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What is Transactional Analysis (TA) ?

In this PDF we want to offer you basic information on the key concepts of TA. This is meant to give
you an idea of what TA is.
If you really want to understand what TA can do for you, we strongly advise to undertake TA training.
Start with a basic introductory course and if you like the taste of it, go for more!
You cannot just read about TA and then know it all. Its like swimming and riding a bike: you have to
practice and do it, in order to understand and enjoy it.

History of TA
TA is a social psychology developed by Eric Berne, MD (1910 - 1970). Over the past four decades Eric
Berne's theory has evolved to include applications to the fields of psychotherapy, counselling,
education, and organizational development.
Eric Berne, was born in Montreal, Canada. He was a pioneer and a radical in the field of psychiatry.
He developed a profound and systematic theory of personality and a range of tools which have been
used throughout the world to promote health and growth. Berne started in psychoanalysis with Paul
Federn in 1947, later he worked with Erik Erikson. Both these psychoanalysts influenced Berne's
theoretical development and particularly the development of his ideas on ego states. Berne first
mentioned TA in writing in 1957, later that year he started a seminar in San Francisco, and thus
started the growth of Transactional Analysis. San Francisco is still the headquarters of the
International Transactional Analysis Association (ITAA).

People are OK; thus each person has validity, importance, equality of respect.
Everyone (with only few exceptions, such as the severely brain-damaged) has the capacity to
People can change at all ages. They have a natural tendency to be healthy. People decide their
story and destiny (in the so called life script), and these decisions can be changed, once they are
found to be unhealthy or counterproductive.

Key concepts:
1. Strokes
A stroke is a unit of recognition In TA we call compliments and our awareness of the existence of
another human being strokes. A stroke in daily language can be both positive (a gentle touch) and
negative (a blow). Research has indicated that babies require touching in order to survive and grow.
So strokes are a biological necessity. Negative strokes are better than no strokes at all. When we
receive negative strokes then at least we know we exist and others know we exist.
It is likely that the great variety of stroke needs and styles present in the world results from
differences in upbringing, cultural background and wealth.

Strokes can be:



2. Timestructuring
We all structure time in a variety of ways:


Physically or psychologically alone;

e.g. reading, daydreaming

No strokes


Ritualized ways of behaving, e.g.

greetings, weddings

Very low intensity strokes


Semi-ritualized ways of passing

time with others, e.g. chatting
about the high prices, small talk

Low intensity strokes

Working / activities /

Goal directed activities with others,

e.g. discussing a project, making a
cycling tour, dancing

Moderate to high intensity



Interactions with others that

incorporate ulterior transactions
and lead to bad feelings. E.g. asking
for help while you dont really need
it; manipulate others

High intensity of usually

negative strokes


Authentic encounter with others,

e.g. mutual trust and closeness,
sharing joy or grief

High intensity of positive


3. Egostates

a. The Structural Model of ego states

Parent ego state: a system of behaviors, thoughts

and feelings, copied from the parents or parent
Adult ego state: a system of behaviors, thoughts
and feelings, which are direct responses to the

Child ego state: a system of behaviors, thoughts
and feelings replayed from childhood.

The concept of ego states helps to explain how our personality is made up, and how we relate to
others. Each ego state is represented by a capital letter to denote the difference between these ego
states and the daily life use of the words parents, adults and children.
The Parent Ego State
is the set of feelings, thinking and behavior that we have copied from our parents and significant
other parental figures. As we grow up, we take in these aspects from our parents and caretakers. This
is called introjection and it is just as if we swallow an image of the whole care giver, including
thoughts, feelings and behavior. When, for example, we may behave in exactly the same way our
mother did (even if we did not like that!).
The Adult ego state
is about direct responses to the here and now. From Adult, we deal with things that are going on in
the present. Berne wrote about the Integrating Adult, which is when we take the best from the past
and use it appropriately in the present. It is an integration of the positive aspects of both our Parent
and Child ego states.
The Child ego state
is the set of behaviors, thoughts and feelings which are replayed from our past. If our boss tells us to
see him in half an hour we may feel scared and wonder if we did anything wrong. The situation may
remind us of our father being angry with us and scolding us. The Child ego state holds positive
memories too. During Christmas time we might remember the cheerfulness in our parents home
when we were little and right away we may start feeling comfortable and cheerful.

b. The functional model of ego states

Each individual has different options to respond to internal or external stimuli, i.e. from:
1. Controlling Parent (CP)
2. Nurturing Parent (NP)
3. Adult (A)
4. Adapted Child (AC)
5. Free (Natural) Child (FC)
CP, NP, AC and FC each have a positive (+) and a negative(-) side.
As long as we stay in the green zone (see p. 4), we will be engaged in healthy ways of
When we communicate from the red zone, we will end up with a familiar bad feeling, for example
angry, insufficient, aggrieved, etc.










CP =
NP =
A =
AC =
FC =

Controlling Parent
Nurturing Parent
Adapted Child
Free Child


Over adapted
/ Rebellious






Functional model of ego states; inspired byTemple (2002)

4. Transactions
When I say Hello and you reply by saying Hi! we have completed a transaction.
A transaction consists of a transactional stimulus plus a transactional response.
Berne identified three types of transactions and three corresponding rules of communication.

Temple, S. Functional Fluency for Educational Transactional Analysts, TA Journal, 1999-3, updated 2002

Type of transaction

Rule of communication


Complementary or parallel
A transaction in which the
transactional vectors are parallel
and the ego state addressed is the
one which responds.
Crossed transaction
A transaction in which the
transactional vectors are not
parallel, or in which the ego state
addressed is not the one which
Ulterior transaction
A transaction in which an overt
message and a covert message
are conveyed at the same time

Rule 1: the communication can


A: Good morning
B: Hello
A: Did you sleep well?
B: No, not very well

Rule 2: the communication will

break down and something
different is likely to follow

A: What are we having for

B: Stop bothering me, for
heavens sake!

Rule 3: the outcome will be

determined at the
psychological level

A: Would you like to come

in for a drink
(meaning: I would like to be
alone with you for a while)
B: Yes, I would love a drink
(meaning: I would like to be
alone with you too!

We diagram transactions like this:

Parallel or complementary

Crossed transaction

Ulterior transaction

5. Life positions
Berne introduced the concept of life positions as our attitude towards ourselves and others.
The way we relate to other people can be shown in a diagram with 4 possibilities2.

Life positions can also be referred to as our windows on the world or the glasses through which we
see the world.

6. Psychological games
Definition: A psychological game is a repetitive sequence of complementary, ulterior transactions,
leading to a well-defined, negative payoff for all parties.
How do we know we are playing a game?
It happens to us over and over again, often with different game partners
The outcome is predictable, both for game players and audience
Ulterior transactions
We are not saying what is really going on, or what is really important to us at that moment
Negative payoff
We dont feel OK at the end of the game
Outside Adult consciousness
Games are played between Parent and/or Child egostates. The Adult egostate is not involved.
At some point in the Game there is a switch in communication, which brings confusion

Ernst, F. (1971), OK Corral: the grid for get-on-with. TAJ, 1971-4, pp 231-240

Why do we play games?

Berne was convinced that we start playing games when intimacy threatens, when people are afraid
for the real encounter. The payoff of the game justifies our view of the world. We play games to
reinforce our script. By playing games life remains predictable.
Way to diagram games: The drama triangle


Steve Karpman noticed that in each psychological game there are just three different roles, i.e.
Persecutor, Rescuer and Victim. The switches between these three roles are can be easily identified.
The roles are always dysfunctional. They are used to manipulate others or to tempt others to show a
certain type of behavior.
A Persecutor feels superior and belittles other people. The Persecutor blames the others for not
doing things right of for being the cause of all kinds of trouble. The Persecutor denies part of his own
responsibility or his own contribution to things not working out right. The Persecutor will often be
criticizing towards other people. His life position is: I am OK, you are not OK (+/-).
The Rescuer also looks upon others as being inferior, but reacts by offering help. The Rescuer thinks
that the other person is not able to help himself. The Rescuer takes over responsibility and brings
about that the other person becomes dependent on the Rescuer.
The life position is: I am OK, you are not OK (+/-)
The Victim looks upon himself as being inferior. By showing Victim behavior he sometimes provokes
the Persecutor to belittle him. Sometimes he looks for a Rescuer who offers help, thus strengthening
the Victims conviction that he is not able to help himself.
The life position is: I am not OK, you are OK (-/+)

Karpman, S.B (1968)., Fairy tales and script drama analysis, Transactional Analysis Bulletin, 1968-2, pp 39-43

7. Life script
Beginning in earliest childhood, we all decide unconsciously - upon a plan for our life. We do so as a
response to internal and external experiences.
In grown-up life we may play out parts of this early life plan, without being consciously aware that we
are doing so. At such times we are said to be in script, or to be engaging in scripty behaviours,
thoughts or feelings. We think, do and feel according to an old pattern. We dont use all our ego
states but for instance only the negative Adapted Child or the negative Controlling Parent. We are
not free to think, feel and do as we like, but are more or less imprisoned in the old pattern. We have
followed that pattern hundreds or thousands of times and it feels so familiar that we think: Thats
the way I am, thats my character.
When we experience unwanted consequences of these familiar patterns in adult life, its worthwhile
to look for script beliefs and script decisions that underlie these patterns. When we know what they
are it is easier to recognize that we have other options for thinking, feeling and behaving than the
familiar pattern that we have followed for so long.
Woolams stated that the young child decides upon a life script as a best strategy for surviving and
getting needs met in a world that often seems hostile4.
No matter how well we have been taken care of when we were little, there will always have been
moments in which our needs werent met and which we felt awful about.
Depending on which life position (+/+, +/-, -/+, -/-) we take, we will react in a similar way in different
situations, or we will perceive and interpret different situations in a similar way.

8. Autonomy
All work with TA is aimed at increasing our autonomy. Autonomy means: being out of script. Berne
suggested there are 3 important elements to autonomy:
Spontaneity: being free to choose what to do, think, feel
Intimacy: engaging in open, trusting relationships with others
Awareness: knowing what is happening in the here-and-now

Again, these are just some key concepts, which can be very useful in everyday life.
If you like these ideas and want to know more, please sign up for a TA 101: an introductory course
(12 hours) on Transactional Analysis.
To become Certified as a qualified Transactional Analyst (a CTA) takes around four years, and
to become a trainer and supervisor in Transactional Analysis (PTSTA/TSTA) takes an average of a
further five years.

Woolams, S. (1977), From 21 to 43, pp 351-393 in G. Barnes (ed.), Transactional Analysis after Eric Berne. New
York: Harpers College Press