The Enneagram: An Innovative Approach

By Matise, Miles | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

The Enneagram: An Innovative Approach


Matise, Miles, Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


The enneagram (pronounced any-a-gram) is a tool consisting of nine points that depict personality styles. It is a tool that can be integrated into theoretical counseling approaches to better serve the therapeutic relationship and is adaptable to the unique personality of each client. This manuscript includes correlations between the enneagram and psychological precepts such as the diagnostic criteria found within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV, Ivey's Developmental Counseling theory, and Transactional Analysis theory. To demonstrate the enneagram's compatibility with other counseling theories, each of the nine styles is explained with corresponding theories recommended for each style. A case study and examples are provided to demonstrate effectiveness as a tool to promote awareness in the counseling relationship.

The enneagram, a Greek word for nine (ennea) and figure (grammos) maps nine personality styles of human nature and their interrelationships (Naranjo, 1994). The enneagram consists of three centers called triads, which specify a fundamental psychological orientation and ways individuals make contact with the outer world (Waldberg, 1973). The triads consist of a continuum of positive and negative traits, related to selfimage (Feeling triad), thought processes (Thinking triad), and instinctual traits (Doing/Moving triad). According to enneagram theory, each person potentially represents ail nine styles, with one more naturally expressed than the others. Each individual is disposed inherently to experience and respond to reality in one of the nine styles (Wagner & Walker, 1983). The more familiar style is the home-style and the one from which individuals tend to act from in times of stress. Each style can reveal: (a) individuals' views of the world, (b) the kinds of choices individuals are likely to make, (c) the values they hold, (d) their sources of motivation, (e) how they react to people, and (f) how they respond to stress. By examining what clients value and what is important to them, counselors may get an indication of their preferred enneagram style (Wagner, 1988). Once counselors and clients identify a style, they devote attention to changing patterns of negative traits.

For wholeness, individuals develop the home-style (one of the nine points) of their personalities on the enneagram by balancing the other eight styles, thus having the potential of the nine styles available (Wagner, 1988). For instance, counselors may work from their Helper styles (point two) when involved in therapeutic relationships with clients. At the same time, when appropriate, counselors have access to their Individualist styles (point four) of their personalities to reflect and process clients' stories. Furthermore, counselors can access their Confronter styles (point eight) of their personalities in order to assert therapeutic boundaries with clients for self-care. (See appendix for directions in which each style integrates and disintegrates). Individuals draw from each of the triads and similarly the nine styles, but one fits their specific personalities more than the others.

Historical Roots of the Enneagram

The enneagram is based upon a theory that evolved from ancient spiritual traditions going back, perhaps thousands of years. It may have developed in Afghanistan, influencing Islamic thought and have been passed down by oral tradition (Beesing, Nogosek, & O'Leary, 1984). Initially, the enneagram was an oral teaching and is said to have evolved out of Sufism, the mystical sect of Islam, with strong correlations to the Judeo-Christian tradition and Greek philosophy (Riso & Hudson, 1996). The enneagram is part of the oral teaching tradition of Gurdjieff (1973), Ichazo (Palmer,1988), and Naranjo (1994). However, it was Ouspensky (1957) who influenced its presently revised form. In the 1970s the enneagram was introduced to Western society and was taught, primarily orally, by a few academicians. …

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