Transactional Analysis


At times we have all said to ourselves; "How on Earth did I end up here again? I thought it was going to be different this time." Or, "Why am I attracted to that type of person? They always make me so miserable." Or maybe, "What is it about that person that really gets my back up?" or "I really want to get out of this rut but I just don't know how." Transactional analysis (TA) is a great way to understand all these issues.

In TA, a transaction refers to the give and take of communication between two people. I say "Hello!", you reply, "Hi there. Nice to see you!" That's a transaction. Of course, in real life multidimensional are apt to be far complex and multi-layered and that's when the problems start. TA provides a clear model for understanding hidden messages and ulterior motives and all the other things that make communication so complicated.

Ego States

Transactional Analysis is also a great model for understanding yourself. One of the best known pieces of TA theory is the ego state model (see the diagram on the left). This splits personality into three separate parts: Parent, Adult and Child. Sometimes we behave like the adult we are now, sometimes we feel like the child we once were and at times we act just like our parents did. We may not be aware of it but we move between these three ego states all the time. Importantly, our Child and our Parent ego states do not always agree, and when that happens we experience internal conflict. For example, in your Child ego state you might think, "I'd really like the afternoon off" but in your Parent ego state you might give yourself a hard time, telling yourself, "Don't be so irresponsible. You must keep working." just as your parents did. This kind of internal dialogue is something that many people can relate to. Part of the work in TA is to separate out the different ego states in order to gain insight and control over our behaviour.

Life script is another central concept in TA. This is the idea that all of us decide our life's story in childhood. This is a definite story with a beginning, middle and end. We create the core version when we are small and then we review it as we move through adolescence. By the time we reach adulthood we are so used to it we do not even see it's there. The decisions we have made as children about ourselves, other people and the world have become unconscious. Yet they still drive us to do things as an adult, out of our awareness. This is one way to answer the questions at the top of the page; each person's script has a definite ending or payoff, the point at which we arrive at that familiar, painful place and ask ourselves, "How on Earth did I end up here again?" TA seeks to dismantle script by bringing it into awareness. Once we become aware of our self-limiting beliefs and restrictive patterns they become available to change. As we develop in therapy we begin lose our script and move towards autonomy.

TA is based on an equivalence between client and therapist. This is expressed in the famous phrase, 'I'm OK, You're OK.'  TA theory is designed to be understood and used by both client and therapist, and both work together contractually to achieve therapeutic goals.

This introduction barely scratches the surface of what transactional analysis has to offer and there are many fascinating piece of theory to explore. These include; ego states, games, rackets, discounting, injunctions, script, drivers, symbiosis and many others. You can read more about TA at here and here.