Trautmann and Erskine

This letter, unedited except for adding the Berne quote was first published in The Script Vol. XXVIII, #. 4, May-June 1998

Dear Editor:

I enjoy receiving The Script because it gives me a window to global
transactional analysis village gossip, intrigue, and even, at times, wisdom.

Accordingly, when I read Ted Novey’s (Child’s, he disclaims) “Letter to
Santa” column in the January-February 1998 Script, I was intrigued. I had become aware of the burgeoning presence in the ITAA of “integrative” psychotherapy, but had failed to see that it was more than merely a love-centered, attunement-driven recovery method in the tradition of Carl Rogers.

I assumed that Rebecca Trautmann and Richard Erskine are good people doing good therapy and expert training and thereby gaining a well-deserved following among transactional analysts.

But here was what seemed to be a hard-core, theoretical difference
between Ted Novey, a knowledgeable transactional analysis theorist with solid scientific training, and IP (integrative psychotherapy) regarding the nature of ego states. I made a mental note to look into the issue. Imagine my surprise when in the April issue of The Script I came upon the veritable storm of huffing invective and chiding that followed Ted’s letter.

This was beginning to look like a tempest in a teapot! Three variously
indignant letters were from true believers, which caused me to imagine that they stood for many other such incensed citizens of the IP community. One letter was from Rebecca, who quietly implied that Ted is some sort of theoretical czar (as did Alan Jacobs in his letter) and called, reasonably enough, for a fully developed statement regarding Ted’s ideas on the subject.

Finally, Ted’s laconic, 18-word response: “Whatever…”

All of this ferment finally made me interested in just what integrative
psychotherapy is. I picked up the October 1996 special issue of the
Transactional Analysis Journal on integrative psychotherapy and went right to the source: Erskine and Trautmann’s article titled “Methods of an Integrative Psychotherapy.” In it the authors state that the term “integrative” has a variety of meanings. Primarily, they say, it refers to the process of “integrating the personality.” Secondly, it refers to the integration of theory.

Let us leave the first for last. Regarding the integration of theories,
the authors wisely draw a distinction between themselves and mere
eclecticism. They seek to “separate out those concepts and ideas that are not theoretically consistent to form a cohesive core of constructs” (p. 317). At the center of this core of constructs is the perspective that “the client-therapist relationship is crucial” (p. 317). The authors go on to outline a variety of concepts (19 in total), each of which contributes to the integrative quality of the therapy and all of which seem to be elaborations of the kind of positive regard that Carl Rogers spoke of, leading to “respect, kindness, compassion, and maintaining contact” and resulting in a “personal presence” allowing for “an interpersonal relationship that provides an affirmation of the client’s integrity.” Attunement is a key word for Erskine and Trautmann, and I saw in their article many constructive ideas which, I suspect, is the reason why this approach meets with the approval of so many in the transactional analysis ranks.

Regarding the integration of the personality, however, there was a great deal more to cope with. What Erskine and Trautmann seem to be proposing is a radical rewriting of the tenets of transactional analysis as Berne conceived of them. Nothing wrong with that; in fact, I agree with that point as it was made repeatedly in the April Script letters. It takes all sorts of points of view to compete in the marketplace of ideas.
But I must take exception with that tolerant view when these ideas go
under the guise of transactional analysis. It is simply not true that we
should be open to any and all ideas under the transactional analysis tent.
For instance, should we be open to the idea that it is wrong to speak of or seek a cure? Or is it acceptable to say that we are actually born not-OK or that making a contract with a client is counterproductive? No one is making those types of claims, but they serve as examples to those who seem to be saying that any and all ideas should be able to coexist as transactional analysis.

The question is: “Should integrative psychotherapy’s notions about ego
states be allowed to go unchallenged in the name of open-mindedness?” In my opinion they should not.

Eric postulated three ego states stemming from different parts of the
brain in the healthy-functioning human being. These are not multiple
personalities that need to be integrated, but distinct portions of the ego
with specific adaptive functions. He saw fixation in any one ego state as a specific form of pathology; all three ego states, uncontaminated by each other, are necessary for optimal function. Obviously he had great respect for the Adult, but he repeatedly stated that the Child was the best of the three ego states. Only with regard to the Parent was he ambivalent, occasionally describing it as a “party pooper.” But he acknowledged the importance of the Parent ego state and appreciated the value of the Nurturing Parent.

Erskine and Trautmann emphasize an early statement by Berne describing the feelings, attitudes, and behavior patterns of the Child as “relics of the individual’s own childhood” to show that Eric believed that all Child ego states have “the emotional capacity of the child at the developmental age of unresolved trauma and confusion, i.e., fixation” (Erskine, TAJ, Vol. 18, pp. 15-19). In my opinion this is making a great deal more of the word “relic” than Eric intended. He certainly made it clear, over and over through the years following that statement, that the Child ego state can be healthy and in exceptional touch with reality.

(For those who doubt that this was his view from the very beginning I am inserting a quote from one of his early articles which predates Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy (1961) by several years:)

“The Child is not to be regarded as “childish” in the derogatory sense but childlike with many socially valuable attributes which must be freed so that they can make their contribution to the total personality when the confusion in this archaic area have been straightened out. The Child in the individual is potentially capable of contributing to his personality exactly what a happy actual child is capable of contributing to family life.”

“Transactional Analysis a New Method of Group Psychotherapy.” The American Journal of Psychotherapy. 12: 735-743 (1958)

Each ego state is in contact with and processes reality according to its
own language and rules. The fact that Eric was personally somewhat overtly fixated in the Adult (while covertly giving his Child his due), or the fact that he saw transactional analysis as a means to achieve social control, should not be misinterpreted to mean that he would accept the notion that a person with a single ego state, the Adult, no matter how well “integrated,” represents a healthy outcome of transactional analysis therapy. He would certainly not have accepted a therapeutic contract with that outcome as a goal.

Returning to integration of theory, I have no doubt that Erskine and
Trautmann have their roots in transactional analysis, but today if we judge by the contents of their—I would assume authoritative—paper, none seem left. They dutifully list Berne in their references, but in the text no substantive reference is made to Berne except to disagree with him (p. 323). Nowhere in this paper on methods do they speak of contracts, analysis of transactions between ego states, game or script analysis, or redecisions, and only in the last few words—almost as an afterthought—do they actually speak of healing or cure, which according to them “occurs primarily through the interpersonal contact of the therapeutic relationship.”

This is transactional analysis? I don’t think so. To me it sounds
totally generic. What therapy claims to heal by means other than “through the interpersonal contact of the therapeutic relationship”? This being the
central thought of IP renders it indistinguishable from scores of other
points of view. All sorts of people are kind, smart, good, loving, clever
therapists. Not all of them are transactional analysis therapists. When
transactional analysis therapists diverge from the basic dogma enough to dismember it, rendering it unrecognizable, we should, out of
self-preservation, point that out.

The ITAA is in the process of reestablishing itself in the public eye,
and in my opinion it should define itself as an organization that has the
purpose of studying and promoting transactional analysis as presented by Berne before elaborating or substantially modifying it. That would
require that we challenge theorists and practitioners within the ITAA who
modify the theory or practice beyond a reasonable point. I don’t mean that we should censor them or ban them or exclude them, but simply that we should challenge them in open debate, which is what Ted has been trying to do and which is what I am doing here.

So I ask: “Is integrative psychotherapy a transactional analysis theory
and method?” In my opinion neither of the two “integrative” aspects passes the test. “Integrative” in terms of personality integration fails the test because it unreasonably modifies the core tenets of transactional analysis theory about ego states. “Integrative” in terms of integrating treatment methods fails the test because it integrates transactional analysis with other theories to the point that it loses its fundamental, distinctive, contractual, structural, and game-analytic nature. And in terms of the literature one need only look at the reference lists of the articles in the TAJ special issue on integrative psychotherapy (Erskine cited 65 times, Berne 9, Goulding 2, Dusay 0, English 0, Karpman 0, Steiner 0) to see that “integrative psychotherapy” as delineated by Erskine and Trautmann and their colleagues has left Berne and the rest of us behind.

Thanks Ted, and long live satire!

Claude Steiner, Berkeley, California, USA


This letter with slight editing for continuity in the first paragraph appeared in the Script,  Vol XXVIII, #8 November 1998

Dear Editor:

Trautmann and Erskine’s have made a plea that I had misundersood their theory in my letter to the Script; I gladly reread “TA in Psychotherapy” and painstakingly read the two articles they recommended: “Ego Structure, Intrapsychic Function and Defense Mechanisms” TAJ 18, 15-19 (1988) and “Transference and Transactions” TAJ 21, 63-76 (1991) plus their article on motivational theory in TAJ April 1998)

I found that Trautmann and Erskine use a considerable amount of ink trying to bolster their theory, based on arcane quotes, from Berne’s early writings, when he was still struggling with psychoanalytic concepts in the dawn of transactional analysis theory.

Regarding “integrated” Adult, Trautman said in her keynote address in Zurich that Trautmann And Erskine have never used the term integrated adult, only “integrating” adult. Very well then, integrating adult, quite a different concept but still one I think that misreads Berne’s intentions. The quotes used (1961) in the last part of the book: “Frontiers of Transactional Analysis” are from a chapter called “Finer structures of the personality” in which Berne analyzes each ego state in turn and in which he points out that the Adult ego state contains influences from the Parent and Child that need to be integrated into the “ideal” Adult. Nowhere does he suggest that the ideal person should integrate the Parent and Child into one Adult ego state. So if this is to be called an “integrating” Adult so be it as long as we also keep a healthy functioning Child and Parent:

Again on the score of the integrating Adult the following exchange from TAJ 1/88 Vol18#1 is confusing to me:

Erskine: “I hope your Parent is not growing but is really shrinking and I hope that your Child is not growing but that its really shrinking to the point that it is integrated within your Adult.”

Goulding: “I don’t understand that at all … I do a lot of nurturing with my Parent ego state. You may think it is my Adult.”

Erskine: “I hope it is Adult!”

Trautman, Erskine and the learned members of the Professional Development Seminar of the Institute of Integrative Psychotherapy are free to decide based on readings, discussion, therapeutic findings and even research, that the healthy human being has an Adult flanked by shrunken Parent and Child but it is a mind bending stretch for me to consider that this is what Berne intended. Even more mind boggling is the notion that it is me–who heard Berne speak about these matters week after week for a decade and a half–rather than they, who misinterprets Berne.

Thus, I strongly question Trautmann And Erskine’s interpretation of Berne’s “original conceptualization of ego states.” In my opinion they are modifying the theory at the root, based on a misreading of the roots; thus “radical rewriting.”

Trautmann And Erskine quote Berne: “the ultimate aim of transactional analysis is structural readjustment and reintegration (Berne, 1961, p. 224).”

This is the first sentence of the chapter (again in the frontiers section) on Regression analysis, a subject still tied to psychoanalytic theory which once written about was abandoned. Even so, if you read to the end of the paragraph you will see that Berne calls for “definition of ego boundaries…hegemony of the adult through social control… reclamation of the Child…and emendation or replacement of the Parent. He may in this chapter be calling for hegemony of the Adult and social control (a view he later neglected if not abandoned as well) but he clearly means to maintain the two other ego states in the process of readjustment and reintegration.

There is something that can be called TA dogma or canon defined by Webster as “something held as an established tenet.” I am sorry to say that I don’t recognize much that I consider an established TA tenet in what I have seen and heard of integrative psychotherapy so far. I don’t think that what Trautmann and Erskine offer is evolution, bur rather revolution, a quiet one, attuned and sensitive, but at the root, systematic and multi pronged, redefining egos state theory, transactional (vs transference) theory, motivational theory and even theory of method. I consider that revolution is only justified within a system that has become so oppressive or unworkable that it needs to be given up and replaced by a new one. I see no signs of that need in transactional analysis today. On the contrary, in my opinion Berne’s theory has yet to achieve full recognition and use as he developed it and I and many others who I have spoken with since the beginning of this controversy are not ready to give up its central tenets.

As I expressed personally to Richard in an open discussion in the atrium of Irchel University in Zurich in August, I wish Erskine and Trautman to take their autonomous place in the marketplace of ideas, let Transactional Analysis be Transactional Analysis and let up on the relentless revision of it at least insofar as, with their ubiquitous participation in keynotes, TAJ articles and reception of awards, they are crowding out others with differing ideas. That of course is as much their responsibility as it is the members who fail to provide a resistance and counterpoint to their point of view. Let this be a beginning to such a shift of interest and emphases.

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