Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD
The Enneagram for Physicians: Beyond Wellness to Wholeness
Updated: Feb 21
By: Francis Yoo, DO
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels
If you ask someone about their life goals and desired success level they will most likely describe what they want their location, wealth, possessions, relationships, and physical appearance to be. In other words, they will describe what their life looks like on the outside. Contrarily, you are less likely to hear people describe changes to their inner life in terms like:
“I want equanimity and the ability to adapt to any situation.”
“I want to be at peace and hold my soul precious, always.”
“I want to feel authentic, have integrity, and be vibrant.”
“I want to have clear, still thoughts that fill me with wonder.”
“I want a constant realization that I am loved and appreciated.”
“I want to feel great about expressing my unique genius, creativity, and life.”
The question I would like for you to deliberate is this: Would it be worth it to have all the wealth, possessions, relationships, and outer freedoms that you want, but not have peace, clarity, a sense of wonder, warmth of love, and other desirable inner life states? Now, I’m not saying by any means that the answer is to stop doing any sort of external, outer work to build the life and lifestyle that brings you a sense of authentic success. Rather, I am saying that not paying attention to both your external, outer work and internal, inner work will lead to a lack of balance, a lack of wholeness. I want to bring attention to the value of inner work, shifting appropriate attention to the development of one’s inner life: inner wealth, inner possessions, relationship with oneself, and inner freedoms.
In the same vein, I have observed that there are plenty of “physician wellness” programs and services that focus on external means and needs, such as addressing the health care system, events to foster relationships and relaxation, and improving work efficiency, financial education, and an introduction to techniques or practices. Wellness directly implies health—health and healing.
Etymologically, the word “heal” has its root in the word and sense of “wholeness.” That is, wellness is not fully wellness until it addresses all aspects of a person’s health, a person’s whole being. In recent years, I have engaged with and learned much from various books, courses, podcasts, and programs in terms of external, outer work on myself and my wellness, but I have not found much in terms of addressing the inner work that not only directly addresses this uncovering of wholeness but also balances out the external, outer work.
The Enneagram has catalyzed my journey for personal wellness, healing, and wholeness by giving me new perspectives, practices, and possibilities for inner work. The Enneagram is probably more well known as a typology system and for its use in organizations. A search online of Forbes reveals articles with titles such as, “How Leaders Can Increase The Productivity of Their Teams with the Enneagram” and “Learn How to Handle Stress According to Your Personality Type.” There are also interesting publications on how the Enneagram can be used to navigate differences in behavior in relation to others in the health care context, e.g., “Understanding Medical Students’ Empathy Based on Enneagram Personality Types” and “Emotional Intelligence, Defense Mechanism and Interpersonal Caring Behavior of Nursing Students according to Enneagram Personality Types.”
While these articles are informative for aspects of the Enneagram, they underrepresent the potential to use the Enneagram for cultivating a deeper and expansive ability to navigate the fullest capacity of our outer and inner lives.
Maurice Nicoll wrote, “... the more you observe yourselves the more you will catch glimpses of yourselves as a whole” (Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, vol. 1). Indeed, this is a core aspect of inner work from the Enneagram perspective: observing oneself is the first step to doing anything about oneself. One’s ossified behavioral habits, emotional reactions, automatic thoughts, and distorted/inconsistent beliefs are all ways in which we fall asleep to our Whole Self and let our behavioral mechanisms take us on autopilot away from being present and Whole. Self-awareness in these moments provide us opportunities to realize just what it is that we are doing and take control of our actions. Here’s an example: you had two slices of cake for dessert after a hearty meal and have an opportunity to eat a third slice. A part of you wants that third slice, a part of you does not, a part of you feels conflicted, and a part of you wrestles with beliefs about what you should or should not do. Ultimately, one of these parts of you wins, but this happens quickly and is usually unnoticed by you. However, being able to observe oneself in this moment with the various parts of you vying for the final say offers you the chance to instead, consciously choose, and in the process, you may also become aware of details of those parts of yourself and their associated thoughts, feelings, and more.
Inner work and using the Enneagram is not necessary. Rather, it is something one pursues because it is important, because it pulls and fulfills a deep curiosity, and because there is a predilection to explore one’s Whole nature. This Wholeness that not only balances and integrates preferred external and internal states, but also enriches and heals from the inside out is, for me, the wellness that is beyond and deeper than wellness.
The Enneagram is all about learning and being and becoming yourself. It is ultimately not about labels or heaps of theory; it is about continual practice and about developing Wholeness, that is to say, an unveiling of one’s always-present Essence.
For me, working toward physician wellness, financial freedom, improving the healthcare system, and working smarter are pieces of the puzzle that is complete when it is all considered together with a deep sense of satisfaction and meaning, fulfilling inner states, inner work, and Wholeness.
Francis Yoo, DO is a multi-board-certified physician, certified MBTI practitioner, Riso-Hudson Certified Enneagram Teacher, Glenn Morris’ Improved KAP Provisional Instructor, who coaches on cultivation, advises on Soul inquiry, and teaches inner work with the Enneagram and more.
References Albini N. (March 4, 2019). How Leaders Can Increase the Productivity of Their Teams with the Enneagram. Forbes.
Henley D. (June 27, 2020). Learn How to Handle Stress According to Your Personality Type. Forbes.
Roh, H., Park, K. H., Ko, H. J., et al. (2019). Understanding Medical Students’ Empathy Based on Enneagram Personality Types. Korean Journal of Medical Education, 31(1), 73–82.
Shin, E., & Lee, S. (2016). The Emotional Intelligence, Defense Mechanism and Interpersonal Caring Behavior of Nursing Students According to Enneagram Personality Types. The Journal of Korean Academic Society of Nursing Education, 22(4), 514-526.
Nicoll, M. (1952). Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky (Vol. 1). Red Wheel/Weiser.