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What is Transactional Analysis?

Transactional Analysis (TA) was invented by Eric Berne, M.D.(1910-1970). Perhaps you are familiar with his first popular book, Games People Play, published in 1964. Long before then, back in 1947, as a psychoanalytically oriented psychiatrist, he wrote The Mind In Action, which was revised later, in 1957, under the title of A Layman's Guide to Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis. Dr. Berne was dedicated to finding a way to talk about human behavior in a non-technical language that would reach the man in the street. Disenchanted with mainstream psychiatry, he changed his approach to a form of social psychiatry that communicated in easily understood, simple language. Discovering that people behaved from three different parts of their personality, he replaced old psychoanalytic concepts of id, ego, and superego with actually experienced "ego states." People could be observed functioning from a parental part (the Parent ego state), an adult part (the Adult ego state), and a child part (the Child ego state). In observing communication between people he noted an interaction of these different parts, which he identified as "transactions." Hence the name Transactional Analysis. You can read an excellent, concise definition of TA in The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioral Science (3rd edition, 2001, Volume 4, p. 1704).

The ITAA (International TA Association) can assist you in your search for more information. It publishes the Transactional Analysis Journal for up-to-date professional articles about TA theory and practice. You can also go to their on-line site to review historical or special TA articles.

Unfortunately, because of its simplicity and popularity, TA became a part of the American pop culture in the 70's. The ITAA, however, is committed to developing a strong scientific basis for TA theory and practice. The late Robert Gouldiing, M.D. (1918-1992) and his wife, Mary McClure Goulding, originated a powerful and effective form of TA therapy, known as Redecision Therapy, in the 60's. They revolutionized the application of TA by integrating it with gestalt therapy, and validated it by demonstrating actual behavioral change in clients. "Gestalt," a German word meaning "whole," refers to our being in contact with our experience as it unfolds in the present while we finish or complete unfinished childhood issues.

Below is a very brief description or glossary of a few basic TA concepts; a fuller explanation can be found in my TA primer (available from my TA Bookstore) and other advanced works.

Ego states
These are three major parts of your personality, consisting of a parental part of you that can be supportive or critical; an adult part of you that is rational; and a child part of you that is free and natural, or adapted to parental influences. These parts can blend in a healthy way, or contaminate each other to create a distorted view of the world.
In communication with others, the ego states of each person interact to create "transactions." Such transactions can be overt or covert, and can be classified as straightforward, crossed-up, or ulterior. Knowing about transactions helps in conflict resolution.
The process of getting your needs and wants met during these transactions is an exchange of "strokes." The word originates from the gentle physical caressing needed by infants. These strokes can be positive or negative, conditional or unconditional. To get these strokes we structure our time with "alone time," rituals, pastimes, play and work activities, games, and intimate moments.
Behavior Rackets
These are behaviors driven by defensive feelings we manufacture to cover up our real feelings. A common racket is angry behavior that one can use to defend against feelings like hurt, sadness, or shame. We can support "rackety" feelings with our belief that we deserve to feel that way and then justify our negative behavior.
These are ulterior ways of getting strokes without having to face our real feelings and needs with others. Our overt level of communication comes with a covert exchange that often supports our bad feeling rackets. In these games, like in a soap opera, people can take on the shifting roles of victim, persecutor, or rescuer, to form a "drama triangle."
This is the most honest way of getting our strokes. By being open, sharing our vulnerability with others, and letting them see us as we really are, we can experience closeness, or intimacy with others.
Life scripts
A large part of your life story unfolds like the script of a drama or play. You are "in script" when your life is mostly under the control of family influences and childhood decisions. The nature of your script, whether positive or negative, depends on the kinds of permissions and prohibitions you received as a child, and the resulting early decisions you made.
This is the basic goal of TA, defined as your capacity to be aware, spontaneous, and intimate with others. The more script-free you are, the more autonomous you will be.
This refers to your capacity to re-decide any negative decisions you made as a child. The power to change is in you, and this power is often released after a redecision is made while you are in your child ego state.

These are only a few of the basic concepts used by transactional analysts in their work with individuals, groups, and organizations. My basic TA primer can be ordered from the new publisher.