the USA first learned the system in the 1970s. He cross-referenced Enneagram character styles with other typing systems, including the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the most common source of psychiatric diagnoses. Although he spoke in psychiatric language, Naranjo’s efforts failed to penetrate professional mental health circles. Instead, the Enneagram became popular in Catholic and Christian networks before eventually emerging into popular culture. Perhaps this history explains why the system is often presented in humanistic terms. However, efforts to use the system to diagnose pathology and predict potential are still popular.
The Enneagram identifies character tendencies with great accuracy, which makes it tempting to use it to label and predict. However, if it ultimately becomes another system for labeling pathology, its potential as a transpersonal resource will be lost. Unlike the DSM, the Enneagram presents a fluid continuum for understanding personality patterns including high-functioning expressions as well as spiritual potentials and capacities.
Certainly, some clients present unhealthy behavior patterns and it is important to start by meeting clients where they are. However, many therapists say that their most skillful work happens when they maintain a “beginner’s mind” – being open to their client’s potential for change and unattached to a therapeutic outcome. There is always the possibility that the client could grow beyond perceived diagnoses and most therapists have been pleasantly surprised by the hidden strengths of clients who first appeared to be blindly abusive or afflicted. In a similar way, estranged families sometimes reconcile following unexpected events. In addition, individuals and families who initially seem ideal may later reveal harmful secrets and shadows. Any premature clinical expectations based on first impressions can subtly render the psychotherapist ineffective at a time when the client most needs help.
Typing in Practice
To help our clients determine their Enneagram style we recommend that they take the test in the book The Essential Enneagram by David Daniels, M.D. and Virginia Price, Ph.D. This test introduces them to the system and helps them narrow their probable Enneagram style from nine choices down to three. After testing we then try to help the client discover which style they most identify with.
Using a test avoids spending clinical time asking questions. For clients who are interested in the Enneagram, the process of exploration alone is beneficial, even if takes a while to decide which style is home. For therapists using the Enneagram, it is nice to know a client’s core style if possible. But, identifying the client’s prevalent patterns is useful anyway, even if their precise style remains unclear.
Some existing diagnostic conditions can complicate typing as they seem to have their own Enneagram style. We have noticed, for instance, that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can make people seem like fearful Sixes even when they aren’t. Trauma often leaves its victims attempting to protect themselves by anticipating worst-case scenarios with hypervigilance and scanning, questioning perceived reality and mistrusting authority. All of these are characteristics of Sixes and it is easy and tempting to make a premature Enneagram diagnosis based on these qualities. Other PTSD symptoms include a tendency to numb or intellectualize emotions – characteristic qualities of Fives. PTSD also causes its victims to be literal and reduce complex situations into black-and-white judgments – similar to the way Ones manage information. Various other medical or personality disorders as well as cultural contexts can also obscure someone’s type.
Because the Enneagram has become popular through human potential and spiritual venues, traditional psychotherapists have been slow to recognize its value. Presently there are a number of researchers in psychology who are applying scientific methods to prove the validity of the system. But, it already has a life of its own outside the culture of psychology. As more and more people find the Enneagram’s wisdom beneficial, psychotherapists who know how to apply the system skillfully will be in greater demand. By offering therapists insights from the client’s point of view, this book is meant to speed your application of this powerful system.
The material is organized for quick reference to provide ideas for therapists and counselors using the Enneagram in their practice. Each chapter addresses the following for each character style:
Each chapter begins with a list of ways that a particular Enneagram style presents in therapy. This is followed by brief introductory comments about the style, including its healthy and unhealthy qualities and usual habits of attention. Also included are a few observations about how the style intersects with the larger culture. Since the majority of people whose stories are in this book are American, that is the bias.
Childhood Experience and Adult Defenses
Groups of people with the same Enneagram style often describe their childhood experiences in similar ways. Each chapter contains a brief composite of the most common themes. This is followed by a description of the style’s typical defense mechanism as it arises from childhood wounds and family pressures. Although the defense mechanism I describe is especially pertinent to the “false self” of the style, an individual may employ a variety of other defenses as well.
Enneagram Styles in Therapy
At the heart of this book are psychotherapy experiences reported from the perspective of the client with a focus on what helped them change. Each chapter offers observations about: What brings clients of that particular Enneagram style to therapy, what does not work in therapy, and typical patterns of transference and counter-transference.
Representatives of each Enneagram personality style reported positive, life-changing psychotherapy experiences and each chapter provides first-hand accounts of what worked for them in therapy. Not surprisingly, specific therapy techniques and approaches were mentioned as both helpful and not by people with the same type. For example, some Fours said that Gestalt Therapy was effective while others said it was not. This is a reminder that techniques and strategies are only useful in the context of a healing relationship. In addition, the interventions and methods mentioned in each chapter aren’t exclusively beneficial for the Enneagram style discussed. They could certainly work with other styles.
The Enneagram is far more fluid and multi-dimensional than it first appears and the subtle variations in how individuals experience their personality style are complex and interesting. There are, for instance, points of connection that allow people with one style to experience life through two other Enneagram numbers. Therapists who begin to use the system will notice how their clients shift when influenced by these different aspects of self. Descriptions of relevant connecting points and the use a therapist can make of them are included in each chapter.
Dreams are an invaluable resource in therapy, since the unconscious always seems to speak its truth, however obscurely. Dreams also can provide another way to understand the internal landscape of an Enneagram style. Each chapter includes a sample dream selected to illustrate themes common to that style.
Good Enough Therapy
The psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott coined the term “good enough” to describe a maternal relationship that provides the basic safety, love, mirroring, and containment needed by the developing child. In analytic literature, this notion has been applied as a template for the basic elements of effective therapy. Each chapter ends with some summary comments about what constitutes “good enough” therapy for that Enneagram style.