Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Quo Vadis TA?

I am a transactional analysts and in the privileged position of having been present during the various phases of the development of our discipline from the time in 1956 when every Tuesday, Eric Berne met with a few professionals in his San Francisco Chinatown apartment, to discuss his work. I have witnessed our development from that small meeting to a global movement.

In the beginning, Berne’s meetings consisted largely of discussions of selected chapters of his book in progress, Transactional Analysis and Psychotherapy. Over the next five years we saw the publication of that book and he began to work on Games People Play.

In 1961 I moved thousands of miles away into the middle of the US. When I returned to San Francisco with my doctorate five years later, I found the Seminars completely transformed. Games People Play had been published in 1964 and became a huge best selling success. The weekly seminars now filled his living room with dozens of visitors from all over the US and the world. The subjects for seminar discussion were now mostly presented by members other that Berne and a number of innovations were added to Berne’s thinking; the drama triangle, the script matrix, the minisript, symbiosis and reparenting among others.

The success of Games People Play was followed by the even larger success of Tom and Amy Harris’s I’m OK you’re OK so much so that, as an example, during one of President Richard Nixon’s televised speeches to the nation the book was clearly visible in a bookshelf in the background. Berne was not happy about being trumped by Harris; for one thing, Harris had changed one of his fundamental ideas--that people are born into the universal OK/OK existential position--by arguing that babies were born Not OK and only later changed, if they were lucky, into the OK/OK position. In addition Harris was going from city to city staging large, widely advertised meetings in which a popularized version of the transactional analysis 101 course was being taught to masses of people for large profits.

Several aspects of this development were important. That people were born OK princes and princesses was essential to transactional analysis script theory and this was the first substantial theoretical deviation from Berne’s basic views. This was also the beginning of transactional analysis’s vulgarization, leading to its wholesale discount by professionals. Harris’s contrary view on existential positions never took hold. However, the notion that OK/OK was a fundamental aspect of transactional analysis, something we did not fully perceive at the time, was to become an important concept of the transactional analysis movement.

In 1967 Eric decided to found the ITAA. He was determined that we should have an international organization, comparable with psychoanalysis, with institutes in every country and three levels of membership: regular members, clinical members who practiced transactional analysis and teaching members who taught and supervised transactional analysis trainees. By the way I became a full, fledged TM and never had to take an exam.

Then, unexpectedly Eric died weeks after his sixtieth birthday, in 1971, leaving no provisions for us and we were on our own; rudderless and without guidance.

At first we closed ranks but soon people began to pull in different directions. I became increasingly dissatisfied. I was very politically active and Berne had been strictly apolitical. It turns out that he had been frightened into political submission by US government persecution in the early 1950’s. The ITAA adopted Eric’s apolitical, overly Adult and occasionally subtly cynical stance. At the same time members around the country began to found institutes, some of which exploited transactional analysis, and which I found abhorrent. I withdrew from the organization’s elite, devoting myself to political anti-war and anti- psychiatry activities in Berkeley.

I remained in this self-exile for about 15 years. During that time the ITAA grew to ten thousand members. Different people developed innovative branches of transactional analysis. I was working on Radical Psychiatry, Emotional Literacy Training and Stroke-Centered theory, Jack Dusay developed the Egogram, the Gouldings elaborated Redecision Therapy, Jacquie Shiff developed Reparenting, Erskine and Trautman developed Integrative Psychotherapy, Taibi Kaehler was developing Miniscript theory. Transactional analysis, which had been an exclusively clinical practice, branched out into pastoral and other counseling, education and corporate consultation. An elaborate system of training and examinations was developed. A small core of devoted social action activists (Denton Roberts, Pearl Drego Carla Haimowitz, Nancy Porter, Felipe Garcia, Alan Jacobs and others) brought about a number of changes aimed at correcting ITAA’s political stance. Officers were elected by the membership, a Social Action Committee was founded and Institutes were no longer sponsored by the ITAA. The ITAA took a position about violence that eventually lead to the exclusion of Jacquie Shiff from the organization.

Finally I did return to ITAA spurred by a developing controversy regarding integrative psychotherapy’s position regarding ego states. I studied the literature and concluded that this view, like Harris’s and unlike other major views being developed, contradicted a fundamental position of Berne’s; in this case that there were three distinct and separately important ego states in the healthy person.

I began to do examinations and quickly developed the feeling that trainees were not being taught transactional analysis, as I knew it. I became interested in what was being taught compared to what I thought should be taught. I realized that trainees came prepared to explain a laundry list of transactional analysis terms, one by one. They were able to do so well enough but had no understanding of the dynamics of the theory and how all these concepts related to each other. In other words, trainees were able to define egos states, transactions, games, strokes and scripts but did not understand the intimate connection between these concepts, did not think in transactional analysis theory terms and were not able to answer follow up questions of any complexity.

Alarmed by these findings and with the encouragement of ITAA president George Kohlrieser and ex President Gloria Noriega, I assembled a six member committee and began to work on the compilation of a set of core concepts which was to represent what, about transactional analysis, was in the hearts and minds of ITAA members at the turn of the century.

To my surprise I found a great deal of opposition. Several serious attempts were made to persuade the Board to withdraw support from the project. It seemed that some members, mostly Europeans, were concerned that I was outlining a dogma in preparation for a fundamentalist crusade to excommunicate infidels within transactional analysis. We persevered and settled on 45 core concepts, knit them together in a theoretical narrative and eventually completed the project now available in five languages on the ITAA web site:

Meanwhile in my travels around the world I had the opportunity to interview hundreds of bright eyed transactional analysis enthusiasts, young and old, about what so attracted them to transactional analysis. For them, transactional analysis’s appeal was first and foremost its near miraculous capacity to help them understand themselves and others and how it facilitated beneficial changes. In addition it allowed them to feel OK about themselves and others and it treated people as lovable, valuable and equal. When pressed further they mentioned ego states, strokes, games, scripts, redecision and the Karpman triangle as the main concepts that they found helpful.

At this point at least four different views of transactional analysis can be said to exist:

Eric Berne’s original view. This by now historical, “classic” view contains elements that most transactional analysis adherents have left behind.
Post-Bernian views adhering to Berne’s basic postulates, as later embodied in the 1999 core concepts, notably Dusay, Gouldings, Kaehler, Karpman, Shiff, Steiner.
Post-Bernian views deviating from Berne’s basic postulates, notably integrative transactional analysis and relational transactional analysis (Erskine and Trautman, and Novellino, Hargaden and Sills)
The broad view that unites people in the global transactional analysis movement which has as a central concept Okness and includes one or more other concepts; usually strokes, games, scripts, Karpman’s triangle, redecision and contracts.

At the same time, quite disturbingly, we are finding that transactional analysis is being ignored by the academic and professional worlds while transactional analysis concepts permeate both of those cultures with no recognition of their source. As a response to this, in my role as Research and Innovation Vice President of the ITAA, I undertook to research how many of our core concepts might have substantial research support in the behavioral sciences. There had been some research within transactional analysis but I was interested in legitimizing our work in the face of professional skepticism and I found no research sufficiently rigorous or replicated within transactional analysis capable of convincing professionals outside of our discipline.

I found four areas, in which independent, rigorous research has corroborated our views:

1. Strokes; essential to healthy development.

Berne postulated that recognition is a basic, biological need. He called the unit of interpersonal recognition a stroke. The concept that we, in Transactional Analysis, refer to as strokes has been written about and studied as “contact,” “attachment,” “intimacy,” “warmth,” “tender loving care,” “need to belong,” “closeness,” “relationships,” “social support” and yes, “love.”

Buameister and Leary (1995), in an excellent and exhaustive review of the literature, conclude that "existing evidence supports the hypothesis that the need to belong is a powerful, fundamental, and extremely pervasive motivation." That nurturing physical strokes are needed to maintain physical and psychological health has been investigated and confirmed in innumerable research studies. The attachment studies by Bowlby and Ainsworth (1991) also support the view that secure reliable contact with a caretaker is essential for positive development.

2. The OK existential position.

Some people see life as a bascally positive experience and themselves as basically acceptable. Berne called the positive experience of self, “being OK.” This concept is represented in the wider behavioral sciences culture by the concepts of "positive psychology", “human potential,” “resiliency,” “excellence,” “optimism,” “flow,” “subjective well being,” “positive self-concept,” and is related to the concepts of “spontaneous healing,” “nature's helping hand,” “vis medicatrix naturae,” “the healing power of the mind.”

It has been shown through hundreds of studies that human beings strongly tend to be selectively positive in their language, thought, and memory and that people who are psychologically healthy show a higher level of positive bias. The research also indicates that people with a OK/OK attitude are likely to be healthier and live longer. Tiger (1979) postulates that optimism has driven human evolution and is an innate adaptive characteristic of the species and a part of evolutionarily developed survival mechanisms, a view that coincides with Berne's.

3. The Importance of Life Scripts.

Berne postulated that people make decisions in childhood, which shape the rest of their life’s “script.” The concepts that we in Transactional Analysis refer to as “life scripts,” “script decisions” and “redecisions” are represented in the wider psychological culture by a widely explored set of concepts; “narratives,” “maladaptive schemas,” “self-narratives,” “story schemas,” “story grammars,” “personal myths,” “personal event memories,” “self-defining memories,” “nuclear scenes,” “gendered narratives,” “narrative coherence,” “narrative complexity,” “core self-beliefs” and “self-concept,” which highlight the importance of life stories, myths, plots and characters.

A thorough review of the literature on the psychology of "life stories" by McAdams (2001) contains circa 200 references the majority of which were written well after Berne's introduction of the concept in 1995. Young (1999) writes about schema, which he defines as deep cognitive structures that enable an individual to interpret his or her experiences in a meaningful way. Because schema are formed in response to life experiences over a lifetime, Young argues, they can be restructured. The notion that such “life scripts” can be redecided plays an important part in the American Psychological Association Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Manual (2001) for depression. “Schema Change Methods” are outlined as strategies designed to "restructure maladaptive core beliefs." None of these writings reference transactional analysis or Redecision Therapy both of which predate them by more than twenty years.

4. The Transactional Theory of Change.

From the beginning of its inception by Eric Berne Transactional Analysis was designed as a contractual, cognitive (“Adult” centered), behavioral (transactional) group therapy. The premise was that if people became aware of their transactional behavior, in particular their games and the underlying script, they would be able to modify their lives in a positive direction. A very important therapeutic function of transactional analysts was to provide “permission” for changing behavior and “protection” to sustain the change in the face of social and internal pressures to return to the status quo ante. The “permission transaction” is allied to the concepts of “guidance,” “co-construction” “problem solving,” “treatment strategies” and “interventions.” The “protection transaction” is allied to the concepts of “support,” “empathy” and “secure base.”

Therapeutic contracts, first seriously proposed by Berne in 1956, and suicide contracts first proposed by this author in 1967, are now an accepted part of modern psychotherapy especially cognitive behavioral therapy. (Heinssen, 1995. Levendusky, 1983, 1994)

To the extent that cognitive-behavioral methods have been shown to be an effective method of psychotherapy, transactional analysis can easily argue that we partake of that effectiveness. Ted Novey's excellent and rigorous research (2002) showing the effectiveness of transactional analysts compared to other disciplines, as evaluated by their clients is a powerful, corroborating study which received the Eric Berne Memorial Award at this conference.

In conclusion, let me answer the question: “Quo Vadis, TA? Where is transactional analysis going?” Berne would be proud to see the vigorous international growth of transactional analysis. There is no doubt that we have a vigorous and cutting edge theory and practice which is attractive and developing adherents in large numbers all over the world. The ITAA continues to be an essential aspect of this growth.

True, the ITAA is facing serious challenges; as regional organizations proliferate membership in the ITAA is dwindling to a tenth of its climactic numbers and our funds are diminishing at an alarming rate. But the ITAA has an important function as a global organization: to nurture and guide the continuing growth of transactional analysis. ITAA is an important part of the movement in that it offers information, the Script, the TAJ, training, examinations and conferences like this one in which people from all over the world can meet transactional analysts and learn transactional analysis.

I believe we are and will continue to be a world wide movement; a movement with an elegant theory about human interaction and a useful and effective method for bringing about beneficial change. We are also a global organizations which seeks to support equality, cooperation, non-violence, democracy—true, incremental democracy-- and yes, dare I say it, we are a movement that seeks to support Love as a positive force among people.


Dusay, J. Egograms and the Constancy Hypothesis. Transactional Analysis Journal V2 #3, 1972

Heinssen, R. K. P G. Levendusky, R H. Hunter. Client as Colleague: Therapeutic Contracting With the Seriously Mentally Ill. American Psychologist Vol 50, No 7 522-532 July 1995

Karpman, S. “Fairy Tales and Script Drama Analysis.” transactional analysis Bulletin V7 #26 April 1968

Goulding R., Goulding M. Changing Lives Through Redecision Therapy. New York; Grove-Atlantic, 1997

Lynch J. The broken heart; the medical consequences of loneliness. New York; Basic Books, 1988

Levendusky, P. G., Willis, B. S. & Ghinassi, F. A. The therapeutic contracting program: A comprehensive continuum of care model. Psychiatric Quarterly, 65, 189-208. 1994

McAdams, D. P., Reynolds, J., Lewis, M. L., Patten, A. Bowman, P. T. When bad things turn good and good things turn bad: Sequences of redemption and contamination in life narrative, and their relation to psychosocial adaptation in midlife adults and in students. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 472-483. 2001.

Novey, T. Measuring then Effectiveness of Transactional Analysis; An International Study. Transactional Analysis Journal V32, #1 Jan 2002

Ornish, D Love and Survival. HarperCollins, New York. 1988

Persons, J. B., Joan Davidson and Michael A. Tompkins. “Essential Components of Cognitive-Behavior Therapy for Depression” in American Psychological Association Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Manual Washington DC American Psychological Association, 2001.

Steiner, C. Scripts People Live. Grove Press. New York 1971

Tiger, L. Optimism; The Biology of Hope. New York. Simon and Schuster 1979

Young, J. E. Cognitive therapy for personality disorders: A schema-focused approach. Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Exchange. 1999