• Transactional analysis (TA) is a popular form of psychotherapy
  • Clients are encouraged to notice the patterns that occur in their behaviour
  • TA is often practised alongside Gestalt and a relational approach

Following the introduction of Transactional Analysis (TA) by Dr Eric Berne around 60 years ago, it has grown and spread across the world. It is widely used in psychotherapy and in counselling and is applied within educational and organisational environments. Why is TA popular? What can it offer to the practising psychotherapist and to counsellors? And how can people seeking therapy benefit?

One key aspect of TA lies in the straightforward concepts that can be used during the therapy process and also taken away to use in our everyday life. For example, the concept of 'ego states' gives us a way to think about aspects of ourselves: our inner Child, which adapts to or rebels against authority; the internal Parent – part of us which can hold commands or provide nurturing; and the Adult part of us which processes information in the here and now. Ego states come into our conscious awareness as we look at ourselves and can be used to understand the ways we react to others, how they respond to us, and the communications (transactions) between people.

We experience an internal conflict between our Child ego state (something we want to do) and our Parent ego state (what we ought to do)

Our internal dialogue can also be understood with these concepts – for example when we experience an internal conflict between our Child ego state (something we want to do) and our Parent ego state (what we ought to do). I find that people become interested in these ideas and value using them for self-understanding and development.

Berne also introduced the idea of scripts. When we are children, the big people around us encourage or discourage various traits, skills and qualities within us. At various points we will make decisions which draw on those early experiences and then live out the script we learned – achieving glory or failure, getting mixed up with the wrong kind of people, being caring, becoming a risk taker, or whatever it may be. TA enables us to look at these early decisions and to gain the power to change them.

Using these and other concepts in a therapeutic relationship enables people to be less confused about themselves, and to understand and change some of the behavioural patterns that can be destructive in our lives. The goal of this work is autonomy – being able to take ownership of our lives and make decisions leading to better mental health, greater fulfilment and more satisfaction.

TA can be considered to be a contractually based approach. In my own use of TA I invite and encourage the individual I am working with to identify what they wish to achieve through their therapy, and also how each of us will know when the goal has been reached. Sessions may start by checking on progress and clarifying what my client wants to work on today. So psychotherapy sessions are not owned and directed by me – we share the responsibility for the work. In addition the contractual approach means that it is unlikely that we will be involved in open-ended work, forever progressing but never actually arriving!

TA helps us notice and then change the “here I go again” in our behaviours, thoughts or feelings

Psychotherapy with TA has some other attributes that I particularly value. The first is that because the key concepts are straightforward it is easy for people in therapy to understand and to “take them away”, so it is not special or jargonised knowledge, which only the therapist can understand. TA is based in ego-psychology – meaning that it is within the realm of our conscious awareness. So no one has to be dependent on his or her psychotherapist to deliver an interpretation; if the concept seems to fit then lets go with it! And TA is also an approach which easily highlights repetitive patterns (psychological “games”) – inviting us first to notice and then have power to change the “here I go again” in our behaviours, thoughts or feelings.

Practitioners who use TA are not restricted to particular methods in their work. It lends itself equally well to those wishing to work from a cognitive, an emotional or a relational perspective. Many TA practitioners readily combine it with methods first used by other approaches such as Gestalt therapy. In essence TA offers a shared language and provides approaches to the resolution of personal distress. And there is growing evidence of the effectiveness of TA in enabling positive change in psychotherapy.

I love to use TA in my work with individuals, couples and in groups. It provides structure, insight and understanding; it facilitates and encourages the recognition and growth of the other person. It helps me to know what I am doing within the therapy I offer and to see myself clearly in relation to others.

For therapists: The basic concepts of Transactional Analysis are not difficult to learn and introductory courses are welcoming, fun and informative. A Transactional Analysis introductory course is running on May 7 and 8 at the Oxford Street Therapy Centre, Wellingborough, NN8 4HY. Call 01933 224454 to book or for further information