Meeting Kathy Hurley

On Friday morning I had the opportunity to talk to Kathy Hurley. Kathy and her late husband, Theodore Dobson (later Theodorre Donson), are credited with founding the International Enneagram Association and helping foster relationships among the many Enneagram teachers who emerged in the U.S. in the 1980s.

Of even greater interest to me, Kathy and Theodore gave name to the idea of Enneagram Stances with their teachings and writings around the same time. What’s My Type? and My Best Self were among the most explicit writings of this Enneagram era to focus on the concepts of grace and compassion, and to highlight how the passion and pain of our personality are but distortions of gifts and strengths God has given us. They end every chapter of What’s My Type with the refrain: “Remember: all the negative qualities of this type are but distortions of this pattern’s strengths and positive qualities.”

Furthermore, these books, and Discover your Soul Potential gave practical language to the social styles or Hornevian groups that other teachers only mentioned in passing. In 1991, they named these groups “stances”, and talked about how we live lives out of balance, divided within ourselves, and resulting in the negative effects of our personality.

The concern for humanity, according to the age old wisdom of the Enneagram, is that people fail to apply the three kinds of intelligence in a healthy, unified manner in daily life. The task in life is to wake up and become aware of how the imbalanced use of intelligence not only divides us internally but also becomes the cause of the division and destruction in relationships and in the world.

Hurley & Donson, My Best Self, p. 142

They continue with wisdom we often hear, but with originality and clarity they build the foundation for what this teaching means in practice: “Unity internally and externally is the goal, the aim, the purpose of this wisdom. Instead of overusing two centers we must learn to use all three.”

This conversation with Kathy was a gift, from one Three to another. I wanted to ask how they came up with the idea to call the groups stances. Or how they developed this idea that others had only mentioned? Instead, she wanted to talk about family, and about grief and loss, hope and healing, about addiction and recovery, and about grace and faith. So we did, for over an hour.

She told me the story of a crucifix she found shortly after Theodore’s death and how after addiction became her way of managing the grief of his death and the death of their son, this image of Christ is where she turned to pray when she thought all hope was lost. Like me, she raised four children and she shared the ups and downs of those years and the continued wrestling for relationship and how important they are to her. “What is most beautiful in life is beneath the pain,” she shared, reminding me of their frequent use of the story of The Ugly Duckling.

From the pain, the beauty that is her life was again made clear, by God’s grace, she told me. Now in her 80s, she has recently helped several in her family through similar journeys of pain and struggle by inviting them to come and live with her. Her home is a tribute to her resilience and God’s grace, to her faith and her faithfulness in loving her family. Out of that home, she developed these teachings and writings that have influenced so many over the years. In that home, she gathered many of the first generation of Enneagram leaders to form the International Enneagram Association; the IEA is thriving today with members and accredited professionals all over the world. Her son-in-law described recently told her, “You have built a house of healing.” Sharing this brought tears to her eyes. To mine too.

She asked me to mail her an article I recently wrote where I use her writings for spiritual directors and chaplains and apply them to social workers. I gladly agreed as she gave me her snail mail address! Her grandson who lives with her today is studying social work; she offered to share my work with him. What an honor to continue to pass the gift of her Enneagram insights!

In My Best Self, she wrote (longhand on paper): “Because of one kind act or one loving gesture, or through a quiet life of gentle responsiveness, thousands of lives can be changed for the better by someone whose face or name will be remembered for only a short time by a few people.” Kathy has changed my life for the better and truly thousands of others; I hope we can assure her name is remembered. I look forward to my next conversation with Kathy and only wish I hadn’t waited 10 years to call her this time.

2 thoughts on “Meeting Kathy Hurley”

  1. Kathy and Theodore trained me to teach the Enneagram and I am eternally grateful for their insights and their grace. Thank you for this article. I have wondered how she is doing over the years since Theodore’s death.


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