How I Use the Enneagram in Therapy

The Enneagram is all the rage.

I have been studying the enneagram for a few years now and it has helped me understand myself and others better and significantly improve my relationships with people! Thanks to the enneagram, I communicate better in my marriage, understand my parents’ and in-laws’ motivations more, and relate better to friends when I know their type. I also use the enneagram in therapy practice!

If you’re reading this, you probably have a fundamental understanding of the Enneagram and likely know your type. If not, head over to Your Enneagram Coach for a free quiz to identify your type–it’s my favorite!

While the enneagram is not a scientific research-based personality test, it can be immensely helpful to incorporate into therapy as well. If you are currently receiving mental health therapy or are thinking about how the enneagram might help you in therapy, here is how I use the enneagram as a licensed psychologist.


Common Therapy Concerns

“What brings you into therapy?” This is the standard opening question for most therapists and counselors. While the enneagram is not one-size-fits-all, there are some distinct patterns for each enneagram type.

Based on my experience as a therapist and my knowledge of the enneagram, here are some common concerns and problems by enneagram type:

  • Type 1–stress and anxiety, anger, burn-out, perfectionism, judgments, negative self-talk. Some of my Type 1 clients are constantly frustrated and resentful because they or others don’t meet their high expectations.
  • Type 2–exhaustion due to constantly giving, poor boundaries, low assertiveness, feeling walked on, low self-confidence. Many Type 2 clients having trouble saying no and neglect their own self-care because they are too busy taking care of others.
  • Type 3–overachieving, workaholism, burn-out, low self-esteem, unsure of identity. Type 3 clients are more likely to feel like they “wear a mask” to impress or be admired by others, so they may not be sure who they really are.
  • Type 4–emotional intensity, depression, melancholy, impulsive, feeling overwhelmed and not good enough. My type 4 clients seem to be the most emotional and have trouble accessing their rational thinking,
  • Type 5–difficulty connecting with others, detached, low mood, lonely, easily stressed. Type 5s can come across aloof and therefore have trouble establishing the close relationships they desire.
  • Type 6–anxiety, fear, worst-case scenario thinking, indecision, lack of confidence, self-doubt. I’m a type 6 (listen to my podcast interview about being a type 6!), so I can relate to a lot of the concerns of my type 6 clients.
  • Type 7–difficulty setting and following through with goals, impulsive, discomfort with emotions, lack of focus. I see very few type 7 clients in therapy, perhaps because they tend to avoid dealing with negative emotions.
  • Type 8–being insensitive and aggressive, low patience, needing to be in control, all-or-nothing thinking. My type 8 clients struggle with fears of being taken advantage of and are very sef-protective and guarded.
  • Type 9–unsure of their thoughts and beliefs, lack of direction toward future goals, difficulty naming emotions, avoiding conflict. I love type 9s (my husband is a 9!), and they often benefit from help in therapy to confront rather than “fall asleep” to their issues.

Using the Enneagram in Therapy

If you are currently in therapy or looking for a therapist, consider telling your therapist your enneagram type. If your therapist is knowledgeable about the enneagram, you may want to discuss traits you relate to in your type and traits you don’t.

As a therapist, I sometimes help my clients identify their enneagram type or distinguish between two types. Then, we usually discuss the problem areas of their type and how my clients see those problems play out in their work, relationships, and identity. This can help us set goals in therapy and understand their motivations and core beliefs.

It is also helpful to refer back to their type when I notice them acting in type-congruent ways; for example, “Is that your inner critic saying this?” (type 1), “Are you taking on what’s not yours to take on?” (type 2), “What are you trying to avoid by relaxing and zoning out? (type 9). We can also capitalize on their type’s strength–the courage of the 6, the creativity of the 4, or the drive of the 3.

You may also want to ask your therapist their type, but be aware that some therapist may not feel comfortable sharing that since we are taught to avoid talking about ourselves. Truly any enneagram type can be a phenomenal therapist, so don’t feel like you have to select a certain type or you can’t work with another type. What matters most is that your therapist strives to understand you and your type and can help you name your strengths as well as troubleshoot your problem areas.

Tell me, if you are in therapy or are a therapist, how do you use the enneagram in therapy? How could it be helpful to know your enneagram type and incorporate discussions of your type in therapy?

Join me next week where I’ll share a blog post on my recommendations for enneagram devotionals, books, and resources!


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