What is TA (Transactional Analysis)?

The following definition is suggested by the International Transactional Analysis Association, ITA: "Transactional Analysis is a theory of personality and a systematic psychotherapy for personal growth and personal change."

"As a theory of personality, TA gives us a picture of how people are structured psychologically. To do so it uses a three-part model known as the Ego-State Model. The same model helps us to understand how people function- how they express their personality in terms of behaviour." Steward and Joines explain.

To understand TA, I think it is important to understand something about the history. Eric Berne, the originator of Transactional Analysis, was a Canadian born psychiatrist who began his psychoanalytic training in 1941 at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute.

Berne’s psychoanalytic training influenced his ideas and he used the term Ego in a different context then Freud used the terms of ID, Ego and Super-ego. Berne builds on the model of Ego-Psychology, which was originated by Paul Federn by combining the phenomenological approach and the observation of behaviour.

Berne created a two-way psychology, containing an objective, external view (observable behaviour) as well as considering the internal, unique experience of the individual (phenomenological approach).  He wanted to create a model to give structure to the large amount of data the psychotherapist. 

Berne describes the structure of the personality as containing three organs: the ‘Exteropsychic, Neopsychic and Archaeopsychic’. He differentiated each Ego State into areas of structure and function and later called the three types of Ego States: Parent, Adult and Child. The First Order Structural Analysis (figure 1) describes Ego States as Parent (P2), Adult (A2), Child (C2) and I will define this further in a later section were I compare key ideas between TA and REBT.

Berne further developed the Second Order Structural Analysis in which he sub-divided the content contained within the Parent and Child Ego States. This model explains the intrapsychic processes as they relate to the development of the person and is the most important theoretical model in TA which is the building block for other TA models. 

TA is fundamentally a humanistic/existential model with its primary emphasis on human freedom and autonomy and provides a framework for observing what goes on between people and inside people in order to help them make changes. In 1966 Berne described in one of his most popular books, ‘Principles of Group Treatment’ (1966) the first systematic use of TA in groups, drawing on more than 20 years of clinical experience of group psychotherapy in various settings.

TA concepts are often shared with clients, so there is talking with rather than talking at clients. In this way, the content and process of psychotherapy and counselling are demystified and developed into a shared endeavour.

TA places emphasis on taking personal responsibility for one's experience and in so doing puts the client in a central, proactive and therefore potentially powerful role within the counselling relationship. In this respect, TA is also referred to as a decisional model. It assumes that if we are personally responsible for our own experience, we must be responsible for the choices and decisions that we make about how we behave, how we feel, how we think and what we believe.

Another powerful tool in TA is that the therapist facilitates the forming of a contract for specific changes desired by the client which involves the "Adult" in both the client and the clinician to determine which behaviours, emotions and thoughts prevent the development of full human potential. Transactional Analysts use such tools with clients in a safe, protective, mutually respectful-‘OK/OK’ (Ernst) environment.

The objective is to eliminate dysfunctional behaviors and establishing and reinforce positive relationship styles and healthy functioning. Transactional Analysts are trained to use the many psychotherapeutic tools, ranging from psychodynamic to cognitive-behavioural methods in effective and potent ways. TA is currently applied in four different areas, which are: Psychotherapy & Counselling, with individuals or in groups and organizational & educational.

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Written by Ulrike Adeneuer-Chima

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Written by Ulrike Adeneuer-Chima

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