Enneagram Personalities in the Therapy Relationship

The Enneagram personality system lends itself to any treatment model or approach. Notwithstanding uniqueness, it offers consistent insight into neurotic habits, inherent strengths, and spirituality, providing a valuable resource for growth and recovery.

Nine Types in Counseling:

Ones are perfectionists, identifying with being right. Idealistic and interested in a better world: they notice what needs improving. Attention is drawn to ethics, fairness, and work before pleasure. Fearful of criticism, they overcompensate and then become resentful. In an effort to relax, or quiet an overactive superego, substance abuse may develop. Substances allow Ones to express the shadow side of being so moral. In counseling, rational storylines often mask emotional truths. At best, they accept their own and others’ flaws with compassion and humor.

Twos are motivated to please, identifying with their relationship intelligence. Attention is drawn to engagement with others. In pursuit of being liked and looking good, they use flattery to please and support others. Personal needs are repressed based on the fear that they will not, or cannot, be met. Despite apparent social facility, many Twos experience social anxiety, reporting substance use before, during, and after social events. While engaging with counselors, Twos attempt to avoid feelings of fatigue, pain, and anger. At best, they are true to themselves and recognize and support the best in others.

Threes are performers, identifying with personal success. Generally competitive, creative, and optimistic, they are adept at accomplishing goals. Their personas are in concert with U.S. ideals: creating a blind spot for counselors who do not see past the successful persona. Afraid of failure, this type will achieve perceived therapeutic agendas, even if at personal odds. Substances are used to quiet anxiety caused by neglect of the internal experience. If substance abuse becomes problematic, often Threes will retain the energy for stellar performance – leading to better-than-average concealment. At best, they recognize the importance of feelings, value others, and are flexible and generous with their abundant energy.

Fours are artistic, identifying with uniqueness. They are attuned to the creative, the authentic, and the paradoxes of life. They can be consumed with feeling either special or flawed: noticing what is missing, creating drama, and seeing themselves as exempt from ordinary expectations. Sensitive to abandonment: to manage this fear they may withdraw or be provocative. They are often in a family scapegoat role. Substance-abusing Fours often operate from the romanticized, self-destructive image of the artist-addict. If attached to this identity, efforts at sobriety can be thwarted. Substance abuse increases depression and distorts reality, often fueling dangerous fantasies and risky behaviors. Counselors can be either mesmerized or impatient with the emotionalism. At best, Fours naturally balance the material and spiritual parts of life and allow themselves to be both productive and happy.

Fives are observant, identifying with being self-contained. They value their mental acuity: attention is drawn to gathering information, maintaining privacy, and observing the external world. Fearing others will intrude and overwhelm them, inner life is closely guarded. Reserved affect can make the counselor – especially warm relating types – anxious, inviting misunderstanding/misdiagnoses. Fives can abuse substances to relieve social anxiety and quell other fears. At best, Fives are engaged in life through their relationships and work and are willing to share their time, knowledge, and emotions with others.

Sixes are questioners, identifying with being perceptive and intuitive. Loyal, often possessing an offbeat sense of humor, they see the other side of any assertion. Attention is drawn to safety by screening for danger and imagining worst-case potentials. Fearing misused authority, they are hypervigilant in seeking certainty. This guard of doubt and mistrust can confuse others, including counselors. Substance abuse can initially relieve a Six’s doubt and anxiety. When Sixes grow dependent on substances, they can become isolated from those who might provide emotional support and reality checks. Substance toxins combined with isolation will amplify paranoia. At best, they are skillful problem solvers, offering a creative vision of shared possibilities.

Sevens are epicureans, identifying with being happy. They plan for fun, interesting, and pleasurable possibilities. Quick mental energy helps them connect ideas and see the big picture. They do not like limitations and are afraid of being trapped if they acknowledge pain. They engage others, including counselors, with charm, and re-frame negatives into positives. Substance abuse may develop if the Sevens’ need for unlimited positive options is frustrated. Sevens can be aggressive when rationalizing their addictions, your problem. Sobriety and experiencing emotional pain sometimes precede counseling. At their best, they value other people and are unusually accepting and tolerant as they share their expansive sense of possibility.

Eights are protectors, identifying with being powerful. Attention is drawn to overt control, excesses, strength, protection, and justice. They have a gut sense of the location of actual authority and are prepared to protect the vulnerable. They fear personal vulnerability and can be intimidating. They expect to be met honestly and avoid counselors who overreact or draw back from their aggression. Substance abuse may result from excessive enjoyment of sensory pleasure combined with denial of underlying pain and vulnerability. At best, Eights are sensitive and natural leaders, sharing their power and energy with the community.

Nines are mediators, identifying with being peaceful. Understanding all points of view, they seek harmony and comfort. Nines connect with others in a way that allows them to feel valued, often losing sight of themselves: potentially becoming discouraged and passively angry. They fear interpersonal conflict will lead to rejection. Counselors need to be aware of the tendency of Nines to appear to go along with the treatment agenda, even when not in agreement. Substance abuse may develop to numb feelings, however, substances may prompt suppressed feelings and thoughts to surface, making Nines uncharacteristically combative and provocative. At best, they recognize their own importance, communicate what is right for them, and remain empathetic with others.

Many resources are available for learning about the Enneagram. This typing system will enhance your ability to support positive outcomes for your clients.

Previously published in the June 2007 issue of Counselor, The Magazine for Addiction Professionals