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Transactional analysis (TA)

by Sarah Horrocks Published on 15 November 2007

Transactional analysis (TA) is a psychoanalytic form of psychology developed by the American psychiatrist Eric Berne in the 1950s, based on his published theory of communication and personality. It is used in private practice and self-help.

What is transactional analysis?
Transactional analysis is defined as a form of psychotherapy that can help resolve various problems related to relationships with the self and others, and arrive at a balance defined by three criteria for good mental health: awareness, spontaneity and intimacy. Transactional analysis provides explanations that can change the way we live, by changing the way we sometimes carry on re-using strategies that served us in childhood in adult life, even when it’s futile and painful to do so. TA works using three ego-state models of the self: Parent, Adult and Child, with emphasis on the intrapsychic and inter-relational phenomena dubbed 'transactions' (communication). It also analyses dysfunctional communication a great deal. In short, transactional analysis offers an observation grid, analysis of human behaviour, and elements that aid self-knowledge and communication. TA can be seen as a bit of a tool box for analysis, which is why it’s known as a simpler, more accessible type of psychoanalysis, with emphasis on the transactional rather than the psycho analysis.

Who can benefit from TA?
Transactional analysis can be used in 4 different ways:
- in psychotherapy: TA aids personal development and is used to treat dysfunctions in group or individual psychotherapy.
- in business: TA has had great success in business and is used to improve company dynamics.
- in education: TA is used in education and training activities (with teachers, education advisors, parents and other teaching/nursery staff)
- in social professions: TA is used in care or social professions such as nursing, teaching and social work.
However, professional bodies of analysts do not claim that TA can help solve specific problems. There is no quality scientific proof that TA is effective.

How is it carried out?
TA psychotherapy is arranged a bit like a contract between patient and therapist. The therapist and patient try and determine which model (Child, Adult or Parent) and which subconscious 'life scenario' the patient uses. You then set a target for change and learn to analyse the way you communicate. TA therapists are approached as people and not as opaque projection screens. TA also sometimes incorporates tools from other types of therapy such as gestalt therapy.

How much does it cost?
TA can be carried out individually or in a group, and lasts anywhere from 6 months to 3 years. One 50-minute session a week costs from £25 to £70; in a group, expect to pay £20 to £40 for a 3-hour session. Beware of derivatives or of anyone who claims to be qualified in TA therapy: not all ‘therapists’ out there are genuine. A list of qualified practitioners can be found at the Institute of Transactional Analysis www.ita.org.uk.

Transactional analysis concepts

- Alter-ego state models
These are the types of behaviour associated with systems of thoughts and feelings. An awareness that these are lacking can precipitate change. The three models are Parent, Adult and Child. The child model is activated when a person thinks and acts as he or she did as a child; the parent model comes into play when a person acts how their parents would; and the adult model is said to be used every time a person thinks, feels and acts in a coherent manner in a given situation.

- Transactions A transaction is an exchange between two of the alter-ego state models in response to a stimulus (communication).

- Recognition hunger and structure hunger These are essential needs for our physical and mental health.

- Life positions Life positions are beliefs about the self and others that are made in childhood from conclusions the child makes about their value, other people’s value and the value of the world. This concept allows us to understand how a person has built their identity and how they build their relationships.

- Rackets The four basic feelings are joy, sadness, anger and fear. Children sometimes learn to repress one of these feelings and replace them with another, which is termed the racket. Later on in life, the person may experience confusing relationships if he or she continues to cover up true feelings with racket feelings.

- Life (or Childhood) script This is a subconscious life plan. In childhood, we make decisions in order to survive and to meet immediate needs, and later we carry on subconsciously conforming to these decisions, even if they cause harm.

- Games A psychological game is the repetition of an established life script narrative by an adult based on a manipulative mode of communication. TA helps people find a healthier way of fulfilling their needs in their relationships with others.

- Autonomy Autonomy is a state in which a person uses their ability to be aware, spontaneous and intimate, accept their key responsibilities, make sensible decisions, feel real feelings and not rackets, and perceive themselves and others as people who deserve respect. It is described as the state of freedom from the life or childhood script.

by Sarah Horrocks

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