What is Transactional Analysis?
Transactional Analysis (or TA) helps to explain in simple terms why we think, feel and behave in the way we do.
A number of therapists use TA as their core model, which is very effective in helping people understand their problems and helping people make lasting life changes.
Below are some key principles of TA that I think are helpful to know and I hope will give you some understanding of what TA therapy is all about.
1. We have both a conscious and an unconscious mind.
Many of us think that we are completely aware (or conscious) of all of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours throughout the day.
When we wake up, communicate with our family, drive the car, go to work or enjoy our leisure time for instance, we believe that we are fully aware and in complete control of ourselves. We act as if we are constantly fully aware of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
Evidence suggests, however, that the majority of the time we are neither in control of our thoughts feelings and behaviours, or that we are even aware of our actions.
Have you ever been doing a familiar activity so automatically that you end up daydreaming about something else as you are doing it?
When driving long journeys do you ever get to your destination and wonder how you arrived there, not remembering the journey at all?
What about watching a film, have you ever been so engrossed in a film that you jump at the scary part and actually feel frightened?
All of these instances show that we are not always conscious of ourselves, our emotions or the place where we are at any given time. Think about all of the times that you have been caught ‘daydreaming’ by people, or carried out actions and exclaimed ‘I don’t know WHY I did that!’
Once you get the idea of the unconscious mind being around and in control it becomes more easy to understand how we can be affected by stress, depression, anxiety or anger through processes which we are not even aware of affecting our mood.
2. Our mind is not a single personality but is made up of three sub-personalities known as Ego States.
Think about the number of different interactions you have with people every day between waking up in the morning to going to sleep at night. We seem to interact in very different ways with different people.
You interact in different ways with your children, your spouse or partner. You behave differently when speaking to your boss or your work colleagues. When you speak to your parents or to your friends you seem to interact in a different way again.
Some people may say that we play different ‘roles’ depending on who we are with. A TA therapist would say we are accessing different Ego States.
According to TA, we all think, feel and behave in three distinctly different ways depending on the people we are around and how these people communicate (or transact) with us.
We have three ego states, the Parent, Adult and Child, that we switch between many times each day.
We access our Parent ego state when we make judgements about people or the world around us. The Parent ego state is filled with 'should and should not' attitudes and tends to be quite dominant.
If we need to act in a rational, thoughtful way then we utilise the Adult ego state. This state is like a computer and makes decisions based upon facts. The Adult ego state is the most 'grounded' ego state that we use.
Finally when we behave as we did when we were children, when we become rebellious, stubborn or overly compliant with other people’s wishes whilst disregarding our own, for instance we slip into our Child ego state.
The Child ego state tends to be accessed by most people quite often and 'ties us in' to behaviours which we developed as children (like 'sulking' to get our own way) but which we have never seemed to relinquish as adults.
By understanding how we move in and out of different ego states, we can begin to understand ourselves and the way in which we interact with the world in new ways.
We can free ourselves of most of our unhelpful behaviours by understanding which ego states we use more frequently and which ego states we tend to use less often.
Our aim is to become more balanced in our thinking, feeling and behaving which will help us to reduce our anxiety, stress and destructive habits.
3. We have created for ourselves a ‘script’ of how our life will turn out, which we unconsciously follow each and every day of our lives.
One of the most intriguing ideas in TA is that as children we developed a life ‘script’ which we are unconsciously following every day.
The script helps us to play a make believe part in the world and helps us to categorise ourselves and the people we meet as ‘goodies’, ‘baddies’, ‘heroes’ or ‘heroines’ etc.
Working on your issues in therapy will help you to identify your own ‘script’ of the world, the part that you play in it and ways to break out of ‘script’ and begin to lead a more empowered life.
4. We repeat the same mistakes over and over again according to our ‘script’.
Have you ever wondered why you make the same mistakes over and over again? Why do you get into the same relationships, the same arguments or keep meeting the same sort of people when you know they are not beneficial to your life?
Our ‘script’ and the decisions we made about life as children determine how we unconsciously lead our lives each day.
Of course we do not realise that we are running to a pre- determined life ‘script’ each day, but the clues are there within our relationships, our jobs and our interactions with people.
Therapy can help you to understand your own life script and show you how the results of your ‘script’ decisions have manifested all around.
5. Everyone has the capacity to change their ‘script’ and can change many areas of their life with the help and support of a trained therapist.
The good news is that everyone can change their life ‘script’ once that it is brought out into the open and made conscious by a trained TA therapist.
TA is very successful in helping people break out of their ‘script’ and begin living their life more fully and with renewed purpose.
The first phase in this work is to notice the life you have made, the relationships you have and the things that just don’t work for you any more.
Armed with this information you and your therapist can make huge strides into your ‘script’ and begin dismantling old ideas, perceptions and issues.
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