An evolution of Freud, and a stepping stone to behavior and cognitive behavior therapy, transactional analysis breaks the tie with Freud by focusing on client change, rather than insight. Change is caused by helping the client understand why they do things, how their past affects their present, facing injunctions, and in making behavior contracts.
The Historical Context
Despite Berne not being formally admitted as a psychoanalysist, his work is really a natural progression of Freud’s personality theories. While rejecting one or two major Freudian tenants, it is clear from Berne’s work that he admires Freud immensely, and is working to rectify his own understanding of human nature and change, with Freud’s construction. Berne’s change of language made his analysis more acceptable to the public, who could immediately understand words like “decision” and “parent” without much change in common definition. By changing the methods of the analyst, Freud’s fundamental ideas could be more broadly applied. It seems to me that transactional analysis is the technical basis for behavioral and cognitive behavior therapy. This therapy focuses on change in the client, rather than insight into why they might do things.
The Major Contributors
- Eric Berne was born May 10, 1910 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, as Leonard Bernstein. The family immigrated to Canada from Poland and Russia.. He received an M.D. and C.M. (Master of Surgery) from McGill University Medical School in 1935. In 1941 he began training as a psychoanalyst at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and became an analysand of Paul Federn. In 1947 “he became the analysand of Eric Erikson, with whom he worked for two years.” “Probably the most significant traces of the origins of transactional analysis are contained in the first five of six articles on intuition Berne wrote beginning in 1949. Already, at that early date, when he was still working to gain the status of psychoanalyst, he dared to defy Freudian concepts of the unconscious in his writings. When he began training in 1941 at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, and later when he resumed his training at the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute, Berne obviously believed that becoming a psychoanalyst was important. However, in the end that coveted title was withheld; his 1956 application for membership was turned down with the verdict that he wasn’t ready, but, perhaps after three or four more years of personal analysis and training he might reapply. For Eric the rejection was galvanizing, spurring him to intensify his long-standing ambition to add something new to psychoanalysis. He set to work” (ITAA-net). He framed his theory around the psychoanalyitic approach.
- Requires a contract between client and therapist to direct the course of therapy.
- Focuses on behavioral, cognative and rational parts of thinking. Increases awareness of the client about themselves to make new choices about their own lives.
- Often utilized in group therapy for intellectual and emotional insight.
- Three Separate Ego states are determined by choice, situation and relationship.
o Parent: “introject” twisted, distorted clone of your parents. Values, beliefs and guidance you got from your parents that are living inside of you. Could be nurturing or critical. Has all the “shoulds” and “oughts”
o Adult: “objective” part which processes data and factual, external information and reality. Used to make decisions based on available information.
o Child: feelings, impulses and spontaneous acts. Natural child (untrained, spontaneous, expressive, open to new experiences), little professor (unschooled wisdom of children, manipulative and creative, intuitive), or the adapted child (a modification of the natural child, often the result of trauma, training, or desire from attention (Kelly).
- Decision: making choices without recognizing the ego-state, depending on the surrounding events.
- Redecision: after recognizing the ego-state you are in, choose a different one and make decisions to stay in that ego-state
- Gain: a way of supporting early decisions. A series of transactions that end in a person feeling badly. Designed to prevent intimacy, and to support an individual original decision. Part of a person’s “life script”.
- Script: the story of our lives, the injunctions, games and rackets and how they are configured to give the client a perspective of themselves in that world. It will tell you how your life will end (that is, the story is already played out!), but at any point you can decide to be different.
- Racket: chronic bad feelings from early decisions that are saved up. The idea of playing games. The unpleasant feeling we get after playing a game. We maintain them as adults as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. For example: “guilt racket” “depression racket” etc.
- Strokes: approval, a form of recognition, but also to send a negative message. People organize themselves around getting positive strokes and avoiding negative ones.
- Conflicts with psychoanalytic approach because it is anti-deterministic: clients can transcend their conditioning. There is also no Freudian unconscious.
- Parents “give” their kids injunctions but it is the responsibility of the client to face them and see how they manifest in their life. Injuncitons include “don’t succeed” or “don’t grow up” or “don’t be you” (Kelly).
Evaluation of the Theory from My Religious Perspective
I don’t really know how to evaluate transactional analysis from my religious perspective. I suppose the lack of an unconscious concerns me, as it feels like this theory lacks a spiritual dimension. It is based in the real world, but I believe there is more to us than what is on the surface and what we can see. I like that it is anti-deterministic, as that suggests that clients have some sort of God-given freedom to make choices and to change, which vibes with our philosophies. It deals with our “inner voices” which may or may not belong to us—I know I carry a tiny “mom” inside me who says crazy things like my mom would—which is concurrent with my religious experience in doing magic and addressing changes I want to make within myself.
ITAA; History of Eric Berne. http://www.itaa-net.org/ta/bernehist.htm
Kelly, J. Lecture: Transactional Analysis. July 16th, 2009. 18:00-20:00. Amridge University, Elluminate Live! Accessed July 25th, 2009.