Transactional Analysis (TA), another major cognitive theory was formulated by Eric Berne in the early 1960s. The theory rose to prominence after the publication of two best-selling books:

  • Berne’s Games People Play (1964).
  • Thomas Harris’s I’m OK – You’re OK (1947).
theory and practice of counseling  TRANSACTIONAL ANALYSIS:

Eric Berne

Eric Berne was born in 1910 in Montreal, Canada, where his father was a doctor and his mother was a writer and an editor. Berne was five years older than his only sibling, a sister. He was close to his father, who died at the age of 38 when Eric was 9 years old. Berne followed in his father’s footsteps, earning a medical degree from McGill University in 1935. He then completed a psychiatric residency at Yale, set up a private practice in Connecticut and New York, became a U.S. citizen, and married. During World War II, he served as an army psychiatrist in Utah, where he started practicing group therapy.

After the war, Berne settled in Camel, California, where he separated from his wife and completed his first book, The Mind in Action (1947), a critical survey of psychiatry and psychoanalysis. In California, he resumed the psychoanalytic training he had started before the war. Part of that training was his analysis which was supervised by Eric Erickson.

In 1956, Berne was turned down for membership in the psychoanalytic Institute. This rejection proved to be a turning point in his life. He reacted by disassociating himself from psychoanalysis and devoting his time to the development of the transactional analysis which has a psychoanalytic favor.

Formulation of TA (Dusay, 1977)

Dusay (1977) describes the formulation of TA in four phases:

In the first phase (1955-1962), Berne developed the concept of ego states. His ideas were influenced by his clients’ descriptions of behaving as a child, a parent, and an adult (the three ego status).

  • In the second phase (1962-1966) he concentrated on ideas about transactions and games. Berne published the popular Games People Play.
  • In the third phase (1966-1970), he emphasized the reasons some individuals choose to play certain games in life.
  • In the fourth phase (from 1970 onward), he and his followers emphasized action and energy distribution.

View of Human Nature

Transactional Analysis is an optimistic theory. Its basic assumption is that people can change despite any unfortunate events of the past. TA is also anti-deterministic, believing that people have choices in their lives: that what was decided can be redecided at a later date.

TA focuses on four major methods of understanding and predicting human behavior:

  • Structured analysis: Understanding what is happening within the individual.
  • Transactional analysis: describing what happens between two or more people.
  • Game analysis: understanding transactions between individuals that lead to bad feelings.
  • Script analysis: understanding the life plan that an individual is following:

Structured analysis:

Ego States: An ego state is a consistent pattern of feeling and experience directly related to a corresponding consistent pattern of behavior. Each person is considered to have three functional ego states: child, parent, and adult.

The child ego state:

The child ego state is the first to develop. It is that part of the personality characterized by childlike behaviors and feelings. The child ego state consists of two subdivisions:

  • The natural (free) child is the part of the person that is spontaneous, impulsive, feeling oriented and often self-centered and pleasure loving.
  • The adaptive child is the compliant part of the personality that confirms to the wishes and demands of parental figures.

The parent ego state:

The parent ego state incorporates the attitudes and behaviors (the don’ts, shoulds, and oughts) of parental figures. Outwardly, these messages are delivered through prejudice, criticism, and nurturing behavior. This ego state consists of two subdivisions:

  • The nurturing parent is the part of the person that comforts, praises, and aids others.
  • The critical parent: is that part of the person that finds fault, displays prejudices, disapproves, and prevents others from feelings good about themselves.

theory and practice of counseling  TRANSACTIONAL ANALYSIS:

The adult ego state:

The adult ego state is not subdivided or related to a person’s age. It is the objective, thinking, data-gathering part of the person. The adult ego state tests reality, much as the ego does in Freud’s system.

Transactional Analysis: Egogram

One way of assessing the ego state(s) a person most employs is through the use of egogram. An egogram will remain “fixed” unless individual decides to invest energy in using another ego state.

theory and practice of counseling  TRANSACTIONAL ANALYSIS:

Transactions may occur on one of three levels:

Complementary transaction

• In a complementary transaction, both persons are operating either from the same ego state (for example, child to child; adult to adult) or from complementary ego states (parent to child; adult to parent). Responses are predictable and appropriate.


An adult – to – adult transaction might look like this:

Person 1: What time is it? Person II: It is 7 o’clock

A child – to-child transaction would involve more playfulness:

Person I: let’s go play with Shoib Person II: Yes, We could have lots of fun with him!

A parent –to – parent transaction, however, would be more nurturing or critical

Person I: You never do anything right Person II: that’s because you’re always finding fault with my work

theory and practice of counseling  TRANSACTIONAL ANALYSIS:

Crossed Transactions

• In crossed transactions, an inappropriate ego state is activated, producing an unexpected response. Crossed Transactions hurt.

An ulterior transaction

• An ulterior transaction is one in which two ego states operate simultaneously and one message disguises the other.

Person I: can you help me’ carry these bags? They must weigh. Person II: Those bags weigh approximately twenty pounds, and you are capable of carrying them.

Game Analysis

  • Games are ulteriorly motivated transactions that appear complementary on the surface but end in bad feelings. Games keep people safe from exposing their thoughts and feelings.
  • There are first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree games; and all have predictable ends.
  • First-degree games are played in social circles with anyone who is willing to participate.
  • A second-degree game occur when the players go after bigger stakes, usually in more intimate circles, and end up with bad feelings.
  • A third-degree game usually involves tissue damage; and the players end up in jail, the hospital, or the morgue.
  • Individuals playing games operate from one of 3 positions: Victim, Persecutor, & rescuer. To keep games going there is often a switch-off where people assume new roles.
  • In the long run, however, game players are losers because they avoid meaningful and healthy human interactions.

Script Analysis

Life scripts are based on interpretations of external events and determine how one interacts with others.

Permissions and injunctions refer to positive and negative messages to a child. Positive messages (Permissions) do not limit people in any way but negative (injunctions) may become destructive scripts, unless a person makes conscious efforts to overcome them. Many parental injunctions refers to don’ts, shoulds, ought not, etc.

Role of the Counselor

  • TA treatment assigns the counselor the initial role of being a teacher. He or she must explain to the client the language and concepts of TA, a new way of thinking about self.
  • After this is accomplished, the counselor contracts with the client for specific changes and helps the person achieve them.
  • Diagnosis based on DSM-IV categories is not stressed.


  • Primary goals of TA focus on helping clients transform themselves from “frogs” into “princes and princesses”.
  • It is not enough that persons learn to adjust, as in psychoanalysis. Instead, the emphasis is on attaining health and autonomy.
  • Counselors help their clients identify and restore distorted or damaged ego states.
  • A major emphasis of TA is on learning about the self in order to decide who one wishes to become.


  • Treatment contract: a specific, concrete contract that emphasizes agreed upon responsibilities for both counselors and clients.
  • Interrogation: speaking to a client’s adult state until the counselor receives an adult response.
  • Explanation: occurs on an adult-to-adult ego state level. The counselor teaches the client about some aspects of TA.
  • Illustration: Enlightens the client or elaborates a point.
  • Confirmation: Used when previously modified behavior occurs again and the counselor points this out to the client.
  • Interpretation: involves the counselor’s explanation to the child ego state of the client the reasons for the client’s behavior.
  • Crystallization: Consists of an adult-to-adult transaction in which the client comes to an awareness that individual game playing may be given up if so desired.
  • Confrontation: involves the counselor’s pointing out inconsistencies in the client’s behavior or speech.
  • Almost all the techniques in TA involve some combination of questioning confrontation and dialogue. The following are among the questions most frequently asked by TA counselors.
  • What are the nicest and worst things your parents ever said to you?
  • What is your earliest memory?
  • What is the family story about your birth?
  • What is your favorite fairy tale, story, or songs?
  • How would you describe your mother and father?
  • How long do you expect to live?

Evaluation: Strengths

  • The approach uses terms that are easily understood and clearly defined.
  • The approach is easily and collectively combined with other more action-oriented approaches.
  • The approach puts the responsibility of change on the client.
  • The approach is goal-directed.


  • The approach has been criticized for its primary cognitive orientation.
  • The approach is criticized for its simplicity, structure, and popularity.
  • The research behind the approach is relatively weak.
  • The approach has not developed much since Berne’s death in 1970.
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