Meet David

David Daniels, M.D., co-founder of the renowned training school, Enneagram Studies in the Narrative Tradition (ESNT),  was clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford Medical School for over 30 years and is co-author of the newly updated (2009) Essential Enneagram.

Getting to Know David

I’ve always been interested in human behavior and the cosmos. Why do people do what they do? What makes people get along, or not? What makes a relationship thrive? And what is the universe all about anyway? I remember at age eleven secretly climbing onto the roof to lie on my back and wonder at the stars. I had deep, often blissful, experiences of the vastness of it all — until one night.

Somehow on this one occasion I seemed to have merged into the oneness of everything. Not knowing what this was, I felt something akin to the disappearance altogether of my sense of “being me,” what I would now say was an experience of letting go of my egoic state of mind. Sounds good, but at age 11, it actually terrified me (not to mention, I am a Type 6 on the Enneagram, a structure that struggles with existential fear to begin with!). I immediately stopped my late night, rooftop adventures and my gazing with wonderment into the universe above. That experience aside, I never ever lost my deeper interest in what swirled above me, how things worked, why some people seemed so happy and others not… nor did I ever lose my curiosity for the mystery of life itself.

In 1955, Judy, my college sweetie, and I married at the age of 20 after I completed my first year of medical school (I had skipped a grade and was admitted to Stanford Medical School early). We have now been together over 55 years, a tribute to her, since I doubted her love for so, so long (hard for the Type 6 in me to believe that this loving, steady, and beautiful woman could truly love a doubting-minded guy like me). Over the years, I am happy to share, we learned so much from each other and came to understand what’s really required in building a healthy, loving, sustaining, and romantic relationship. Fifty-five years later I realize my thriving marriage was a big part of how interested I became in human relationships, and why and what makes them work.

By the time I finished medical school in 1958 at the age of 24, I decided — through the process of elimination — that psychiatry was the career of choice for me. I found the workings of the mind, the healing of the mind, and the possibilities of the mind irresistible. After residency I joined the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford. Here I conducted social psychiatric research on how to develop effective, intentional communities with a focus on hospital communities for veterans. Later I created a project for the California Youth Authority that combined transactional analysis with participative management in working with the “hardcore” imprisoned teenagers. The staff’s approach to management was an anathema to the treatment they espoused. Bringing together a more congruent model of management allowed for effective treatment using the transactional analysis mode. The results of this project were remarkable.

In 1968 after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy while a full-time faculty member at Stanford, I formed, along with many of our resident psychiatrists, “The Committee on Violence.” Our purpose was to explore the causes and prevention of human violence. This resulted in numerous publications, including the premier journal, Science, on Violence and the Struggle to Adapt which we expanded into our book, Violence and the Struggle for Existence published by Little Brown and Company in 1970. I also participated on the President’s Committee on the Causes of Violence.

Our basic findings were that whatever adaptive value violence had served across human evolution, it was now becoming increasingly maladaptive. Violence in modern societies was in fact threatening our species particularly in this nuclear and technological age. Instead, what’s called for now is a species that would reach levels of collective and personal development that were more inclusive, reflective, and compassionate. In short, what’s called for now is a more “world-centric” species that would replace the “you-against-me” more violent species, which unfortunately still dominates.

In 1970, I left the full-time faculty at Stanford after eight years to go into clinical practice and joined Stanford’s clinical faculty. My genuine curiosity, that same inclination that had me on the roof stargazing when 11 — combined with my innate exploratory instinct, lead me to all sorts of intriguing study, including transactional analysis, gestalt therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, meditative pathways, Freudian and Jungian psychology and therapy, and much more.

As a practicing therapist, I loved working with couples, families, and relationships in general. I would almost always try to see couples together as I knew that if I worked with one person and not the other, it often led to the breakdown of the relationship, thanks to one person being on the path of development and the other, not. I encouraged clients to tape our sessions so that they could review the patterns underlying their behaviors and carefully listen to my interventions. My practice flourished and so did the individuals and couples with whom I worked.

I continued with my own private practice through 1998 at which time I retired as a therapist and instead devoted my time and efforts to the development, promotion, and further dissemination of the Enneagram system as a viable tool for self-awareness, personal growth, and self-mastery. I now enjoy teaching the Enneagram worldwide in conjunction with ESNT and its community association, EANT, ESNT faculty and the many current and up-and-coming Enneagram teachers who have been certified in the Narrative Tradition.