3 Keys Model

In my book, Three Keys to Self-Understanding, I explain why I have used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, the Enneagram and Inner-Child (right brain) therapy exclusively in my therapy practice.  I find this combination to be unrivaled in consistently bringing about the changes that are desired in my clients.

Understanding the role of the MBTI® as defining the True Self goes a long way towards self-understanding and self-acceptance.  The Enneagram provides us a description of the defense system which takes over automatically and unconsciously when we are under stress.  More than a few people have told me that understanding their two types and the roles of the two systems was a transforming experience and 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 software 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 feel peaceful and 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. (Personality Diagrams illustrating the two systems)

For a small child, the Enneagram part of personality is vitally important.  Early childhood is, in a very real way, about survival.  A small child is unable to provide for himself/herself physically yet knows these needs must be met.  At the same time, the child is trying to figure out how to survive emotionally and physically.  The Enneagram part of personality is vital to the emotional survival of the child.  Without it, the child is “wide open” and vulnerable to every negative message, both real and imagined, spoken and implied.  This need for protection is a very basic, primal need.  In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, survival comes long before the loftier goals of self-actualization.  For the child, the MBTI® part of personality is of little help in the area of emotional survival.  The child is vulnerable and relatively defenseless and relies on the Enneagram Defense System for protection.

I maintain that no one gets out of childhood alive.  We are all programmed early in life, most likely even in utero.  A program consists of an (1) event or theme (an event can be a one-time thing such as divorce of parents; a theme is on-going such as a controlling parent); (2) an emotional response; (3) some conclusions we drew about ourselves, others, a higher power, the world in general; and (4) our Enneagram defense system’s response.  This program is stored in the subconscious.


It helps to have some rudimentary understanding of how the brain works.  Rational thinking is on the left side of the brain; programs are stored in the subconscious which is accessed from the right side of the brain.  About 90% of who we are is in our subconscious.  These are not my figures –  I believe even Freud and Jung used them – and they are conservative figures.  I have heard some people say it could be as much as 99% to 100%.   In the subconscious where the program is stored, there is no sense of time, only the eternal now.  Time is a construct that is stored in the left brain so the program has no way of knowing that 20, 30 or 70 years have passed.  It reacts the same way it reacted when originally installed in childhood.

So, in adulthood, the Enneagram part continues to perform its protective role.  However, now there is a mature cognitive part that is capable of taking charge.  Often, that realization has not reached the “operating system” which still allows the Enneagram part of personality to be in charge, even when it would be more effective to utilize cognitive abilities.  There is a large part of personality that has not gained awareness that we have a car, a job, money and a credit card as well as two legs to carry us out of any situation.  We often continue to operate as if we are the child, powerless, with only our Enneagram defense to protect us.  It stands to reason that we would want to restore control of the operating system to rational thinking.  It is not optimum to have a non-rational defense system making life-changing decisions.  The Enneagtram defense system does not have a brain.  Its role is simply to defend.

Because the right brain cannot comprehend spoken language, we have to access it via symbols.  It is something like dream interpretation.  Dreams are a way for the subconscious to communicate using symbols.  In Inner Child work, or affective therapy, we use symbols as well.  If we stick with talk as in traditional “talk therapy,” we are simply talking to the rational side of the brain that is smart enough to figure it out without help.  Because the rational side is not always in charge, that doesn’t work.  Therefore, if we want to access and communicate with the subconscious regarding the contents of a program, we need to establish a symbol for that program.  For example, suppose a person’s parents divorced when this person was age five.  At that time, there were feelings such as sadness, abandonment, powerlessness and more.  Some conclusions may be drawn such as “people who say they love you, leave you”, “I’m not loveable”, “I don’t matter” and more.  To save the vulnerable five year old from emotional annihilation, the Enneagram defense jumps in to provide emotional protection.  All this information is stored together as a program.  In order to work with the information in this program, we establish a symbol of an unhappy five year old to represent the program around the divorce.


When we are “triggered” or a “button” is pushed, this subconscious program is activated.  When that happens, the program completely runs our lives.  We will think and respond exactly as we did when the program was installed.  Keep in mind that the program is stored in a non-rational, subconscious, language-less part of the brain.  Only one side of the brain can be in charge at a time.  Either we are being rational and grounded in the left brain when making decisions or we are triggered and the subconscious program is in charge.  By increasing communication between the two sides of the brain, we can bring new information to the subconscious using symbolism.  In doing so, we can restore control to the rational mental functions of the MBTI® part of personality.

What pushes someone over the edge and into the arms of a non-rational program and defense system?  It can be just about anything.  Another person or situation can activate the program or it can be as simple as a thought.  In the above early childhood divorce example, the breakup of a relationship would easily trigger the old parental divorce program leaving this person to feel abandoned and unlovable.  When the program is kicked into action, it causes us to think and respond as we did in childhood because the right side of the brain has no sense of time having passed.  The challenge becomes that of wresting control away from the non-rational, subconscious defense and back into the charge of rational cognition.  The purpose of affective therapy, then, is not to eradicate or retire the Enneagram part of personality.  Rather, it is to shift the balance of power now that there is a competent adult present.  After emotional healing has taken place, both client and therapist see the Enneagram relax its watch and more control is relinquished to cognition and the Core Self.  Decisions are then made according to the values of that person’s MBTI® type.

In a therapy session, we 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 through an experiential exercise.

As a therapist, I feel that when I know a client’s MBTI® type, Enneagram type and history, I know about 95% of who my client is.  Working with these Three Keys is not only more effective than conventional talk therapy, but expedites progress making it far more efficient and cost effective.

[For more resources on the MBTI®go to the Center for Applications of Psychological Type’s (CAPT)Online Public Access Catalog at http://capt.booksys.net/opac/ibml/index.html#menuHome]