Nine gateways to contact

As well as my love for facilitating group work, one of my motivations for setting up and running a personal and professional development group for therapists was to deepen my exploration into the enneagram. I have been using this mapping of the “all what it is to be human”…self, soul, spirit… in my personal life for over a decade. Over time, its clarity and precision in describing the different ways we tend to pay attention has made the bringing of it into my psychotherapeutic work inevitable. Furthermore, because it speaks to the totality of our being, it dovetails seamlessly with my humanistic and buddhistic lenses.

We (myself and nine others) are 5 weeks into the first, 8 week long term. It has been a real delight introducing the system to my fellow therapists. I knew it would be energising (for me) and revealing (to them): but the level of group experiencing and depth of enquiry has exceeded any expectation. I have always been clear in my own mind that this was not a course where I would be “teaching”, and I conveyed to the group from the very start there was to be no curriculum. Through small group tasks, reflection exercises, and whole group sharing, we are organically steering their own course. I drop in some key points and terminology, and together we follow the smoke of the participants’ interests. This is to the credit of the group; and also to the enneagram system itself – far from a personality typology, the model is one that is dynamic and reveals process. With nine participants of varying Type and sub-type*, our dominant intelligences (across mind, heart, and body triads) are dictating the flow.

Just this past week, we were examining the two aspects of the mapping that perhaps hold the strongest appeal to us as therapists:

  • the character structure of each type (each enneatype has a passion and a fixation); and
  • the defence system (that keeps the character structure in place, namely the avoidance, idealisation, and defence mechanism) of each type.

After some deep self inquiry as to how these are experienced ourselves (the enneagram HAS to start with ourselves, it is NOT a tool to “use” on others), two participants presented client work to explore how character structure and defence get played out in the between of the therapist and client.

The beauty of doing this work in a group is seeing how each Type comes to life in the dialogue: to see the various talking styles in operation, and how each participant responds; I can see the types communicating in “their language’; I witness neighbouring types resonating where they meet in their “wing”; and I begin to ponder the allegiances and mis-attunements on the horizon***

The group could see some of these patterns in the co-created therapist-client relationship too: what the therapist was bringing in their Type process; and what the client was bringing in theirs. I believe the enneagram reveals and helps us tease out the kaleidoscope of relational process. In the most recent session, the group’s curiosity took us to discuss once we get a sense of a client’s type and subtype process, HOW do we feed this back into the relationship: and the possibility of applying the ideas from TA on “doors of therapy’.

Doors to therapy is an idea first presented by TA therapist Paul Ware in the early 80s, and expanded upon by Vann Joines and Ian Stewart in their text “Personality Adaptations”. Ware’s original intention was to “condense psychopathology and maladjustment into 6 classifications: hysterical, obsessive compulsive, schizoid, antisocial, passive aggressive, and paranoid”. At this time, the ‘DSM’ (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) was in its third edition, a context worth mentioning given the particular neuroses’ he was aiming to systematise. Ware also wanted to provide therapists with a workable method for navigating such territory with clients: and so he presented the “3 doors”

  • Open door: preferred domain of initial contact (the area of most energy investment)
  • Trap door: area of greatest defences and likely to cause stuckness if addressed too early; also the area that will see greatest change through therapy
  • Target door: once having established good contact at open door, a willingness to move to this second; the area needed to be integrated in order for change in therapy

What is striking to me is the way we might ‘walk’ through these doors (thinking, feeling, behaviour) overlap with the enneagram’s three centres of intelligence (mind triad, heart triad, body triad). For example, as someone who identifies with enneatype Six process, I have a very adept “thinking” function – and any therapist meeting me would appreciate this is my “open door”, the one where I can be met. My journey in therapy has certainly been one toward “feeling”, one might say it was my “target door”. Now, if a therapist working with me had focused too much on my behaviour (my tendency to plan, structure everything, be efficient), we might have got stuck here. As per the theory above though, this IS one area that has unlocked and released in me due to the healing path.

I believe Enneagram protagonist and therapeutic hero of mine – Claudio Naranjo – holds the golden key in bringing these models together. In his rich (yet admittedly not the most accessible) text “Character Neurosis”, Naranjo takes us on a tour of the enneatypes and their likely linkage to (again, the then current third edition of) the DSM. First off, Naranjo points to the three fundamental intelligences of the enneagram matching with the grouping of syndromes in the DSM III:

  • Schizoid group – with orientation to thinking (5,6,7)
  • Hysteroid group – with orientation to feeling (2,3,4)
  • Body (epileptoid***) group – orientated to action (8.9,1)

He then goes on to compare / contrast the “circumplex structure” of disorders in the DSM with the circularity of the enneagram symbol. Naranjo explains “It has been an aspiration of modem psychology to organize the known characterological syndromes in what has been called a circumplex model. This is a circular continuum with adjoining characters being most similar to each other, while oppositions along the circle correspond to bipolarities”.

While the enneagram emphasizes tripolarity with the 3 intelligences, Naranjo was able to align the Nine types with DSM III presentations; his proposal being (with an associated caricature):

  1. the obsessive personality (struggling mountain climber)
  2. the histrionic (clownish figure)
  3. the hysteric; not in the DSM III, but consider a ‘marketing orientation’ and focus on status (medical doctor)
  4. the self-defeating character; removed in the revised DSM III (the masochistic sufferer)
  5. the schizoid (the retentive loner)
  6. the paranoid avoidant (the warrior)
  7. the narcissistic (a head full of wires*****)
  8. the antisocial (the sadistic dictator)
  9. the dependent personality (the vacationer)

One of his students re-drew the characters: and you can get a sense of the energy of each Type displayed in it. And, it is the energy that is being conveyed in a dramatic way – we are in the territory of what is a “disorder” (DSM and the landscape of ‘mental health’ and pathology) and what is the everyday experiencing of “neurosis”, or patterns that trip us ALL up from time to time. As an enneatype Six, I know my process of paranoia – and my path of compassion in owning my worrier / warrior!

I have been mulling over the work of Naranjo and that of Ware (and, Joines & Stewart) to see how we might use the “doors of therapy” approach across the Nine enneatypes (or client presentations); the table below is a first draft…



DSM label

Personality adaptation moniker














Enthusiastic-Over reactor









































It is worth drawing attention to the nuance Naranjo draws between “hysteric” (Three process) and “histrionic” (Two process). Through a psychiatry lens, loss of control and function is a general feature of the histrionic, but for the hysteric this only happens when in conflict with close persons: and why Type Three is therefore blank in the table. You’ll also note that Types Four and Seven have remaining blanks in the table too. For Joines and Stewart Narcissistic and borderline are seen as “different in kind” by; and can contain any of the characteristics of the six personality adaptations (e.g. borderline – will contain antisocial and passive-aggressive). As I say, the table above is merely a first draft of my ideas. I also want to underline several concerns / caveats:

  • Let us be mindful of holding any label lightly: to not confuse the map for the territory, the “adaptation” in personality for the person themself
  • The DSM is updated from time to time, and so this above table is predicated on a research base some years out of date. The current DSM V(2022) lists 10 categories divided in 3 clusters characterised by appearing “odd or eccentric” (Paranoid, Schizoid, Schizotypal), “Dramatic and erratic” (Antisocial Borderline Histrionic, Narcissistic), “anxious or fearful” (Avoidant, dependent, Obsessive-compulsive). This page has some helpful information.
  • An enneatype is not a diagnosis or sign of pathology, and rather points to our way of being human, or as Jung said, “the agony of a human soul in all its vast complexity!” We all show patterning that varies in severity: we might say “we have propensities”, and how deeply they impact our lives depends on how those propensities were activated by childhood environment.

What is of most importance and interest to me is how this psychotherapeutic theory might come alive in the room:

  • How do we engage the Type Two in a way that gets them to reflect on their own needs without shaming their actions?
  • How do we help the Type Nine “wake up” from their slumber and feel into their intuition?
  • How do we work with an Eight when what is most apparent is their behaviour perpetuating discord, and invite them to feel what is underneath driving it?

And for sure, in the coming days I want to reflect upon my therapeutic work with Threes, Fours, and Sevens to consider what has worked (and not) across those three doors of contact…and start filling in some gaps in that table!!

Certainly for me, I can think of Four and Seven clients where examining my own embodied, counter-transferential response has been crucial in keeping the work held, contained, and buoyant. The “somatic” is very much another facet of the trajectory of my enneagram working. During the pandemic years, the move to an online life enabled my study of the somatic enneagram with US based teacher Marion Gilbert. With my background in “the body” as a physiologist, and my more recent phenomenological investigations as a meditator, it is perhaps no wonder I would take my enneagram curiosity into this realm too. I found Marion’s ideas (which incorporate neuroscience, somatic experiencing, polyvagal and more) fascinating, AND revelatory on a person level…and I believe the somatic enneagram can really help therapists understand both the blocks-to- and the ways-back-to– wholeness.

I hope to dedicate much of term two of the enneagram group to this very theme. The second term starts April 16th. Do contact me if you are interested in joining us!


* 3 Nines, 3 Fours, 1 Two, 1 Five, 1 Six (plus me, another Six), Not all the group are sure about sub-type yet, but the 4 of us who identify as ‘self-preservation’ perhaps unsurprisingly know!!!

** Of course I would, with Six process my dominant, I look ahead with my radar and aim to predict where uncertainty exists.

*** a term sometimes used to link ‘organic’ issues with psychopathology

**** I happen to prefer the figure of Peter Pan to represent the fantasy thinking

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