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Q&A: The Enneagram, Personality and Cultural Competency

August 02, 2019

Dale Rhodes, MS, MA is a mentor, trainer, consultant, and founder of Enneagram Portland. He will be offering Understanding Personality for Clinical Professionals: The Enneagram’s 9 Points of View, coming up on September 6-7, hosted by the Center for Community Engagement. This two-part workshop will provide an overview and in-depth study of the dynamic system of nine personality types known as the Enneagram, and how it can be harnessed as an effective resource for both personal and professional applications. We chatted with Dale to learn about how he got started in this work, how the Enneagram relates to cultural competency, and what to expect from his upcoming training.

Let’s start with how you discovered the teaching of the Enneagram. 

I was introduced to the system when I was in a small group studying world spiritual traditions and psychology. One of the members gave me psychologist Helen Palmer’s, The Enneagram, written for clinicians, and I was charged up immediately! I have always been interested in how people see the world differently and how understanding, communication, and relationships can happen successfully. From education in gender studies and human services, to spiritual traditions and ethics, I have always studied how people see the world, how their messages are created, and what happens to the message in the sender/receiver and why.

“Cultural competency requires you to validate that another person is having an experience that may be different than your own, and requires the values of curiosity and humility to engage and explore with others about their view of reality.”

And what value has it brought into your personally life?

My personal experience solidified that The Enneagram helps us understand ourselves and others comes from my parents.

I opened the trunk of my father’s car in Chicago after he died: Two air compressors, lock thaw, a battery recharger, 17 cans of fix-a-flat, blankets, and more. This shed light on my father being what the Enneagram presents as a Loyal Skeptic Type, those who have more attention to safety/security/doubt/loyalty. He raised us to be “prepared for danger” in many ways, i.e. learning home repair, safe driving, survival skills. He questioned if things were safe and secure until they were certain.

In contrast, I was also raised by a self-proclaimed Helper Connector Type. My mother’s attention did not go to safety/security/doubt/loyalty; but to connection/kindness/needs/relating. She taught us that kindness was the highest value, and we were regularly pointed towards opportunities to serve those less fortunate.

I can now understand the gifts and the challenges that come with being raised by two people very different than me. We are all doing our best from our own framework. Our job as providers is to support people expanding beyond and adding to that framework. Once I could understand my parents as people *naturally* motivated by two very different values, I better understood my childhood. I’m not joking when I say that I now understand why someone gives you an air-compressor for your birthday (they want to know you are safe) and why someone else sends you a Hallmark Card when it’s not your birthday (they want you both to feel connected).

How do you see knowledge of the Enneagram fitting in with cultural competency? 

I’m a gay man from Chicago who was raised within a diverse family. I’ve had plenty of experience knowing that my inner experience (and my family’s experience) was not being matched by the dominant outer system. It led me to pursue undergraduate education in Women’s Studies, Interpersonal Communication and graduate degrees in Human Services and diversity amongst Spiritual Traditions. Cultural competency requires you to validate that another person is having an experience that may be different than your own, and requires the values of curiosity and humility to engage and explore with others about their view of reality. How do you experience this? What are your primary values in this situation? What factors contribute to your feeling open, receptive and connected? What factors contribute to your feeling triggered and defended?

The Enneagram at it’s core provides a framework for understanding one’s own reality and the realities of others, and validates the truth in all of those perspectives. There are Enneagram teachers all over the world, so the types relate to a universal human experience. What I also find helpful in regards to cultural competency is the consideration that countries/cities/organizations/families take on a type-related style/culture; meaning that certain values are espoused/endorsed and others are thwarted/denied. Not everyone in the U.S. is a Type Three Performer, but we certainly live in a culture that promotes the high and low sides of that type (dubbed “The Marketing Personality”) – working hard to succeed, marketing a successful self-image, avoiding failure, etc. This is very different than Hispanic cultures, which may put Type Nine Mediator values (family/community/consensus/harmony) before individual identity. The Enneagram helps you become culturally competent in understanding that we all *lead* with different core values (i.e. order, connection, safety, beauty, privacy, harmony, etc.), but we can negotiate together which values are important to the situation at hand.

What can participants in your upcoming workshop expect to take away?

From past evaluations over the years, I can say with confidence that participants always have a fun and interactive day that teaches them who they really are (not who they think they are), what are themes amongst the nine types of clients, and what unique strategies produce positive growth and change. This year’s second day will allow more discussion on counselor preferences and counter-transference issues as well. Participants say they appreciate the interactive experiences amongst participants and have many insights about why they are at ease with certain client content and why they may feel blank or uncomfortable with other client content.

The Enneagram provides a context (a map, really) to understand what styles of relating and what interventions will land with certain clients, because it shows a framework for the client’s motivation, ethics, worldview, ways of relating, areas of avoidance, and basic defense mechanisms. The material helps therapists adjust, engage and stay on track with each of their clients as individuals, as well as a practical and easy-to-understand framework to be shared as a tool for the clients themselves.

Understanding The Nine Points of View is life- and work- changing! I have yet to find a better tool to help us understand ourselves for who we really are, to understand others as they are to themselves, and how to bridge the perceived gaps. Students and professionals who are considering if the system is worth learning can meet the nine types presenting themselves in short videos on my website:

View more information about Dale’s training, Understanding Personality for Clinical Professionals: The Enneagram’s 9 Points of View
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