With Transactional Analysis, Eric Berne made complex interpersonal transactions understandable especially the “games” that the “inner child” plays in order to gain recognition from others.
Eric Berne (1910-1970) the founder of Transactional Analysis (center) with Claude Steiner (front,) Jack Dusay (back) and Pamela Blum while attending the 1968 International Congress for Group Psychotherapy in Vienna.
The TA therapist’s task is to help the person to regain its inner child’s innate “Okness” so that it will be able to obtain the recognition or “strokes” –in short, the love–that it needs and so that the whole person can function in a positive manner. As consultants, educators and organizers, transactional analysts with their skills in analyzing transactional patterns are able to understand, predict and help improve people’s communication and productivity.
Transactional Analysis started as, and has remained, a social psychology, a clear departure from psychoanalysis, as a system that focuses on people’s external behavior and only secondarily on analyzing their internal psychological processes. Eric Berne designed Transactional Analysis as a system that seeks to understand the interactions of people and to improve the human social environment. Almost fifty years after Transactional Analysis’ inception and thirty years after Eric Berne’s untimely death it has become a movement with thousands of members all around the world and is poised to enter the third millenium as a highly effective, information based psychology and psychiatry of human communication.
Berne made complex interpersonal transactions understandable when he recognized that people can interact from one of three “ego-states” — Parent, Adult or Child — and that these interactions can occur at overt and covert levels. Each one of the ego states in is effect a “mind module,” a system of communication with its own language and function; the Parent’s is a language of values , the Adult’s is a language of logic and rationality and the Child’s is a language of emotions. Effective functioning in the world depends on the availability to of all three, intact ego states. Transactional Analysts are trained to recognize what ego states people are transacting from, and to follow, in precise detail, the transactional sequences that people engage in as they interact with each other. With this training they are also able to intervene effectively to improve the quality of communication and interaction for their clients.
Berne codified socially dysfunctional behavior patterns in terms of the “games” that people play. Games are essentially devious, toxic and sometimes deadly methods of obtaining “strokes.” The term stroke is Berne’s name for the unit of human contact and recognition. Strokes, Berne pointed out, are needed by people for psychological and eventually physical survival, just as they need food, water and air. These repetitive stroke-gathering interactions, labeled by Berne with the instantly recognizable names ( “Why Don’t You Yes But,” “Now I’ve Got You.”and “I’m Only Trying to Help”, etc) which made TA famous, are the building blocks of people’s life scripts.
People build their lives around certain favorite games which, with their repetitive toxic outcomes, promote dysfunctional, life-long scripts. Scripts are based on early-life decisions, made by the originally OK child. These decisions which dictate people’s actions throughout life always represent the relinquishing of the child’s Okness. They determine the dysfunctional roles (Rescuer, Persecutor, Victim) which people fall upon throughout life unless they are changed or “redecided,” or as Berne put it unless the person “closes down the show and puts on a new (aware, autonomous, intimate, in short OK) one on the road.”
Transactional Analysis as a Communication Skill
Transactional Analysts are specialists in human communication in psychotherapy, in relationships and at work; in particular the transactional methods that people use to obtain much needed strokes. Transactional Analysis psychotherapists task is to help people identify their ego states and evaluate and improve the ways in which their ego states function, to recognize the inner dialogues between a person’s ego states, especially those that involve a harsh demeaning Parent, to recognize the games that people play and to help them stop playing games and get strokes in a spontaneous aware and intimate and manner. The potent therapist provides permission to change and protection against the anxiety that change creates. Stopping the playing of games is the first step in eventual replacing them with direct and honest interactions and eventually abandoning the dysfunctional life script. Transactional Analysis’ efficient, yet insightful, contractual method makes it ideally suited for brief psychotherapy.
Likewise as consultants, educators, counselors and coaches transactional analysts with their skills in analyzing transactional patterns are able to understand predict and help improve dysfunctional, unproductive, toxic, uncooperative interactions between people and can quickly help people communicate clearly and effectively at the three levels of the Parent (values,) the Adult (rationality) and the Child (emotions, creativity.)
Claude Steiner Ph.D.
(Look for interesting additional writings and links at the bottom of this page)
NEW! The Development of Transactional Analysis Theory and Method; A Brief History.
NEW! Core Concepts of Transactional Analysis (English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish)
NEW! Core Concepts of a Stroke-Centered Transactional Analysis.
NEW! Scientific and academic corroboration of Transactional Analysis Core Concepts
NEW! Further Musings on Ego States
NEW! Five columns about TA history written for the Japan TA Association Newsletter
2. You may want to read:
Transactional Analysis in the Information Age my keynote presentation at the ’99 San Francisco Conference, or
1999 Core Concepts of Transactional Analysis written in 1999 by a task force of transactional analysts or
Transactional Analysis Made Simple, a fairly lengthy, now outdated description of Transactional Analysis written by myself in 1971.
3. You may also want to read some of my TA-related comments: Letters to The Script regarding the “integrating” Adult (1998), Critique of Three Integrative Psychotherapy Papers(October 1998) Some Further Comments on the Integrated Adult (January 2006)
4. You may be interested in one of the following TA-related papers.
Transactional Analysis and the Triune Brain. (An essay about a possible relationship between the ego states and certain structures of the brain.)
Core Concepts of a Stroke-Centered Transactional Analysis. (A compilation of the core concepts of emotional literacy theory.)
A Meditation on the Adult ego state (An essay about the “pure” Adult ego state.)
The Adult; Once Again With Feeling (An essay about the Adult emotion from the Transactional Analysis Journal Vol 30 #1, January 2002.)
Forget the Unconscious (A brief essay about transactional analysis and the Freudian unconscious and the psychoanaliticization of transactional analysis.)
Transactional Analysis and the Information Age (Opening keynote at the ITAA Conference in San Francisco, August 1999)
The Meming of Love; Evolution of the Human Heart. (Opening keynote at the 3rd International Conference on Adolescence Health in London, October 2000)
Apology; The Analysis of a Fundamental Exchange (From the Transactional Analysis Journal, Vol 32 #1 Jan 2000)
Transactional Analysis and Psychoanalysis; Writing Styles (From the Transactional Analysis Journal, Vol 36:4 October 2006 )
With Michele Novellino: “Theoretical Diversity; A Debate About TA and Psychoanalysis ” (From Transactional Analysis Journal 35:2, April 2005)