Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Enneagram ...

One of the most important elements in both preventing and treating compassion fatigue, (the combined impact of personal trauma, burnout  and hearing the trauma stories of others), is self care, and self care flows from self knowledge. The Enneagram is one of the best sources of self knowledge that I have come across in 18 years as a therapist and mental health educator.

I first heard of the Enneagram, a dynamic system of nine distinct personality types, when my husband spoke about it after attending a retreat in Washington State in the 1980's.  At the time I was writing my Masters thesis and had little energy to spare for trying to understand what it meant when he said that he was a "four".  It wasn't until years later, when my grief counsellor suggested that I do some reading to determine my own personality type, that I began to understand his enthusiasm.  I was so impressed with the Enneagram's accuracy, depth and complexity, and its compatibility with current psychological theories, that I enrolled in the Basic and Advanced Enneagram Professional Training Programs offered by Stanford University psychiatry professor, Dr. David Daniels, and psychologist, Helen Palmer, through Enneagram Worldwide.

The Enneagram, (pronounced ANY-a-gram and meaning a nine pointed picture), describes nine different patterns of thinking, feeling and acting.  It explains why we behave the way we do and points to pathways for individual growth.  People of the same type have the same basic motivations and view the world in similar ways.  They also use similar coping strategies.  By working with the Enneagram, we develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and others and learn to break free from our own outdated coping styles. 

Some people object to the idea of being "put in a box" by a personality typing system, but in fact, the Enneagram releases people from the box of their unexamined personalities.

Choosing your type is an evolving process but a good place to start is with a small book by Dr, David Daniels called The Essential Enneagram.  In this book you will find the Essential Enneagram Test, the only scientifically validated instrument for determining your type. 

If you have trouble discovering which of the nine types fits you best, try reading other Enneagram writers including Helen Palmer, Don Riso & Russ Hudson, and Elizabeth Wagele. Sometimes hearing a different author's "voice" can help you to decide.  ( Reading Richard Rohr's description of counterphobic sixes finally helped me to choose between "one" and "six" for myself).

It can be helpful to remember that, because the Enneagram indicates our shadow side as well as our strengths, we may not want to acknowledge our true type.  In fact, people often find that their true type is the one that they least want to be!

Whatever your type, once you have discovered it, it can make a great difference to your relationship with yourself and with others.  It will help you to understand why you "overreact" to certain situations and people, and it will show you how to reduce your reactivity, an  important skill for those involved in the care of others.   


1 comment:

Contributing Author said...

I remember taking an enneagram test a few years back and being impressed by its accuracy. At the time I was going through a pretty rough period, which is what prompted the testing, and I recall that it actually did give me a little solace to know what motivating factors were involved. Obviously it's not a magic bullet, but it does offer some valuable insight. In regards to "compassion fatigue" I think it would probably be worthwhile to incorporate this test (or at least something similar) into most home care training. Educating caregivers about how to care for themselves would be a huge benefit to everyone involved.