Transactional analysis is a social psychology developed by Eric Berne, MD (d.1970). Over the past four decades Eric Berne’s theory has evolved to include applications to psychotherapy, counselling, education, and organizational development.
Key Ideas in Transactional Analysis
Eric Berne made complex interpersonal transactions understandable when he recognized that the human personality is made up of three “ego states”; each of which is an entire system of thought, feeling, and behavior from which we interact with each other. The Parent, Adult and Child ego states and the interaction between them form the foundation of transactional analysis theory. These concepts have spread into many areas of therapy, education, and consulting as practiced today.
Transactions refer to the communication exchanges between people. Transactional analysts are trained to recognize which ego states people are transacting from and to follow the transactional sequences so they can intervene and improve the quality and effectiveness of communication.
Berne observed that people need strokes, the units of interpersonal recognition, to survive and thrive. Understanding how people give and receive positive and negative strokes and changing unhealthy patterns of stroking are powerful aspects of work in transactional analysis.
Games People Play
Berne defined certain socially dysfunctional behavioural patterns as “games.” These repetitive, devious transactions are intended to obtain strokes but instead they reinforce negative feelings and self-concepts, and mask the direct expression of thoughts and emotions. Berne tagged these games with such instantly recognizable names as “Why Don’t You, Yes But,” “Now I’ve Got You, You SOB,” and “I’m Only Trying to Help You.” Berne’s book Games People Play achieved wide popular success in the early 60’s.
Eric Berne proposed that dysfunctional behaviour is the result of self-limiting decisions made in childhood in the interest of survival. Such decisions culminate in what Berne called the “life script,” the pre-conscious life plan that governs the way life is lived out. Changing the life script is the aim of transactional analysis psychotherapy. Replacing violent organizational or societal scripting with cooperative non-violent behaviour is the aim of other applications of transactional analysis.
I’m OK – You’re OK
“I’m OK – You’re OK” is probably the best-known expression of the purpose of transactional analysis: to establish and reinforce the position that recognizes the value and worth of every person. Transactional analysts regard people as born basically “OK” and thus capable of change, growth, and healthy interactions.
Transactional analysis practice is based upon mutual contracting for change. Transactional analysts view people as capable of deciding what they want for their lives. Accordingly transactional analysis does its work on a contractual basis between the client and the therapist, educator, or consultant.
Fields of Practice in Transactional Analysis
Counsellors who utilize transactional analysis work directly on “here and now” problem solving with their clients, focusing on creating productive problem solving behaviours. By using transactional analysis, counsellor’s educate and establish an equal working relationship with their clients. This working relationship provides clients with tools they can utilize in their day-to-day functions.
Transactional analysis , according to Eric Berne, is a powerful tool for human well being. In psychotherapy, transactional analysis utilizes the “Adult” in both the client and the clinician to sort out pathological behaviours and thoughts that result in incapacitation. Trained and skilled transactional analysts work “with” clients to eliminate dysfunctional behaviours and establish and reinforce healthy functioning. Competent, transactional analysts use the many tools of psychotherapy ranging from psychoanalysis to behaviour modification in effective and potent ways using transactional analysis as an operational system.
Transactional Analysis is a powerful tool in the hands of organizational development specialists. Through presenting the basic concepts of transactional analysis and using it as the basic theory to under gird the objectives of their clients, organizational development specialists build a common strategy with which to address the particular needs of organizations and to build a functional relationship, as well as eliminate dysfunctional organizational behaviours.
Educators who work with transactional analysis teach the simple concepts of basic transactional analysis to enable students, whether the students are elementary or post-graduate students. By using the basic theory of transactional analysis, educators work to create a common understanding of personality and functioning that reaches across all fields of learning and unifies the educational experience.
These core competencies form section 5 of the EATA training manual .