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Eric Berne was influenced by traditional psychoanalytic theory and neuroscience in his creation of transactional analysis. This lesson explores the therapeutic relationship in transactional analysis and describes this user friendly form of therapy.

Eric Berne

Let’s meet a young psychiatrist by the name of Eric Berne.

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During his early career, Berne was influenced by both Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and the work of a neurosurgeon, Dr. Wilder Penfield.Although he didn’t completely agree with Freud’s model, Berne saw merit in Freud’s view of multiple states of consciousness. He was also intrigued by Dr. Penfield’s experiments that demonstrated the process in which the human brain could record, recall, and replay past experiences and associated feelings. Berne began to develop his theory of transactional analysis, or TA, as he applied these ideas to his own work.

The definition of transactional analysis that is suggested by the International Transactional Analysis Association describes TA as a theory of personality and a systematic psychotherapy for personal growth and personal change.

The Philosophy of TA

Transactional analysis embraces a positive view of human nature. Some basic assumptions are:

  • All people are important and their concerns are valid.
  • All people should be treated as equals and with respect.
  • With a few exceptions, all people have the ability to think as adults.

  • All people decide their own destiny and can make changes to it.

From these assumptions, TA creates a form of therapy that is not only problem-oriented, but also goal-oriented. It aims to free the client from maladaptive patterns of behavior based on past thinking. In doing so, they will be able to choose a new direction in life. In fact, the basic goal of transactional analysis is to help clients make new decisions about their current behavior and change the direction their lives are taking.

In other words, a person will learn to write his own life story instead of allowing it to be written for him.Transactional analysis should help clients gain both cognitive and emotional insight into their problems. Let’s look at an example.John does not think people like him. The emotional sides of this are his feelings of depression and low self-esteem. He has become discouraged with personal interaction because of these feelings. The cognitive aspect of John’s situation is that his avoidance of personal interaction prevents others from having the opportunity to like him.

If John can stop choosing to avoid others, he will most likely find someone with whom he can develop a relationship, and this will improve his emotional health.

Role of the Counselor

In transactional analysis, the counselor and the client work together to establish the specific goals of therapy. In other words, the counselor will use his knowledge to address a concern introduced by the client rather than telling the client what issues he needs to focus on.The process of treatment in transactional analysis centers on this collaboration.

In fact, an actual written contract is often used. This TA contract is an expressed agreement between the client and counselor about the desired goal and what the treatment process will consist of.For example, let’s imagine a woman who we will call Tammy. Tammy has difficulty being assertive. She would like to become better at expressing her feelings, especially when she disagrees with the actions of others. She sees a TA counselor who provides his input, and they design a contract that will lead to a change in her behavior.

Her contract will describe what actions she will perform during therapy, when she will do these things, and how often she will do these things. For Tammy, this may begin with demonstrating assertive behavior. She would do this during role play with the therapist. The goal would be for her to demonstrate appropriate responses 90% of the time. Once Tammy meets this goal, the contract would be expanded to include situations outside of the counselor’s office.

The role of the counselor is to help the client identify specific issues that can be addressed. Much of the counselor’s time will be spent conducting client education in regard to what is occurring and how to change any negative patterns through the use of different therapeutic strategies. In this way, the counselor will help the individual acquire the tools necessary to change. Transactional analysis seeks to create a user-friendly form of therapeutic intervention that can be easily understood by the client.

Strengths and Limitations

Now let’s quickly highlight what might be a positive or negative aspect of transactional analysis. There are some definite strengths involved in this type of therapy.

  • TA can be applied to individuals, couples, families, or groups.

  • TA is a completely individualized approach so the therapy can be built to suit a wide variety of needs.
  • TA allows measurement of goals in a clear and organized manner.

Although transactional analysis has many strengths, it also has some limitations.

  • TA is only effective for clients with the adequate emotional stability and cognitive ability to develop and complete the therapy contract.

  • TA has very few of its own techniques and, therefore, must often borrow them from other therapeutic approaches.

Lesson Summary

Eric Berne developed the theory of transactional analysis, or TA. Transactional analysis is a theory of personality and a systematic psychotherapy for personal growth and personal change.The TA counselor and client work together to determine problems that will be addressed and to develop therapeutic goals.

An actual contract is often used. A TA contract is an expressed agreement between the client and counselor about the desired goal and what the treatment process will consist of.Transactional analysis embraces a positive view of human nature. It aims to help the client gain both cognitive and emotional insight into their lives. As this occurs, the clients can free themselves from maladaptive patterns of behavior they have learned in the past and make new choices to direct their lives.

Learning Outcomes

Following this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Describe Eric Berne’s theory of transactional analysis (TA)
  • Identify the main goal of TA and how it can be achieved
  • Summarize the role of the counselor in TA
  • Explain the strengths and limitations of TA

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