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Thorough & Informative Coverage of the Enneagram
on June 24, 2003
Along with Don Riso & Russ Hudson's "Personality Types," Helen Palmer's "The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others In Your Life" has established itself as one of the definitive and most thorough texts available on this subject. I have been a student of the enneagram for a long time, and I frequently reach for this book as a reference.
The book is divided into two main parts. The first 70 or so pages are dedicated to an overview of the enneagram system, both from historical perspectives, as well as in terms of pratical application. The remainder (and majority) of the book's 400-odd pages provides a well organized wealth of information on each of the nine enneagram personality types. Because each of these nine chapters are laid out in a standard "template" format, expect some minor duplication from chapter to chapter.
UNlike most personality typing books, Helen Palmer's book does NOT include any kind of "quiz" to help readers determine their enneagram type. However, the descriptions of each type are so thorough that it isn't difficult to determine which one is the best fit.
The book is quite comprehensive, and goes well beyond merely examining the enneagram as a "personality type inventory," instead also covering the self-growth and life philosophy aspects of the system. Palmer goes into great depth in her decriptions of each of the Nine enneagram personality types-- starting with the childhood "programming" that influences current behavior patterns, then going on to outline the adult "preoccupations," including how they affect that type's behavior in both intimate and "authority" relationships. She relies extensively on the "oral tradition" of the enneagram; that is-- the practice of listening to, and learning from, groups of people of the same "type," talking about their lives and motivations. Many quotes and examples from Palmer's enneagram study groups are included in the book, and they add a nice "live" counterpoint to what is otherwise somewhat "academic" material. Each chapter also includes a brief description of "instinctual subtypes," and concludes with a list of actions/environments that might help each type grow and thrive.
If there is one (minor) complaint I have about this book, it is perhaps that Palmer has a tendency to dwell at length on the negative or "defective" traits of human nature while not really giving equal time to the positive-- or even how to work our way through the negative. In addition, she does not acknowledge the possibility that an "emotionally healthy" version of any type might exist-- which is one of the reasons I prefer the work of Riso and Hudson. In personal growth terms, it is certainly of great importance to identify the pitfalls of life (Our "preoccupations," as Palmer calls them), but it is almost of equal importance to be offered some guidance for self-devlopment-- and this book falls a bit short in that area. Which, in a way, is surprising, since Helen Palmer is a practicing psychotherapist. However, this is trivial issue that really doesn't detract a great deal from the book's overall usefulness.
Final thoughts: An excellent and worthwhile reference (9 out of a possible 10 bookmarks), especially for the more serious student of the enneagram. Provides a nice counterpoint to Riso & Hudson's writings. Perhaps not the best "first read" for someone just beginning to explore the enneagram-- if that's you, I'd recommend Baron & Wagele's "The Enneagram Made Easy" as an excellent introduction.
Thanks for reading!