TG writes: “I was just wondering about Compass Therapy. It has what I think to be a resemblance to the Enneagram, which I understand to be a bit new agey. A priest who is a chaplain for my local youth group explained it all to us and I had some concerns about its value as a tool in the spiritual life.”
Compass Therapy is a personality theory developed by Dan and Kate Montgomery, who offer a good explanation of what it is by comparing it to other known theories.
“Psychoanalytic theory brought to personality theory the notion of the unconscious as a credible dimension of personality that accounts for many people remaining in the dark about their motivations and behaviors,” Dr. Montgomery writes on his website.
“Jungian personality theory taught that everyone’s personality has masculine and feminine components, and that the structure of the psyche draws upon the universal archetypes or common themes of the entire human race.
“Humanistic personality theory suggested that human nature has positive tendencies toward self-development and self-actualization.
“Existential personality theory highlighted that each person, regardless of culture, religion, or family origin is personally responsible for the self that they become.
“Behavioral personality theory found that environmental pressures and reinforcements play a larger part in shaping one’s learning and behavior than previously understood.
“Cognitive personality theory has emphasized that the thoughts one most frequently thinks become key determinants of one’s attitudes and behaviors.”
The Compass Model, on the other hand, is “anchored in a Christian perspective in which the ontology of persons and relationships are rooted in the Trinitarian God . . . (T)he Compass Model of personality theory places personality dysfunction within the larger framework of spiritual and psychological health.
“In this way Compass personality theory accounts for what goes wrong within the personality (often called personality disorders, inner conflicts, or psychopathology) while at the same time showing how to develop a balanced personality and healthy relationships. In the Montgomery personality theory, the Self Compass® offers concrete hope for those trapped in personality disorders, and shows how any individual can become more Christlike.”
Because this type of therapy is far too complex a system for a lay person to understand, I contacted Allison Ricciardi, LMHC, founder and president of Catholic Therapists, and asked her to review the website provided to us by TG. Here is what she had to say:
“I reviewed the site and, other than one person comparing it to the Enneagram, I didn’t pick up anything New Age about it. . . . Of course, that is only what I could tell from their website. I haven’t read any of their books so I can’t say for sure. I would just issue the regular caveats of what to look out for to determine if it’s really Christian or New Age . . .”
There are several notable differences between this personality system and the Enneagram. First of all, the Enneagram has its roots in Sufi mysticism, which is one of its biggest red flags; whereas Compass Therapy was developed by a Christian therapist.
Second, there is no uniformity to the Enneagram. Everywhere you go, the personality traits are a little different; whereas Compass Therapy traits appear to be quite uniform.
The Vatican has explicitly denounced the use of the Enneagram for spiritual direction. In the Pontifical document, Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life, we read: “. . . (T)he enneagram, the nine-type tool for character analysis, which when used as a means of spiritual growth, introduces an ambiguity in the doctrine and the life of the Christian faith.” (Sec. 1.4)
The Church has made no such statement about the use of Compass Therapy as a tool in the spiritual life, but that doesn’t mean it’s permissible. It just means they have not yet addressed the issue. Until they do, you will have to rely upon our three most reliable discernment tools – Scripture, Catechism and prayer – to discern whether or not you want to incorporate these theories into your spiritual life.
The fact that you already have some doubts would be enough to convince me away from it. I would rather rely on tried-and-true techniques for spiritual growth, such as the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and other methods of classic spiritual direction. These methods have produced a long litany of saints in the past 2,000 years and, God willing, will do so for 2,000 more.
However, if you feel you would benefit from addressing personality issues, visit Catholic Therapists at www.catholictherapists.com for more information and to find a therapist near you.
You may also be interested in visiting this wonderful site on Catholic spiritual direction hosted by Dan Burke of Circle Media (National Catholic Register, Faith & Family Magazine) at http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog/
Send your New Age questions to firstname.lastname@example.org