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…