When some Christians see the 9-point diagram that describes the Enneagram personality typing system, they feel suspicious that they are looking at a demonic or anarchical symbol. You can definitely find articles on the internet that describe it that way. You will also hear some Christians warn that the Enneagram teaches something different from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that we should reject it as a false teaching. I understand the concerns, but I don’t agree with them. The Enneagram has been a helpful tool in personal growth, relationships, and even counseling. That’s why I’m starting this series on Christians, therapy, and the Enneagram.
If you’re around the Christian pop-(sub)culture at all, reading blogs or listening to podcasts, you’ve probably heard of the Enneagram. It’s gained a lot of popularity in the past decade or so. Many Christian podcast hosts know their personality type and will ask their guests, as well. But if you haven’t heard of it, or you’re skeptical, let me give you a little background.
But first, let me be clear. The Enneagram is not religion. It cannot be substituted for knowledge of the Bible, a relationship with Jesus, or the saving grace of the Gospel. Let’s get that straight first. You need Jesus. Your clients need Jesus. The Enneagram has been a helpful tool for me to understand myself, develop compassion for others, and learn how to point us to the work of Jesus on the cross. If you are reading anything that leads you away from seeking Christ alone, put it down and find a resource that helps you see Jesus more clearly. Now, with that caveat, proceed…
The Enneagram is described as an ancient personality typing system, although I’ve found conflicting information about whether it’s really ancient or not. You can find its use in many different cultures and faith backgrounds (another reason that Christians are skeptical). The name comes from Greek: enne, meaning nine, and gram, meaning writing. The name literally describes the fact that there are nine points to see.
Each of the nine points on the diagram signify a different personality type. It won’t be useful for me to repeat what experts have described, so I’ll refer you to The Enneagram Institute descriptions if you would like to know more about each type. The types all portray distinct ways of being in the world and relating to people and information. They tell us about what hurts the most and what we’re most longing for.
How to Find Out
Experts like Suzanne Stabile and Helen Palmer have said that taking a test to determine your personality type is not the most accurate way to find out. They suggest reading descriptions and listening to anecdotes of other people who know their types, and finding the one that resonates the most with you. However, as we’re getting started, an online test can be a good way to start narrowing it down. The Enneagram Institute has a thorough test that costs around $12.00 to score. You can find other free tests on the internet. If the results of your test don’t seem quite right, keep reading descriptions until you find the one that really seems to fit.
Many people do not like the number that comes up first when they take a test. They read the results and immediately feel resistant. This usually happens because there is a part of themselves that they do not like and appreciate that was highlighted in the description. It’s ok to disagree and still to grow in those places. Later in the journey, you will learn about your type in growth and in stress, and see different levels of health for each type.
Some people have difficulty understanding the wings. Wings refer to the numbers on either side of your number on the diagram. For example, a Type 3 may have a 2-wing or a 4-wing. A Type 1 may have a 9-wing or a 2-wing. Most people lean more heavily to one of the wings than the other. This simply means that they display more characteristics of that neighboring type than the other one. But everyone can draw on the strengths of either side if they need to.
Let me give you an example: I am a Type 3, otherwise known as the Achiever, or the Performer. That is my dominant personality type. I have a 2-wing, and 2’s are the Giver or Caretaker. That means that although my personality is often directed towards achievement and success, I also am drawn towards caring for people and meeting emotional and physical needs. On the other hand, once in a while a 4-wing surfaces, which I see in my drive towards uniqueness and creativity (Type 4 is artistic, emotional, and one-of-a-kind).
There are also arrows that point across the diagram to describe what happens to a type during growth or stress. That might be a little too much to explain right now, and there are excellent resources out there to help.
The reason I don’t listen to those nay-sayers who believe the Enneagram is from the devil is because I do listen to Christian authors and coaches who are using the Enneagram with a gospel lens. Authors like Ian Morgan Cron, Richard Rohr, and Suzanne Stabile are also ministers who use the concepts of the Enneagram to help people in their Christian spiritual development. Coaches like Beth McCord and her pastor husband Jeff are doing wonderful work helping individuals and couples use the Enneagram to live out their God-given purposes. I’ll list their links at the end of this post.
In particular, I like the work that the McCords are doing with evangelical Christians like me, who long for others to understand the Gospel. It’s crucial that we get that grace-filled, Gospel-understanding deep into our souls if we want other people to get it, too. Using the Enneagram, they have shown how Jesus’ work on the cross speaks to each of us in our deepest parts. They also have an excellent course for couples showing how the Enneagram types interact and how the Gospel applies to situations we face in our marriages.
The Enneagram and Therapy
The Enneagram is not a recognized theory or technique in psychotherapy, so I would never trade my standard work as a therapist for Enneagram coaching within a session. However, knowing the Enneagram types of my clients has been really helpful in designing therapeutic interventions that hit the spot. And that is the reason that I will be creating the series to follow in the next few weeks on the blog. Knowing the strengths and hurts of each of the types helps me as a therapist. I’m going to share a bit of the knowledge and technique I use with each of the types in the following weeks.
Before we get there, check out some of these resources so you can be ready to go!
- The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile An excellent starting point and a quick read giving lots of fun stories about each of the types. It helps you understand the personal history that influences each personality type as well as areas for spiritual growth and development for each type.
- The Enneagram Institute Thorough type descriptions in a user-friendly format, as well as a low-cost test to help you find your type.
- www.suzannestabile.com Suzanne is known as the godmother of the Enneagram. She teaches workshops out of Texas and she has a podcast called The Enneagram Journey where she interviews experts as well as average people from each of the Enneagram types.
- www.ianmorgancron.com Ian is a pastor and author and host of the Typology podcast.
- www.yourenneagramcoach.com This is where you’ll find the work of Beth McCord, who trains people to use the Enneagram with a Gospel lens. My husband and I loved her “Becoming Us” course for married couples.
- The Enneagram in Love and Work by Helen Palmer. This book is not an easy or quick read, but I especially love the back section of the book, which serves as a directory for romantic and work relationships based on each type combination. I use this in couples’ therapy sometimes.
There are some great podcasts and Instagrammers that are helping Christians understand and apply the Enneagram concepts to strengthen relationships and deepen our understanding of the Gospel. Who else do you follow?
Do you have thoughts about the Enneagram? About Christians using the Enneagram? About the Enneagram in therapy? I’d love for you to join the conversation. Find me @soulgritresources on IG and FB, or send me an email!