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Underlying Philosophy of Transactional Analysis

Categories: PhilosophyPsychology

Transactional analysis is a system of psychotherapy that analyzes personal relationships and interactions in terms of conflicting or complementary ego states that correspond to the roles of parent, child and adult.

“Berne referred to Transactional Analysis as social psychiatry, meaning a form of therapy or counseling used by every day people.”

It is a therapy that is used to create growth and change. Eric Berne introduced Transactional Analysis in the 1950’s. He developed the concepts and tools for Transactional Analysis and introduced them to the public in his book “Games People Play.

The concepts of Transactional Analysis are simple, straightforward and easy to use and not full of medical terminology like most other therapies. The tools and understanding provided by Transactional Analysis can create positive change to people, relationships, and the work environment when applied correctly.

Transactional Analysis is a theory of communications and interpersonal interaction. Sometimes the communications between two people have a hidden message, meaning, and agenda. The result of this hidden message is a game.

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The purpose of the game is to get a need met, without asking directly for what we need or want. People learn how to play these games to get our needs met as children, and they worked then. As adults, they are the source of problems in our every-day relationships with ourselves and those around us, because things get much more complicated as our age progresses. Transactional Analysis is also a theory on personality and psychological structure. The concept of the parent, adult, and child ego states also originated in Transactional Analysis.

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These ideas help people to understand, explain and change their behavior and have better relationships with others. Through these ideas, people begin to understand ourselves and how we operate, as well as others.

Explain and define EGO states

Stewart and Jones pointed out “again and again, Berne emphasized that Parent and Child are echoes of the past”

Ego States – The human personality is made up of three ego states, each of which is an entire system of thought, feelings and behaviours copied from either our parents, the here and now or our childhood. When our behaviours are copied from our parents we call this ego state, parent ego state. When we respond to reality in the here and now, we call this adult ego state and when we respond to thoughts, feeling and behaviours that are the relics from our childhood, we call this the child ego state. These are the ego states from which we interact with each other. Transactional analysts are trained to recognize which ego states people are transacting from and to follow the transactional sequences so they can intervene and improve the quality and effectiveness of communication.

The parent ego state is divided into the critical parent and the nurturing parent

Nurturing Parent
The nurturing parent is that part of a person that is understanding and caring about other people. While behaviour coming from the nurturing parent may set limits on and provide direction for people’s behaviour, it will not put these people down and make them feel not okay as individuals.

Critical Parent
The Critical Parent makes people feel that their behaviour is not okay. Thus critical parent behaviour attacks people’s personalities as well as their behaviour. When people are in their critical parent ego state, they are very evaluative and judgmental. They are always ready to respond with a “should” or “ought” to almost anything people tell them.

Adult ego state
The Adult ego state evokes behaviour that could be described as logical, reasonable relational, calculating and unemotional. Behaviour from the adult ego state is characterized by problem solving analysis and rational decisions making. It tries to upgrade decisions by seeking facts, estimating probabilities and holding factual discussions. People operating from the adult ego state are taking the emotional content of their child ego state and the value content of their parent ego state and checking them out in the reality of the external world. These people are examining alternatives, probabilities and values prior to engaging in behaviour.

The child ego state is divided into adaptive child and free child.

Free Child
When a person in this ego state they aren’t going to listen to anyone who tells them what to do. They either rebel openly by being very negative or rebel subtly by forgetting, being confused, or putting off doing something that someone wants them to do. Persons behaving from rebellious child will not do anything an authority figure asks them to do even if it makes sense.

Adapted Child
When people are in this ego state, they do what others want. Complying with the wishes of others is okay if the person really wants to or if it marks sense to do it. In such a case, a compliant child would be classified as a form of happy child because the behaviour would not be disruptive to themselves or to their environment. The child ego state is a permanent recording of the internal events in response to external events in child’s life.

All people behave from one or all of the three ego states at different times. A healthy person has a personality that maintains a balance among all three; particularly, Nurturing Parent, adult and happy child. This means that at times, these people are able to let the adult ego state take over and think relationally and engage in problem solving. At other times, these people are able to free their child ego state and let their hair down, have fun and be spontaneous and emotional. At still other times, healthy people are able to defer to the parent ego state and learn from experience; they do not have to reinvent the wheel every time. They develop values that aid in the speed and
effectiveness of decision making.


Complementary Transaction

If a manager says to one of her staff members from her Adult ego state, “Have you finished tying that response?” and her staff member responds from the Adult ego state, “Yes it is on my desk?” we have a completed communication in which everyone feels ok. This transaction is called a complementary transaction.

Diagonal Transactions

If the manager was coming from her critical parent and said something like, “How can you be so stupid? The last letter you gave me had such a lot of errors. I don’t see how you can do your job if you don’t know how to type a simple letter, “ and her staff member responded from her compliant child back to his manager’s critical parent by meekly saying, “ I’m sorry, I’ll try not to make those mistakes next time”, we have a completed communication who is referred to as a diagonal transaction.

Crossed Transactions

These are also called crossed or blocked transactions. Such transactions occur when the stimulus and response lines are not parallel. It results in the temporary closing of communications. This occurs when a person responds with an ego state different from the one the other person was addressing.

An example, of this would be, the supervisor/manager asks his employee from the adult ego state, “How do you think we ought to handle the late delivery on the order?” The employee then responds not from an adult state but with child-to –parent comment. “That’s not my problem. You are paid to make the decisions here.”

When crossed transactions occur, communication tends to be blocked and a satisfactory transaction is not accomplished. Conflict often follows soon afterward.

Ulterior Transactions

Ulterior transactions occur when someone appears to be sending one kind of message but is secretly sending another. Thus, the real message is disguised. Such transactions also like blocked transactions, are not desired. By analyzing open and blocked transactions, it is possible to determine the various strengths of the three ego states. This in turn provides an indication of which life position (discussed later) the individual has selected. We can thus gather data on individuals in a way that will help to predict future patterns of behaviour.


Berne proposed that dysfunctional behavior is the result of self-limiting decisions made in childhood in the interest of survival. Such decisions culminate in the “life script,” the pre-conscious life plan that governs the way life is lived out. They determine the dysfunctional roles (Rescuer, Persecutor, Victim), which people fall into throughout life. Changing the life script and replacing aggressive organizational or societal scripting with cooperative non-violent behavior is the aim of transactional analysis.

Life positions

There are four life positions
“I am OK, you are OK”
“I am OK, you are not OK”
“I am not OK, you are OK”
“I am not OK, you are not OK”

To be OK means I am an acceptable human being with the right to live and meet my needs and you are an acceptable human being with the right to live and
get your needs met.

I am OK, you are OK

I have a healthy, optimistic and confident attitude towards others and myself.

It means that I am OK in spite of my deficiencies. I will neither punish myself for these deficiencies nor totally I will ignore their existence. Other people too have deficiencies but this does not mean that they are second-class citizens and cannot be trusted. Conflicts and criticism tackled from this life position aim to achieve results with underlying message that I care considerably about you to argue and fight with you rather than criticize you to belittle you.

I am OK, you are not OK
I am better and you are no good and having attitude of superiority and distrust. They are operating from critical parent and also, nurturing parent ego state.

I am not OK, you are OK
Feeling powerless, depressed and inferior. Self deprecating and readily accepts criticism and negative strokes from others. Cannot accept the positive strokes easily. They will discount the positive stroke by saying, “No, I could have done better.” “I don’t think that I look as good as you describe me.”

I am not OK, you are not OK
It is the bleak outlook. Fortunately not frequently encountered. If a person demonstrates this image for a long time, he is likely to show extreme apathy and will not be productive.

Behaviours of Life Positions
I am OK, you are OK
A person accepts others in spite of their shortcomings and feels OK about himself despite not being perfect. They are well thought of and they make good impression, self respecting, Independent, able to take care of self, they can an be strict if necessary, they are firm but just, appreciative, cooperative, friendly, affectionate, understanding.

I am OK, you are not OK
They come over as distrustful, arrogant superior and they think that others are inferiors. They are able to give orders forcefully. They are independent and they can be indifferent to others. Can be strict if necessary and they are very critical of others. They are businesslike and hard to impress. They always give advice. They are bossy, dominating and very impatient with others’ mistakes.

I am not OK, you are OK
It is recognized by attitudes of depression, powerlessness and inferiority. They think that others are better. They are apologetic and they normally give in. They are very anxious to be approved of. They are touchy and easily hurt. They lack self-confidence and they are very respectful of authority. They are passive, unaggressive and meek.

I am not OK, you are not OK
They are in a position of thorough hopelessness and despair. They can be indifferent to others. They are critical of others. They doubt others and are irritable, skeptical and impatient with others’ mistakes. They are often unfriendly, bitter, complaining, cold and unfeeling and frequently angry.

Games and the Drama Triangle

The drama triangle is the dynamic in which we play out our scripts. We are acting roles in the Drama triangle because instead of asking directly to get our needs met by adult communication we play obtuse, subtle games in the hope that someone picks up what we want so we don’t have to ask directly for it, or we need to reinforce our script. People with I’m OK and you’re Ok would never technically be in the Drama Triangle, because they wouldn’t allow themselves to be drawn into a game. Each person entering into the game of the drama triangle has a predetermined motive that relates to their

Driver Messages

The Driver messages are very important in transaction analysis. By identifying and overcoming driver messages, people can improve their wellbeing as well as their effectiveness, creativity, communication and relationships. The drivers are a very powerful tool that can help achieve personal growth and change. Our Drivers give us tips on what to do about them. The five Drivers are:

*Please Me *Be Strong *Hurry Up *Try Hard *Be Perfect

Drivers are the messages that we receive from our parents and then incorporate as dysfunctional problem-solving strategies during childhood. We activate them when we feel challenged as to our basic OK-ness in order to regain our balance, but the result leads to problems in the short or long term.

*Be Strong is an attempt to solve problems by being strong to put up with more or less unbearable conditions. The internal message that you give to yourself is that you should not let others think that you are weak. People with Be Strong Drivers often do not always see themselves as fully responsible for their thoughts and for their feelings. Still the person often appears rational on the outside.

*Please Me. A person that is in a Please Me Driver often cares more about others and other peoples needs than about him or herself. The internal message is that one can be good enough only by taking care of others, and that doing so will make others appreciate you. People with this Driver tend to see themselves as responsible for how other people feel.

*Hurry up can lead to rushing things when it is not necessary and sometimes even when it would be better to take time. The internal message that people with Hurry Up Drivers gives themselves is that they will be late for something. Maybe a person with ‘too much time on her/his hands’ is perceived as idle? Anyway one feels that one is not good enough when not in a hurry.

*Be Perfect. This driver makes a person seek perfection in one or several ways. Often in maintaining a completely flawless exterior, maybe in trying to achieve ‘perfect’ speech, ‘perfect’ arrangements. The internal message is “You ought to be better”. One is not good enough if one happens to make a mistake. Instead a person with this Driver will constantly try to improve himself/herself hoping to one day become accepted. By whom? We do not know, but in order to be perfect one should probably be accepted by all.

*Try hard is ruled by the motto that it is the effort that matters. People with this Driver feel OK when they work very hard, whether they actually accomplish something or not. At least they tried. They have a tendency to make things complicated and to lose themselves in details. The basic message is that you are not working hard enough

Compare the key concepts of TA to the key concepts of person centred. Look at the similarities and differences.

In Transactional Analysis, the therapist works to increase the client’s awareness of the 3 ego states, until the Adult state has gained control over the often dysfunctional Parent and Child aspects. The client-centered counselling approach works with what the client is aware of, and supports their transition to greater insight. Person Centred aims to eliminate introjected values and believes that clients can self heal if the core conditions are in place.

Compare the philosophy of TA with the Philosophy of Person Centred. Look for the similarities and differences.

*Both theories believe all emotional difficulties are curable *Both therapies have a basic loveable core and a desire for positive growth *Both therapies place importance of childhood experiences in the development of the self and the ability of a willing person to change resulting behaviors. The difference here is *Both therapies believe that all human beings are fully functioning and OK from birth and positive reinforcements increases feelings of feeling the feeling of being ok. *Person centred counselling concentrates on the here and now whereas TA works from past memories. *Carl Rogers believes that humans can self -heal if the core conditions are in place whereas TA believes in self healing through identifying Parent, Adult, Child Ego states. *In Person Centred Therapy the counselor believes the client is the expert and this helps the client gain self-acceptance. In TA the counsellor is the expert and helps the client to realize how childhood experiences affect their life today. *Person Centred considered the core conditions are essential in person centred where they are merely desirable in TA. This point relates to the point where the Counsellor believes the client is the expert. *In TA, the counsellor teaches techniques, homework and uses worksheets to aid the therapy whereas the relationship between the client and the consellor is the most important aspect of the therapy succeeding.

Compare the philosophy of CBT with the philosophy of Person Centred.

Person Centred was developed from the humanistic non-directive ethos. Person Centred believes we are all born with an innate ability for psychological growth if external circumstances allow us to do so and we are all born good. CBT, in contrast, is a more directive form of therapy. CBT focuses on how an individual’s thoughts and perceptions affect the way they feel and behave and we either have rational or irrational thoughts. In CBT behaviour is viewed as having being learned, so it can therefore be unlearned. By helping clients to recognise negative thought patterns they can learn new positive ways of thinking which ultimately will affect their feelings and their behaviour. Person centred is founded on the belief that the patient knows ‘where it hurts’ and progresses in this way towards resolution through core conditions. CBT uses questioning and a contractually led approach to encourage a patient to challenge attitudes towards his or her thoughts or beliefs. The patient also has a commitment to the CBT agenda of homework and keeping a diary.

Compare the therapeutic approach and the thereutic relationship of CBT with the therapeutic relationship of CBT with the therapeutic approach therapeutic relationship of person centred.

The differences between the therapeutic interventions used in the Person Centred Counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, the Person Centred Approach is non-directive whereas CBT is ‘taught’ and is goal orientated. In CBT, the clients are taught skills that are needed and necessary for them to change which would in turn reduce their emotional angst and change their behaviour. In the Person Centred Approach growth is self-directed. The number of sessions in the Person Centred Approach can be open ended whereas CBT has a set period. In Person centred, the counsellor believes the client is an expert and helps the client to gain self-acceptance. In CBT the counsellor is the expert and helps the client to think more rationally about life.

Explain the ABC principle

The ABC model can be described as “as I think, so I feel and do.”

A, represents the actual event and the client’s immediate interpretations of the event

B, is Beliefs about the event – This evaluation can be rational or irrational

C, is Consequences – how you feel and what you do or other thoughts, emotions and behaviours

So if a negative event happens you can choose to respond to it rationally or irrationally which will result in a healthy negative emotion or an unhealthy negative emotion.

Identify the purpose and principle of behaviour therapy and the key people and philosophy behind this approach.

Ivan Pavlov and BF Skinner developed behaviour therapy in the 1940s. Behavioural therapy is an approach to psychotherapy that focuses on a set of methods designed to reinforce desired and eliminate undesired behaviors, without concerning itself with the psychoanalytic state of the subject. Ivan Pavlov was known for his experiment where he taught dogs to associate the sound of a buzzer with being fed. The conditioning shaped the behaviour of the dogs to do something in response to something. Behaviourism is an approach to psychology focusing on behaviour, denying any independent significance for the mind and assuming that behaviour is determined by the environment. Identify the purpose and principle of cognitive behaviour therapy and the key people and philosophy behind this approach. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy was developed by Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis. CBT is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving.

In CBT, the psychologist is not the sole authority of the patient’s problem. The psychologist aims to establish a collaborative relationship to help the other person understand their problem through questioning, the testing of hypotheses and beliefs and guided discovery, always with warmth, empathy and genuineness. The psychologist will regularly solicit the thoughts and opinions of the person seeking help. In turn, the role of the client is to ask questions, to learn and implement new ways of thinking and behaving. CBT does not aim to tell the person how they should think or feel because each of us is an individual with a unique personality and set of experiences. In fact, the client is the best judge of how they feel in the moment and how they would like to feel.

CBT aims to tailor therapy to the person’s goals and to help them find the best ways to feel better using what research studies have shown to be effective. CBT aims to target the main symptoms or problems that are causing emotional distress in order to alleviate the person’s suffering. Thus, it focuses on the ‘here and now’. Specific techniques and concepts are taught. Once a reduction in symptoms has been experienced, more deep and underlying issues and beliefs can be discussed. Distinguish between what happens in therapy time and what happens out of therapy time and relate to ABC At the beginning of each session, an agenda is set in order to structure what is to be accomplished and discussed in the current meeting. Agenda items can include psycho education, teaching of specific skills or techniques, a review of recent problems, or a review of homework. It is important that both the psychologist and patient set the agenda collaboratively in order for the session to be meaningful and beneficial to the person seeking help. In CBT, skills and techniques that science has shown to be effective in relieving the symptoms of the target problem are taught to the individual.

These focus on changing ways of thinking, as well as how to engage in behaviours that will help change how the person feels. Because each of us is unique, CBT uses both Socratic Questioning and the Inductive Method to help the person understand themselves. The psychologist will ask many questions to understand the problem and in turn to help understand themselves and discover things they may not have been aware of. And because each of us is a distinct and rational individual, CBT does not aim to tell people that their beliefs are wrong. Rather, a logical approach is taken in which evidence is gathered and hypotheses are tested in order to evaluate the person’s reality and thoughts. CBT encourages us to look at our thoughts and beliefs and test them by gathering evidence. If we have missed a fact, assimilating it into our beliefs might lead to a change in our belief. For example, if someone believes that everyone is laughing at them, a CBT approach accepts that this may be true.

Evidence is gathered (e.g. Are there times when no one is laughing at you?) and then the belief is re-evaluated. It is unlikely that just meeting for one-hour per week with a psychologist will lead to any significant change. The real work occurs outside regular therapy sessions when what you have been taught can be tested and practiced in the real world. The psychologist will be suggesting regular homework exercises in order for the client to practice what they have been learning during therapy. These exercises should be reviewed during the next therapy session in order for them to obtain some feedback. Homework is essential in CBT. Research studies have shown that those who consistently engage in homework exercises achieve quicker and more long-lasting changes than those people who do not.


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Underlying Philosophy of Transactional Analysis. (2016, Mar 11). Retrieved from

Underlying Philosophy of Transactional Analysis

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