Fours may be motivated to change for a variety of reasons: conflicts about their identity; to resolve their sense of alienation and mismatch with the outside world; creative blocks; to overcome psychic pain, especially born out of low self-esteem and self-hatred; chronic, mysterious or bizarre medical ailments.

Many Fours are “learners,” especially about the inner life, and some seek therapy to deepen their self-knowledge. Their curiosity about how their psyches work can be both a motivator and an ally in changework. While they are often very conscious of feelings derived from images, roles and stories, Fours may be out of touch with how they actually feel. They can come to therapy as part of a quest for their true identity and authentic life. One Four says, “So much can be expressed in the word authenticity. My experience is that I am just not real. I’m acting out all these roles and asking myself, ‘Who am I? Who’s the real me?”

Some Fours are motivated to change by boredom; they report that living in their feelings, memories and emotional fantasies gets tedious. Their inner touchstone of sadness is always the same and they grow bored with constantly returning to it. “Nostalgia just isn’t what it used to be,” one Four quips, echoing the old joke. Reality, by contrast, starts to seem more interesting because it constantly changes.

Presenting problems to therapists and counselors can include: depression; a sense of torment or alienation; dissatisfaction in their relationships; wanting to know themselves better; resolving a sense of chronic sadness or inner flaw; mystery medical symptoms and anorexia.

Generally good goals for change are: learning to take the raw material of your subjectivity and turn it into something tangible, finding satisfying forms of self-expression; accepting objective reality and learning to love the actual, including its flaws; contributing to and making a positive difference in a world that you otherwise feel alienated from; expressing your anger in constructive ways instead of turning it against yourself. Fours who want to change often have to take responsibility for the conditions they set on their own acceptability. They may also need to be honest about their attachment to rejecting themselves, to the advantages of keeping themselves in pain. Although some Fours take to the notion like a cat does to a bath, regular exercise is especially helpful for people with this style, as is developing a sense of humor.

I once heard a story about a moody prince who became depressed and called all the sages in his father’s kingdom to assist him. He asked them for a magic object which would balance his moods, so that when he was depressed he could glance at it and become happy; when he was happy he could see the magic object and be reminded of the sadness in life. The wise men paid a craftsman to create an ordinary ring with the inscription: “This too shall pass.” Learning how to smooth out feelings and put things in context and perspective is especially important for Fours. People with this style need to learn to wear their subjectivity lightly, to respect and consult it, but avoid wallowing in it. When healthy, Fours specialize in contentment – the emotional opposite of envy.

Therapists and coaches who don’t know the Enneagram may unwittingly be describing Fours when they talk about their most difficult, worrisome clients. Very unhealthy Fours clients can be reckless, impulsive and melodramatically tormented. At their worst, they are emotionally demanding, blur professional boundaries and blackmail therapists with implicit threats of self-injury or suicide.

Fours clients can give therapists too much responsibility, first romanticizing you as their savior and then later growing disillusioned and defeating you. Either pole indicates a lack of responsibility and motivation – the client is essentially making you into a parent – and you may have to assess whether the Four is in your office to really change or to just act out dramas. Occasionally a Four client will believe that they are a fascinating case for you take on or parade their torment so that you will think them a unique challenge. They can also develop imaginary rivalries with your other clients.

Fours are easy trance subjects and may be willing explorers of their inner life. While capable of rich positive experiences, they can also spontaneously collapse into painful feelings. If you practice hypnosis, guided imagery or any therapy with an inward focus, it may be occasionally necessary to employ “anti-hypnosis” to help a Four client come out of the trance of his subjectivity. You may also want to evoke a number of positive experiences that you can later call forth should the Four bog down in painful memories.

Some Fours are good at generating historical explanations to explain their reactions, feelings and moods. It is usually more helpful, however, to get them in touch with present immediate causes for their reactions – “I’m depressed because my girlfriend criticized me at breakfast this morning” – rather than past global causes – “Even when I was still in the womb, I knew there was something wrong with me.”

A therapist might also steer some Four clients away from “why?” questions like “why am I the way I am?” and instead focus on “how” questions, like: “how do I create my present difficulties and subjective reality, complete with memories?” Or “how does having my problem somehow serve me?” Any insights should ultimately lead the Four towards the world rather than away from it.

In a broad way, when you work with Fours, you are treating depression and any successful approach you have for working with depression may be relevant or modifiable. The hypnotherapist Milton Erickson used to give his depressed clients behavioral tasks that invariably bound them into participating in life and connecting to others. He once asked a depressed, isolated woman who loved gardening to grow dozens of potted plants and give one to every member of her church. The surprised and grateful church members reacted by inviting her to lunch and including her in church social events. The woman made many new friends and was drawn out of her isolation and into her community. This sort of approach could easily work with a depressed Four client.

Some models of depression describe it as anger turned inward, and this is an apt way to think about depression in Fours. Indeed, it occasionally helps to get a Four client in touch with his or her anger, which is that of a rejected, punishing child. You may at times be tempted to comfort or cheer up a depressed Four client. If she is dedicated to maintaining a depressive victim stance, however, she could experience your intervention as a power struggle and make herself feel worse to prove you wrong.

An angry Four client could also get better and not tell you because it contradicts her tragic script and victimized self-image. Some Fours have what NLP calls “poor convincer strategies” – few ways to consciously acknowledge that something good has happened to them. It’s best if you’re not waiting to be congratulated for a job well done, even if the client obviously changes.

As I said, when Fours torture and shame themselves it is actually a form of vanity. But a Four client may not consciously see it that way since their trance-identity is that of a victim. If you force them to consciously accept the idea too soon they may resist it and feel like you don’t understand them or victimize themselves more just to prove you wrong.

At some point, however, you may have to tell a Four client that he or she is self-indulgent – a prince or a princess. The challenge is to do so in a

way that avoids reinforcing the Four’s self-judgment. If you get frustrated with a Four client be careful not to turn judgmental as it may feed into their self-rejecting. Also, take care not to end therapy too soon or, conversely, to let it drag on for too long.


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.