What is Transactional Analysis?

There are numerous psychotherapeutic theories and approaches available today. Each has its work principles and philosophy, but the client’s well-being is always the priority. What is Transactional Analysis as psychotherapy, and what can you expect from a Transactional Analysis practitioner? Continue reading below.

Books on transactional analysis, psychotherapy.

Principles and values of Transactional Analysis

Transactional Analysis (TA) is a personality theory and psychotherapeutic approach that focuses on personal development and transformation. It was developed at the end of the twentieth century, in the 1950s. Eric Berne, the founder of TA, was among the first psychiatrists to actively involve his patients in the course of treatment. This changed the way mental health is approached and empowered the client’s role in the psychotherapy process.

The Transactional Analysis contains numerous concepts that assist the client and therapist in better understanding the client’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings. The philosophy is based on three principles: (1) people are okay; (2) everyone has the ability to think; and (3) people decide their fate, and decisions can change. The goal of TA is to achieve autonomy by encouraging personal responsibility for our lives and increasing respect for ourselves and others. It also encourages us to actively use our resources and redefine limiting beliefs and behaviors that keep us from happiness and success.

The outline of the head through which the film passes represents human brain programming, which is one of the fundamental areas of work in transactional analysis.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

TA describes how personality develops through communication within the family and the larger community—the exchange of transactions. Early messages influence our learning and decision-making about ourselves, others, and the world around us. The ego state model, Drama triangle, Games, and Scripts are all TA concepts that help us understand human behavior better. You may find out more about them by reading on.

Basic concepts of Transactional Analysis

Ego states model

The ego state model helps us understand ourselves and others by clarifying human behavior. According to TA, every person has three ego states: the Parent ego state, the Adult ego state, and the Child ego state. These ego states represent various thoughts, feelings, and behavior patterns. They are aspects of our personalities that we display at various times.

Parent ego state 

The Parent ego state represents the values and behaviors we learn from our significant others at an early age. Normally, these are the things we have learned from our parents or imitated. Frequently, we are talking about instructions on how to live, which our parents listened to when they were children. The Parent ego state includes values and beliefs about good and bad. This ego state is in charge of socialized behavior. It contains remorse for wrongdoing. We could not have a stable society without it.

Adult ego state 

The Adult ego state processes reality, makes decisions, and understands what is going on. It receives information from all five senses and organizes and rationalizes it. The Adult ego state reacts in the present moment and actively uses available resources to solve a problem.

Child ego state 

The Child ego state is best described by imagining a little boy or girl hidden inside every adult. He or she is based on childhood memories. That inner child strives to satisfy its needs in the same way we did as children. Our emotions, feelings, and spontaneous reactions are expressed in The Child ego state.

Ego states are part of the personality of each individual. They are visible when speaking to others. We can address others in one of these three ego states and receive responses in the same manner. These communication exchanges are known as transactions and are the foundation of TA. This is a very straightforward explanation of interpersonal communication. When you become conscious of your ego state, you can influence positive changes in your relationships with yourself and others and improve communication.

Life script

The script is an essential TA concept. It is a childhood life plan that a person unconsciously follows in adulthood. It refers to the set of beliefs, attitudes, and behavior patterns that people develop as a result of their early life experiences, particularly during childhood.

Children attempt to find significance in life from an early age, assigning various meanings and values to themselves, others, and the world. It is critical to emphasize here that children think differently than adults and lack the experience and logic to fully understand various life events. This way of thinking can be best illustrated by fairy tales, in which the characters are black and white and the world is magical and full of surprises. Taking in every bit of that magic, children form opinions about their worth and the love they deserve at a young age, and based on that, they evaluate their chances for success in life. This formed scenario is later repeated in adulthood and affects our behavior and choices, frequently repeating childhood patterns.

The outline of the head with a camera playing a film instead of a brain represents the significance of perception of external events, which is a key point in transactional analysis.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The main issue with the Script is the fact that the person is unaware of their current abilities as adults but instead takes a position from childhood. This severely restricts one’s life and eliminates the enormous potential for new experiences, learning, and the formation of fulfilling connections with others.

Giving up failure is more difficult than giving up success.

Berne, Eric


Transactional Analysis is based on the premise that all beings strive for autonomy, and TA tools are created to support this pursuit. This includes authentic satisfaction of one’s needs as well as decision-making freedom. This implies that we honestly communicate and satisfy our needs while respecting ourselves and others. Also, we solve problems with our available resources rather than relying on learned reactions from childhood. In TA, the concept of Games refers to harmful repetitive behaviors that most people are unaware of, as well as their purpose. Games can be used to satisfy emotional needs, gain attention, or manipulate others. They are the opposite of autonomy, in which a person is responsible and stands up for himself, revealing what he or she needs.

In the Games, players use old strategies they learned as young children to accomplish objectives. It is based on taking on the psychological roles of the Victim, Persecutor, or Rescuer that differ from authentic reactions. The Rescuer is doing things for others they did not ask for, stripping them of an opportunity to solve obstacles for themselves. The Victim discounts the resources he or she possesses for effective problem-solving and falls into helplessness, while the Persecutor oppresses others and holds them responsible for his/her issues. 

In the Game, players take on different roles during social interactions according to a predetermined pattern established in childhood. Role-switching serves to validate early beliefs about who we are and what we believe about other people and the world. The individuals replicate childhood experiences in the present, which forms the basis of the Script. People may experience unfulfilling interactions with others as a result, feeling stuck in a recurring cycle of unsatisfying transactions. They distance themselves in this way from their real needs and intimate relationships.

What distinguishes Transactional Analysis from other approaches in psychotherapy?

Formation of a contract

The contract is a measurable goal that the client and the psychotherapist jointly agree upon, despite its formal and legalistic appearance. This establishes a framework and makes it possible to track how well the therapy is working. 

Furthermore, the formation of the contract demystifies the process of psychotherapy and the possibility of changes. It helps the client and the therapist to be “on the same page” and inspires the client to make positive changes because he or she actively participates in defining the goal itself.

Honest dialogue

TA’s core beliefs are that every one of us deserves respect. We can shape our lives according to our wishes, and we are capable of making decisions for ourselves. In TA practice, the psychotherapist discloses all information about their collaborative work with the client. Additionally, the psychotherapist may convey TA principles to the client. In that way, clients can use the TA tools on their own and actively participate in the process.  

Transactional Analysis is now a widely used psychotherapeutic approach all over the world. More information about organizational structure can be found at the following link.

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