October 19th, 2017
An Unparalleled Tool for Coaches and Therapists
As a psychotherapist, I know how important it is to have effective methods and tools to use when you are helping individuals move forward on their growth paths. Especially if you are a new coach, counselor, or therapist, but even for veteran professionals, having effective methods to draw on makes your work with people so much easier and more enjoyable. In my opinion, The Enneagram is the best tool available for supporting therapeutic or coaching work with clients.
When I was going through the early vulnerable years of my psychotherapy training, I benefitted greatly from knowing the Enneagram system and being able to deploy it with a measure of confidence. It made me feel like I had a secret weapon. It helped me so much to know I could draw on the Enneagram system to aid me in understanding the people I worked with fairly quickly. It provided invaluable guidance in clarifying key issues, charting a path of growth, and providing relief from suffering.
Here are a few of the ways the Enneagram can help you if you are a coach, therapist, counselor, spiritual director, or HR professional:
- It helps you to know yourself better, so you can do your own inner work. A coach or therapist is only as good as the work they have done on their own issues. When you know yourself very well, when you recognize your own patterns and understand your own tendencies and motivations and their sources, you can get yourself out of the way of your clients’ work so they can make more progress more rapidly.
- It helps you recognize patterns more easily. More than anything else, the Enneagram operates as a way of highlighting patterns and making sense of those patterns. Rather than wander in a dark forest of unknowing when it comes to understanding how to understand someone, the Enneagram provides a model that clarifies why people do what they do.
- It helps you understand constellations of defense mechanisms, motivations, and habitual patterns of cognitive biases and beliefs, emotion, and behavior. Once you know someone’s type, you immediately have access to a huge amount of information about how that person defends themselves, what causes them stress, what their strengths are, and what situations commonly prove challenging for them.
- Once you correctly identify a client’s type, it provides individualized strategies and steps for supporting their growth and development. I believe those of us who get into the helping professions tend to be driven by a sincere desire to support others and enable their success. But how, exactly, do we do this? You may have a client who you really like and you genuinely want to impact in a positive way–but what do you do? What do you suggest? How do you guide them the best possible, more efficient way? The Enneagram offers highly specific paths of development for each of the 9 types and 27 subtypes. It gives you a lot to go on, a clear set of tasks for people to do once you recognize their particular subtype.
But, there are very real dangers connected to using the Enneagram as a therapeutic tool, especially if you haven’t had extensive experience with the system. Here are some of the potential pitfalls to be aware of:
- Getting the type wrong while thinking you have it right. Mistyping is a big problem when using the Enneagram. Sometimes clients may have mistyped themselves before they start working with you. Other times, you may think you know their type and you are mistaken.
- Stereotyping the person without realizing it. When my friend and teaching partner, Uranio Paes, and I teach our course for coaches and therapists about using the Enneagram, we have a whole section of the course titled, “things you may not know about this type.” As I walk through the Enneagram world I see so many people–even the most experienced Enneagram experts–viewing specific types in overly simplistic ways. For instance, I’m constantly irritated by people who over-generalize my own type, saying Twos are just about “helping” and “giving” and all they want to do is meet people’s needs. It’s much more complicated than this! Many times I run away from needy people. And often I find ways not to help. Some people think Eights are always angry or that Fours can’t ever be happy. These are unfortunate misperceptions under any circumstances, but they are especially dangerous stereotypes when you are a coach or a therapist or HR professional!
- Not taking into account (enough) your own type biases. When I first started helping people find their type, I saw Twos everywhere. (I am a Two.) Maybe you have a bad relationship with your Type One mother and so you have an unconscious bias against Ones. Maybe you’re fighting with your spouse and so get irritated by people who share your spouse’s type. Maybe there’s a type you just don’t understand that well–maybe you don’t know very many people with that type very well–and you kind of have to fake it when you get a client with that type.
- Acting on limited understanding about how to best use the Enneagram map to support development. There are a lot of ideas out there about how to use the Enneagram map. Some of those ideas work better than others. And if you haven’t had extensive training in the Enneagram, you may not have had the time to develop a clear sense of how to apply the Enneagram when helping your clients chart a path of growth. There are many questions that arise when deploying the Enneagram when working with others. When do you focus on the main type vs. other types? How might you use the wings and arrow line-connected points? Is Tri-type a real thing or more of a distraction? How important is identifying a person’s subtype?
The Enneagram empowers people when it is used well–but it can stop or negatively impact someone’s growth when it’s not deeply understood. If you are a coach, therapist, counselor, or HR professional interested in using the Enneagram–I hope you invest the time and energy it takes to learn to use it well. And I hope you feel motivated to do your own (deep) inner work such that the Enneagram can use you well–that your own self-understanding can be part of what you offer as both an Enneagram practitioner and a compassionate human being who understands the journey of human development.
If you are interested in learning more about how to integrate the Enneagram system into your work with clients, I hope you will consider attending the course I teach with Uranio Paes, Enneagram Resources for Coaches and Professionals. We are also teaching this course with Helen English in the UK. It will help you gain the knowledge, skill, and confidence to apply the Enneagram in your work in a way that greatly enhances your experience and outcomes with clients. Check out the workshops page to learn about upcoming trainings!