Transactional Analysis (TA) is both a theory of personality and communication, and a system for the improvement of personal and social functioning, within the humanistic tradition. Eric Berne, its’ founder, re-examined the basic assumptions of psychiatry, and from his radical pioneering work developed a system of in-depth analysis and change.
The philosophy of TA accentuates that respect and empathic acceptance are essential. The core beliefs of TA are that people are OK, people and think, and people can make changes. These beliefs are reflected in the equality of the therapeutic relationship, through the making of contracts between client and therapist in which they take equal responsibility for achieving agreed goals, and through open communication regarding all aspects of the therapy process. Below is a brief explanation of some of the main models and theory used:
Structural Analysis: Identifies three ego states: the Parent, Adult and Child (PAC model). It enables us to clarify our life experiences, thoughts and feelings, examining how we learned our beliefs and values from our parents and other parental figures, such as teachers and grandparents, and how being in different ego states can influence our thinking, feeling and behaviour and relationships.
Analysis of Transactions: Examines both social and psychological forms of human communication using the PAC ego state model to diagram our transactions with others. Transactions may be open and straight, or combined with ulterior messages. Their analysis provides a way of understanding our communications and our relationships with others. In addition, we can recognise our ‘stroking’ patterns: how we exchange the level of contact and recognition that all humans need in order to thrive; and how we can make changes.
Script Analysis: Offers an approach to the question: ‘How do we get to be the people we are?’ The origins are embedded in the history of our childhoods, families, culture and life experiences. A ‘life script’ develops without our being aware of it, for purposes of survival, approval and security. By analysing our scripts, we can reconsider and change the decisions we made when we were too little to realise what options existed.
Analysis of Games: Eric Berne’s writings on ‘Games’ drew the public’s attention to TA. People learn to play Games in childhood, as often they are the best possible response to family and life circumstances. The motivation in continuing to do so as adults is the need for stimulus, structure and as a substitute for true intimacy. Games are predictable patterns of indirect communications using ulterior transactions. They are ‘played’ out of our awareness. Game analysis identifies these patterns, their consequences, and what we can do to change. One useful way of analysing a Game is to use the Drama Triangle (Karpman, 1968), in which a game is defined as a switch in roles e.g. from Rescuer (R), to Persecutor (P) or to Victim (V).
What will a TA psychotherapist do?
Transactional analysis can help with a wide range of problems, including personality difficulties, stress, depression, anxiety, anger, relationship problems, self-esteem issues, loss and grief. You will be helped to explore the causes of your problems and to consider how you might be stopping yourself from being all you can be. A TA psychotherapist will help you to analyze your transactions (i.e. interactions with self and others), so that you can understand yourself and your relationships better, and decide what changes you wish to make. Transactional analysis addresses individuals feelings/emotions, as well as their thinking and behaviour. As with many other therapeutic approaches, the relationship between therapist and client is seen as the most important factor for a successful outcome.
Karpman, S. (1968). Fairy tales and script drama analysis, Transactional Analysis Bulletin, 7, 26, 39-43.