Palo Alto Counseling, Psychotherapist in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, CA, California - Carol Campbell, MFT
706 Cowper Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301 • (650) 325-2576
License MFC 28308
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Using the Enneagram in Psychotherapy

by Carol Campbell, MFT

I wish I could remember who it was in my childhood who instilled the idea in my mind that "there are many paths to truth." Those six words capture deep wisdom. Being creatures of habit, we tend to develop automatic pilots that have one particular way of looking at things. Seeking familiarity, we return unquestioningly to the way we thought about things before. It then becomes so easy to operate from the position: "I am doing this the right way; if someone else is doing it differently, I should be disturbed."

Reality is that there are as many ways of perceiving things as there are people, and we each have our own approximation of what is true. It becomes an art form to live one's life in a way that both honors one's own experience of truth, and also respects that of others. I have found two great systems of knowledge that seem to be quite helpful to virtually anyone interested in maximizing their capacity to relate well to others while also looking out for their own best interests. Those systems are (1) psychotherapy and (2) the system of understanding personality types known as the Enneagram. (I recommend information about the Ennegaram available online or in print written by David Daniels, M.D.)

Ironically these two approaches to dealing with relationships come from very opposite perspectives. As a therapist, I experience the paradox inherent in embracing such contradictory concepts. Psychotherapy has Western roots. The Enneagram has Eastern roots. Psychotherapy, as I practice it, avoids having expectations about my patient, but rather being open to seeing my patients with fresh eyes each time we meet. The Enneagram, on the other hand, is an elaborate system suggesting how I might anticipate how my patients will behave and respond to life, based on their typology. Psychotherapy requires working with a therapist. You can study the Enneagram on your own.

As a marriage and family therapist, I have found that my patients seem to respond the best when I incorporate the Enneagram into our work together. I often mention my interest in the Enneagram in one of the first sessions. (That, in itself, is unusual, since for the most part I find it intrusive to bring my own interests into the therapy room.) I ask if the patient would be interested in taking the time of one session for me to introduce the main concepts of the Enneagram, and show how it might be helpful in our work. Rarely do I get a negative response, particularly since I am thoughtful about not bringing it up if there are clinical reasons not to.

For those who are interested, I provide a brief overview of how the Enneagram works. There are nine points on a circle, each representing one personality type that seems to have survived down through evolution. We all inevitably lock onto one of those nine points early in life, based on our own unique combination of nature and nurture. In addition to falling into the characteristics of that point, we will also be heavily influenced by the points immediately adjacent to our point on the circle.

What makes the Enneagram a system is that there is a predictable pattern of movement when we feel under attack. We cease thinking and feeling and being motivated the way we feel under normal circumstances, and instead take on the characteristics of another point. It's as if we travel to another point of view. One goes to Four, and starts looking and sounding like a Four. Four goes to Two. Two goes to Eight. Eight goes to Five. Five goes to Seven. Seven goes to One. Three goes to Nine. Nine goes to Six. Six goes to Three. The reverse order is followed when we experience great serenity.

Either way – under duress or under serenity – we eventually drift back to where we started and our mood and behavior slip back into their normal positions. When these transitions are disregulating, when we drive our loved ones crazy as we move about the Enneagram circle, then it may be time to bring in a psychotherapist to help.

Understanding the Enneagram is useful in therapy for many reasons. First, it validates why it is that you seem to have gotten into whatever difficulties you have. It is comforting to know you are not alone, and that others who share your point probably have similar issues. Second, once you understand that there are nine equally valid points, and therefore perspectives on life as well, you can free yourself from the frustration of expecting others with different points to be like you. Third, the Enneagram provides a pathway to growth and healing that is based on the simple concept of observing yourself.

As a psychotherapist, I appreciate the Enneagram as a tool to help my patients approach the tricky territory of gradually encountering and understanding their resistances to what is repressed in the unconscious. The Enneagram provides a gentle, respectful, and comprehensive guide to exploring what may at first feel overwhelming or unbearable. If you are in therapy or thinking about getting some, I highly recommend taking a look at The Enneagram Made Easy by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagale (Harper Collins Publishers, 1994).

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Calls regarding appointments are welcome at my private voicemail: 650-325-2576.

Carol L. Campbell, MFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist providing psychotherapy and psychoanalysis for individual adults and couples in Palo Alto, California. She has degrees from Brown University and Santa Clara University and has been licensed since 1991. Carol is a graduate of the Palo Alto Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Training Program sponsored at Stanford by the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis and was a candidate at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California in San Francisco from 2010-2011. She is also a clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and the Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology.

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