The Narrative Tradition

Note: The following definition and description, with the exception of the final paragraph, is taken with kind permission from the words of Helen Palmer and David Daniels, M.D. They founded the Enneagram Professional Training Program (EPTP) in 1988, and Carl was certified in this tradition of the Enneagram in 2004. The foundational course in the current Narrative Enneagram Core Program is still the Enneagram Intensive™, which Carl highly recommends. For more information on all their programs see:


The Narrative Tradition is an extraordinary teaching method that offers a unique and personally transformative experience of the Enneagram. By listening to representatives of each Enneagram type share their personal stories and reveal their particular inner worlds and realities, you can discover how to recognize personality differences from direct experience, rather than simply learning about the Enneagram from a particular "authority."


The Narrative Tradition promotes an open exploration of each personality type. In our view, there is no better way to explore, learn and teach than through this interactive method of panel interviews. Through a sophisticated inquiry method, the Narrative Tradition demonstrates the types, with their struggles, dilemmas, strengths and separate paths of development. The types continuously teach us about themselves at ever deepening levels of awareness, and we learn from exploring with them.


Ultimately, the Enneagram is an "inside job" of determining your type and coming to know and understand your own focus of attention, core beliefs, coping strategies and path of development. The value of the Enneagram does not come mainly from identifying your type based on external behaviors, but mainly from understanding how behavioral patterns relate to each type’s focus of attention, motivation and personal experience. The active role each participant plays in noticing his or her own patterns helps create conscious awareness, which leads to conscious conduct.


The Narrative Tradition recognizes that implicit non-cognitive learning is at the heart of what we know about the world of relationships and meaning. We cannot fully understand the motivations, inner maps and integration of the psychological and transpersonal worlds without direct personal experience. The panel interviews bring the Enneagram alive through meaningful conversation and insights. They are set within a rich context of self-observation practices, practical exercises for each type, directed meditations, movement exercises and facilitated interactions between the types.


Self-discovery and self-expression are fundamental aspects in each participant’s path of development. The intelligent expression of body, heart and mind can best be grasped by direct energetic experience involving interactions and practices. The Narrative Tradition’s method of inquiry is further enhanced through explicit cognitive learning and written materials, both of which heighten clarity, facilitate discussion and are an important part of our trainings.


Acceptance and understanding often come from appreciating what something is not. Our teachings in the Narrative Tradition are not about history per se, although each type has its own history. The teachings do not refer to ancient roots or transmission, and there is no spiritual leader, oracle of knowledge or specific lineage attached to these teachings other than the grassroots philosophy of self-discovery.


However, as far as we know the origins of this specific narrative method began in the early 1970s when psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo began interviewing type exemplars in his own classes and workshops in California and Chile. Helen Palmer and other now prominent teachers attended them, and then they modified their understandings and interviewing techniques in light of further Enneagram research, plus whatever skills and talents they each brought to the field. Carl believes that this style of demonstration, coupled with self-awareness and conscious and continued growth work is often the most powerful way to: 1) Recognize and validate one’s own type and subtype, and often the types of others; 2) Learn about the system as a whole, including the importance of Stress and Security Points, Wings, Passions and Virtues, Fixations and Holy Ideas, and unique Paths of Development; Develop a sensitive and ethical approach to Enneagram study and practice.