When I first learned about the Enneagram over 25 years ago, I began my study with forays into magazine articles and then a few workshops. At the time my psychotherapy practice was well established, and it was natural to wonder about my clients’ Enneagram types. When they would tell their stories using phrases right out of my Enneagram books, I was thrilled. Clearly the Enneagram was describing something real. It would take another ten years before I would integrate Object Relations and the Enneagram.
In 1991, my friend Anita and I drove to the Pennsylvania retreat center known as Kirkridge for a workshop with Don Riso and Russ Hudson. This was shortly after Understanding the Enneagram had been published, following on the heels of Don’s first book, Personality Types. We were an intimate group of nine for that weekend event and, while Don was not well, the teaching was compelling. I wanted more. A few months later I returned to Kirkridge for a week long training, then later another, until in 1994 The Enneagram Institute certified me.
Meeting Don Riso and Russ Hudson
Don and Russ were inspiring teachers and, as I worked with psychotherapy clients applying what I understood about personality patterns, the Enneagram principles were reinforced. My covert attempts at typing were sometimes insightful and sometimes dismally off track, but I persisted. I could identify the differences in worldview between one type pattern and another, and that gave me information on which to base questions and make suggestions for my clients. Once assessment tools were available, I was more confident about openly introducing the Enneagram in psychotherapy sessions. I would share book titles to invite interested clients to join me in exploring the ways their type patterns affected them and in identifying workable tools for personal change.
In the ensuing years, I taught the Enneagram system of personality as continuing education for psychologists, social workers, counselors, spiritual directors, and coaches. Don and Russ encouraged senior students to start offshoots of The Enneagram Institute in their home regions, so in 2000 I founded The Enneagram Institute of Central Ohio (EICO) (now The Enneagram Institute of Ohio). EICO offered a variety of workshops for professionals and Enneagram enthusiasts who wanted to learn more about themselves, their families, and friends.
Eventually, I developed a curriculum that became the core of a certification training program and began writing a book, Guiding the Inner Journey. While the book never materialized, the content served as the backbone for a variety of articles and teaching material. In 2003, on the advice of a friend with a marketing firm, I began an online monthly newsletter. The newsletter became a way for me to reach out to the community of Enneagram students around the country. At conferences of the International Enneagram Association, I was surprised when people thanked me for an article on a subject that was of special interest to them.
The Enneagram in Psychotherapy and Coaching
In my psychotherapy practice, more and more people began consulting with me not for psychotherapy, but as self-paying clients who wanted to use the Enneagram in dealing with relationships and work issues, and to free themselves from long-standing inner limitations. I appreciated that the Enneagram was a reliable guide for exploring personality depths and for supporting healthy interactions in various situations.
Colleagues in professional study groups that I facilitated were applying the same models with similar success and satisfaction, and I enjoyed the opportunities to creatively work with them. Together, we unveiled degrees of insight about the Enneagram as a map for understanding personality dynamics. A few Enneagram students invited me to their places of work to help their teams be more productive through self-awareness and a better understanding of one another.
In 2006 I made the decision to leave my psychotherapy practice and reorient my work toward business consulting and coaching. The chance to foster teamwork and leadership in organizations was exciting, and I envisioned being able to help leaders become more effective. However, my early work with a global consulting firm taught me that not everyone was ready for the Enneagram.
The Enneagram in Business
For many people in business, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was still the gold standard, followed by DISC and other similar tools. I saw that the MBTI had opened the door to addressing personality diversity in the workplace and that the Enneagram could take us further. Not everyone agreed. For some the Enneagram seemed too complicated, its roots not scientific enough or rooted enough in familiar research models. It was as if only inductive reasoning had a place in the development of knowledge. Nonetheless, I was hired by a variety of businesses whose executives had been introduced to the Enneagram and were open to exploring its applications within their organizations.
Leadership development based on self-awareness and team building became one of my core offerings. One corporation contracted with me to build an extensive Enneagram-based leadership training program for all its middle managers. Versions of that program continue to be offered today. Eventually I was generating my income primarily as an Enneagram professional. It was immensely satisfying to use a model that was valuable both to me and to the people with whom I worked.
Applying the Enneagram in business environments strengthened and expanded my capacity to feel the underpinnings of the model and apply the concepts to what people experienced. The essence of the types and the dynamics of how they interrelated revealed themselves to me and I grew more confident integrating the teachings with life experiences. My work with business allowed me to move toward integrating Object Relations and the Enneagram.
The Deep Coaching Institute
Later, at a conference of the International Enneagram Association, a mutual friend introduced me to Roxanne Howe-Murphy. Roxanne and I had a lot in common, with our birthdays a few days apart and our mutual affinity for time spent in Santa Fe. More importantly, we discovered that we both wrote about the Enneagram and offered certification training for coaches, therapists and spiritual directors.
My course “How to Use the Enneagram in Coaching and Counseling” was a popular continuing education workshop and Roxanne’s book, Deep Coaching: Using the Enneagram as a Catalyst for Profound Change, based on her experience using the Enneagram in coaching, had recently been published. In 2008, Roxanne invited me to collaborate in offering a retreat for coaches who were learning the Enneagram and who wanted practice applying it in their work with clients.
Our first workshop together was exciting and inspiring. Roxanne and I both wanted to use what we had learned from our Enneagram training and years of professional experience to help coaches work creatively and deeply with their clients. We agreed it was important for coaches, and other professionals, to be involved in their own development. Practicing the Deep Coaching and Enneagram principles would help them more effectively guide others.
In 2009, Roxanne founded The Deep Coaching Institute (DCI), now an accredited school with both the International Coach Federation and the International Enneagram Association. DCI offers an Enneagram-based curriculum along with a methodology which helps coaches foster presence in themselves and in their clients. Eventually, along with Roxanne and two others, Diana Redmond and Ipek Serifsoy, I became partner and senior faculty member at DCI.
Sandra Maitri and the Diamond Approach: Object Relations and the Enneagram
As all this evolved, an announcement arrived regarding an International Retreat Group that Sandra Maitri planned to start, based on the Enneagram and the Diamond Approach. Sandra’s first book, The Spiritual Dimensions of the Enneagram: Nine Faces of the Soul, was so valuable that I used it as the primary resource book for several professional study groups. Sandra’s writing took me on a deeper dive into the Enneagram, to a place of profound insights. I learned even more about how to use this compelling map of human personality on the journey to realization of soul consciousness. I jumped at the chance to be involved in her group.
The International Retreat Group, or IRG as we call it, opened a window on Claudio Naranjo’s version of the Enneagram as he had learned it from his teacher, Oscar Ichazo. Sandra was a student of Naranjo’s in the early 1970‘s and a member of his group known as Seekers After Truth (SAT), part of the Seekers After Truth Institute. Another member of the group was Hameed Ali, who writes under the name A.H. Almaas and founded the Diamond Approach to Inner Realization.
Sandra is senior faculty teaching the Diamond Approach at the Ridhwan School and describes the Diamond Approach in this way: “Picking up in many ways where that first SAT group left off, Almaas developed a profound and revolutionary way of engaging the ego or personality structure such that it could be used to reconnect with Being or True Nature. Rather than adhering to the traditional spiritual perspective of the ego as an enemy to be transcended or overcome, Almaas showed that it was possible to move through it. He saw that by experientially contacting its contents and questioning the underlying assumptions behind them, they naturally dissolved, revealing deeper levels of reality.”
These methods are not unlike the Enneagram work of exploring personality structures as a way of releasing their unconscious hold on us. Sandra integrated the two approaches — the Enneagram as she learned it from Naranjo, and the Diamond Approach. That combination was life changing for me. Having been a student of the Enneagram for many years, I recognized my type fixations, but I did not have the tools, the teachers, or the community to challenge assumptions that felt core to my sense of self. The Diamond Approach gave me a perspective on Object Relations and the Enneagram helped me challenge those assumptions.
Integrating Object Relations and the Enneagram
The Diamond Approach gives considerable attention to Object Relations. When Don Riso and Russ Hudson became students of the Diamond Approach, they introduced their own integration of Object Relations theory and the Enneagram of Personality to the teachings of The Enneagram Institute. The study of Object Relations gave me another way to see both the underlying structures that give rise to personality and the typical behaviors associated with each Enneagram type. The key elements are Dominant Affects and Primary Objects.
Knowing which Dominant Affect was likely to be emphasized within each type structure, I could feel into the nuances with my clients. For instance, if a person’s type tendency was toward Frustration as the Dominant Affect, then I could find the thread of frustration as they reported on their current challenges and tug at it gently. That meant to inquire into an underlying belief that obstacles would always thwart them in their attempts to satisfy their desires. The experience of obstacles might have been real but the assumption that they were being intentionally thwarted had become a compulsive pattern.
Similarly, by understanding which Primary Object was likely to be activated, we could uncover the perceived “villain” of their current situation. If the fundamental Object Relation pattern underlying the type structure was, for instance, the nurturing or mothering figure, then it was likely that people who were expected to be in nurturing roles in the person’s life would be the focus of important issues or even conflicts. This was more than an intervention technique. It enabled deep understanding of where blockages existed so we could, in a precise manner, deal with them directly. Dominant Affects and Primary Objects became landmarks that could help us find our way.
As I experimented with how to identify Object Relations patterns in my own life, allowing them to emerge into conscious awareness, I was less attached to dysfunctional patterns in my relationships and learned how to feel into my own complex dynamics. It became clear that we are not prisoners of our early childhood development. It is possible to free ourselves from the personality traits that have their roots in early interaction with significant others. We can live more authentically, as the people we are designed to be.