Threes may be motivated to change for a variety of reasons, among them: a brush with mortality that gives the Three a sense that life is short; a medical problem that requires her to slow down; a professional failure or a “midlife crisis” in which the Three achieves a major life goal and realizes that it did not give him what he wanted; the exposure of a long-running lie where the Three is forced to face the depth of his impersonation; a sudden shock about having neglected the interpersonal part of his life, noticing, for instance, that his children are a foot taller, and he does not remember when that happened. A workaholic Three TV reporter who spent most of his time traveling began to rethink his priorities when he was told that his seven-year-old daughter had seen him on TV and said, “Look Mommy, there’s the man who took us to the zoo.”

Generally, a Three’s unhealthy momentum is broken by an outside event. Presenting problems to therapists can include: difficulties in relationships, depression, excessive stress, low self-esteem, a diagnosed medical condition, social alcoholism or struggles with other addictions.

Good goals for change include: learning to feel and to tell the truth; identifying the difference between authentic emotions and feelings that are derived from roles; learning to risk being loved for who they are instead of being falsely loved for who they are not; acknowledging and accepting their fears and insecurities; becoming a full person instead of an achievement machine; integrating activity with feeling; learning to lose and making a place for spirituality in their lives.

The National Aeronautics Association once told an American pilot that his solo flight over the North Pole was officially recognized as a national first. His response: “It’s nice, but I knew I had done it anyhow.” Threes generally need to learn how to validate themselves, to “know they have done it anyhow” instead of seeking self-esteem through outside recognition.

Therapists or coaches working with a Three may have to first secure and then later reinforce the Three’s commitment to changing. A new Three client could be so over-scheduled that she has trouble fitting therapy into her crowded life. You may have to push Three clients a little with questions like, “How much does this really mean to you?” and “Are you sure you are ready for this?”

Threes can also come to therapy wanting information, quick fixes or stress reduction techniques. Watch for pressure to produce fast results, couched in a charming, depersonalized manner. Some Three clients view therapy as a place to fix themselves – a further expression of the “achievement machine” self-image.

Threes don’t often go to therapy unless they have to and their reasons for seeking help may be ill-defined. When I had a private practice, specializing in hypnosis, a Three client would occasionally want to learn self-hypnosis for stress reduction. The Three’s life was so busy that he wanted to be able to reduce his stress on demand – so he could be more comfortably hyperactive.

Occasionally I would agree to this request, but fish around to see whether the Three was interested in making other changes. Sometimes this fishing hooked something that the Three wanted more deeply, sometimes it did not – it depended on the individual.

Threes have good learning strategies and are often dedicated and competent. Once they commit to therapy, they will work hard at it. They may, however, play the “good student” for therapists. They could take notes during sessions, effectively summarizing what you say to them, both getting it and not getting it. If a Three client is new to self-examination she may first need a framework of insight, but mere insight will not be enough since the general goal for people with this style is to discover who they really are and how they really feel. Just understanding their behavior can leave their emotions untouched.

Having an authentic relationship with a coach or therapist – someone who sees through the Three and still accepts her – is also valuable, if the Three is ready for it. They may first have to confess their Achilles Heel. One function of therapy is to provide a safe place where clients can reveal or discover the truth about their lives and this is especially nourishing for Threes.


Excerpted from The Dynamic Enneagram by Tom Condon

Copyright 2009, 2013 by Thomas Condon

Available as an ebook serial at Tom’s website


Tom Condon has worked with the Enneagram since 1980 and with Ericksonian hypnosis and NLP since 1977. These three models are combined in his trainings to offer a useful collection of tools for changing and growing, to apply the Enneagram dynamically, as a springboard to positive change. Tom has taught over 800 workshops in the US, Europe and Asia and is the author of 50 CDs, DVDs and books on the Enneagram, NLP and Ericksonian methods. He is founder and director of The Changeworks in Bend, Oregon.