Case Study


The Five “A’s” of Transformation: The Enneagram as a Clinical Tool

November/December 2011


We all have a categorizing brain, a virtual pattern-recognition machine, which enables us to recognize doorknobs regardless of their particular shape or a friend from the back, even if we can’t see the whole person. Recognizing patterns allows our brains, with their 100 billion neurons and thousands of connections from one neuron to another, to help us adapt and survive.

Therefore, it’s unsurprising that the field of psychotherapy has countless typologies, including the DSM and the Myers-Briggs 16 Types, intended to assist us in recognizing distinctive patterns of human personality. As a clinician, the typology that I’ve found most helpful in organizing my own work and understanding the most enduring lifelong patterns in my clients’ lives is the Enneagram, a system of personality types.

The Enneagram has its roots in the world’s great spiritual traditions and in Pythagorean mathematics—which suggests to me that this system fits our basic human characteristics and evolutionary requirements. We need the perspectives and talents of different types of people to help our highly intelligent and social species survive.

What gives the Enneagram its distinctive clinical utility in the consulting room is its focus on the largely unconscious core beliefs that shape people’s view of how to lead a satisfying life. According to Enneagram understandings, our underlying core beliefs shape our focus of attention (in Enneagram terms “habit of mind”) and how we…

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2 Comments

Tuesday, November 29, 2011 4:25:22 PM | posted by Sarah Keely
Steve says the "key question is "Awareness of what?" The answer the Enneagram provides is awareness of a primary defensive strategy which interferes with the person's life.
The complexity of the Enneagram is difficult to capture in a short article like this one. I find it a more accurate system for understanding personality than any other I've encountered. Its complexity allows me to guide clients in shifting their internal dialogs, thereby opening possibilities for new experiences and changed behavior. With the accuracy afforded to me by my study of the Enneagram, I am able to predict the likely responses of any client to my interventions and to their own experience of change, based on their type. Lots of people are "co-dependent," but they're not all co-dependent in the same way or for the same reasons. The Enneagram provides a startlingly clear and consistent system for distinguishing the way in which co-dependence works for people of different types. That distinction is far from academic or merely interesting; it is useful. With it, I am able to focus my interventions and work with clients to apply this knowledge to themselves so they can replicate it on their own.
I use the 5 A's to help me sequence what I do as I move from the insights the Enneagram provides me into action. There are multiple ways of bringing clients into the present moment so that they can feel a shift in their experience of their primary defensive pattern (or "habit of mind"). David refers to a breathing technique he uses. Steve's point that David doesn't give a lot of specifics about the techniques he uses to bring a client into an experiential shift is a good one. But I think the reason highlights the beauty of the Enneagram and the 5 A's. It is flexible and allows for multiple techniques including mindfulness techniques, radical compassion, tapping, and hypnotic suggestion to name a few. Any method which allows a client to experience their defenses (not just recognize them intellectually) can be used to assist clients in building awareness, fostering self-acceptance, shifting their relationship to their defenses into one of appreciation, allowing them to take different action and become accountable. Adherence, of course, is the necessity of practicing this basic pattern repeatedly. The intense professional interest in mindfulness of late is an indicator of our own growing awareness that effective change requires a physiological/ emotional shift which is fundamentally experiential. This does not mean we throw away our insights, but rather that we use them to more effectively, with greater precision, help our clients answer the question Steve asked at the beginning of his response: "Awareness of what?"
The Enneagram confirms for me a basic truth: we don't change who we are fundamentally, nor do we need to. We learn ways of facing our demons, or in more clinical terms, managing our defenses, so that they become our guides, allowing us a much wider range of motion, emotionally and behaviorally.

Saturday, March 3, 2012 6:41:27 PM | posted by Davis McGlathery
As a layperson, I relate much more strongly to the Enneagram approach of Mr. Daniels, than to that of Mr. Andreas. How can we change our behavior without being aware of what prompts it? To understand what makes us upset, so much so that we do or say something we don't mean to, is necessary so that we can respond in a healthier way. What a useful tool, to understand and accept basic aspects of our nature and to then be better able to adapt to what comes our way. We all deserve this empowering tool.

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