USING THE ENNEAGRAM WITH THE MBTI®
Pat Wyman, M.Ed., L.P.C., is a psychotherapist with more than 15 years experience of using a model integrating the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and the Enneagram with clients She holds a Master’s Degree in Education & Counseling; is trained in imaging, hypnotherapy, and Neuro-Linguistic Programming; and is a Certified user of the MBTI® instrument. She has presented at conferences of the International Enneagram Association and APT International, and has been published in the Enneagram Monthly, the Journal of Psychological Type and the Bulletin of Psychological Type. Her book Three Keys to Self-Understanding was published by CAPT in 2001. Website: Pat Wyman Three Keys to Self-Understanding
I began using both the MBTI® and the Enneagram from the beginning of my work as a therapist more than 15 years ago. My first efforts as a therapist included collecting client information for a group of eight therapists, all of whom utilized deep emotional healing work (non-cognitive therapy). The intake process I designed consisted of the MBTI®, the Enneagram (identified through discussion as recommended by Helen Palmer) and a lengthy case history. I would then assign the clients to a therapist, myself included. I intuitively knew that both the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and the Enneagram were important. I just didn’t know why.
After a short time, I noticed a pattern. People entered therapy operating almost exclusively out of their Enneagram type. Following four or five months of hard work, there was a discernable shift. By the end of a year, most were leaving therapy and operating out of their Myers-Briggs® type. They made significant career, relationship and lifestyle changes that were in line with their MBTI® type. They were happier, peaceful and hopeful for the future. It was obvious to me that the MBTI® profiled their True Self just as Isabel Myers had said. The Enneagram took over when they were under stress. In most cases, that was very early in life and continued into adulthood.
Therefore, I began using this perspective as a model for the therapy that I offered my clients and my colleagues did the same. We found that it worked every time. It never missed. I conducted this intake process with about 350 people in the three years I worked in that capacity and the results were consistent: The MBTI® was a snapshot of the True Self; the Enneagram was a description of the defense system. Over the ensuing years, I have used this approach with literally thousands. A few people have told me that understanding their two types and roles of the two systems was a transforming experience which explained so much of what had heretofore defined their lives.
The easiest way to explain how these two systems work is to use a computer as an analogy. Think of the computer screen as your body. At the bottom, on the task bar, there are two programs ready to be activated. One is your MBTI® type and the other your Enneagram type. If you wake up in a good space in the morning and your MBTI® program is up and active on the screen, you will make good rational decisions for yourself. The way you look at the world and its inhabitants will be consistent with your MBTI® type. Then, someone may come along and “push a button” on you which is equal to putting the cursor on your Enneagram type and clicking the mouse. The MBTI® part of personality is stored on the task bar and the Enneagram takes over the screen. Because these two systems are located in different parts of your psyche, it is not possible to be in both systems at one time. It is either one or the other. The MBTI® part can evaluate information and make rational decisions – left brain work. The Enneagram defense is not conscious and not located in rational thinking. When people operate out of their Enneagram type, you will often hear questions such as “what were you thinking?” The answer is there was no “thinking” going on.
Those locked into the MBTI® will tell me that these people have moved into shadow or “the grip”. This approach seems to work with some people. But many people, myself included, will tell you that they cannot relate to that explanation. As an INFJ, I know what I look like under stress and it is not ESTP. Marilyn Parente, who is the current President of the APTi e-chapter, has written of her experience both in TypeLines and the APTi Bulletin of Psychological Type. As an ENFJ, Marilyn could not relate to exhibiting ISTP under stress. But when she saw the Enneagram One, she had a huge epiphany. It completely described her under stress. So the choice is in looking at an explanation that works some of the time or one that works every time.
The grip explanation works some of the time because some people’s Enneagram type happens to look something like their type opposite. Let us look at ENFP, for instance. When an ENFP is not stressed and feeling grounded, the ENFP reminds me of a puppy dog in a field: so much to explore, so much fun to be had, so little time! If that ENFP happens to have an Enneagram One defense (Box 1), when under stress, it will look as if that person is exhibiting ISTJ characteristics because One and ISTJ look so much alike. However, if another ENFP is defended as an Enneagram Seven (Box 2), you will not see any ISTJ characteristics. It will be very hard to tell from the outside that there has been any change in the person at all because ENFP and Seven look so similar. Without knowing the Enneagram defense, the ENFP-1 will easily accept “the grip” theory. The ENFP-7 will not be able to relate to it at all. However, it is important to remember that, although the ENFP and Seven may look alike on the outside, they are coming from a completely different part of personality. The ENFP can make rational choices; the Seven cannot.
The ENFP-1 feels a great deal of internal conflict, often describing it as having a split personality or two people living in one body. They generally begin to show autoimmune diseases as they move into middle age. The good news for them is that it is easy to tell when they have moved from the True Self into defense because the change is so marked. It can act as a major red flag. In addition, because they can experience two viewpoints depending on which system is in charge, they can understand people coming from opposite perspectives. The ENFP part can understand people who are optimistic; the One can understand people who find fault and criticize.
The ENFP-7 does not feel internal conflict but these people have their own set of problems. It is a bit harder for them to distinguish when they shift from one operating system to another but they can learn with just a little help. Also, since they have so many of the same traits in both parts of personality, it is hard for them to understand someone seeing the world differently because they have no internal reference for another viewpoint. For instance, both the ENFP and the Seven are enthusiastic and optimistic. It would be hard for an ENFP-7 to understand someone with a flat affect who is pessimistic.
Look at the two diagrams to get an overview of how these two personality combinations, ENFP-1 and ENFP-7, operate.
In a therapy session, I can move a person from one operating system to another and show that person that it is possible to control which system is in charge. Even in a non-therapy setting such as a workshop, people can easily feel the shift from MBTI® control to Enneagram control in an experiential exercise.
Because the MBTI® has all the proper credentials, there is reluctance in MBTI® circles to consider the Enneagram because of its lack of vigorous scientific testing. I am a pragmatist. If it works, let’s use it. Use of both systems takes nothing away from either. I continue to ask the MBTI® community to be open to the additional information the Enneagram can offer.
Palmer, Helen (1988). The Enneagram, San Francisco: HarperCollins.
Parente, Marilyn B (2006) Personal Reflections on the Roles of the MBTI® and the Enneagram. APT Bulletin of Psychological Type, 29(2): 33.
Myers, I.B. & McCaulley, M.H. (1985). Manual: guide to the development and use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press Inc.
Wyman, Pat (2001) Three Keys to Self-Understanding: An Innovative and Effective Combination of the MBTI, the Enneagram and Inner-Child Healing, Gainesville, FL: Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT).
(Note: to undertake an on-line course with Pat on the relationship between the MBTI® and the Enneagram via APT International, contact APTi on 0-01-301-634-7450 or email: Danielle.firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2007 – Pat Wyman, 15620 Manchester Rd, Suite 1, Ellisville, MO 63011, USA.