What is TA?

Transactional analysis is a theory of personality and a systematic psychotherapy
for personal growth and personal change.

Among psychological approaches,
it is outstanding in the depth of its theory and the wide variety of its applications.

As a theory of personality, transactional analysis gives us a picture of how people are structured psychologically using the three-part ego-state model. Transactional analysis also provides a theory of communication that can be extended to analyze systems and organizations.

Transactional analysis offers a theory of child development. The concept of life script explains how our present life patterns originated in childhood. Transactional analysis develops explanations of how we may continue to replay childhood strategies in grown-up life, even when these produce results that are self-defeating or painful. Thus transactional analysis also provides a theory of psychopathology.

In the area of applications, transactional analysis offers a system of psychotherapy that can be used with individuals, groups, couples, and families to treat all types of psychological disorders, from everyday living problems to severe psychosis. It is also used in educational settings to help teachers and learners stay in clear communication and avoid setting up unproductive confrontation, in management and communications training and in organizational analysis, and by social workers, police and probation authorities, and ministers of religion. In fact, transactional analysis can be used in any field in which there is a need for understanding individuals, relationships, and communication.

Key Ideas in Transactional Analysis

1. Ego State Model (PAC Model):

An ego state is a set of related behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, a way in which we manifest a part of our personality at a given time. Transactional analysis portrays three ego states: Adult (behaving, thinking, feeling in response to what is going on around me in the here and now), Parent (behaving, thinking, feeling in ways that are a copy of one of my parents or other parent figures), and Child (behaving, thinking, feeling that I used when I was a child). When we use the ego-state model to understand personality, we are employing structural analysis.

2. Transactions, Strokes, Time Structuring:

I can address you from any of my ego states, and you can reply in turn. This exchange is a transaction. The use of the ego-state model to analyze sequences of transactions is transactional analysis proper. When you and I transact, I signal recognition of you and you return that recognition; any act of recognition is a stroke. People need strokes to maintain their psychical and psychological well-being. When people transact in groups or pairs, they use time in various specific ways which can be listed and analyzed; this is the analysis of time structuring.

3. Life Script:

Each of us in childhood writes a life story for himself or herself; most of it has been written by the age of seven, although we may revise it further during adolescence. As grown-ups we are usually no longer aware of the life story we have written, yet we are likely to live it out faithfully. This is our life script. In script analysis we understand how people may set up problems for themselves out of awareness and how they may set about solving those problems.

4. Discounting, Redefining, Symbiosis:

Sometimes we distort our perception of reality so that it fits our script; this is redefining. One way to ensure that the world seems to fit our script is to selectively ignore information without conscious intention; this is discounting. As grown-ups we may get into relationships without awareness that replay relationships we had as children with parents. When this happens and the two people function as though they had only three ego states between them instead of six, we refer to it as a symbiosis.

5. Rackets, Stamps, and Games:

As children we may notice certain feelings are encouraged while others are prohibited. To get our strokes we may decide without conscious awareness to feel only permitted feelings. When as grown-ups we continue to cover our authentic feelings with the feelings that were permitted to us a children, these substitute feelings are known as racket feelings. If we experience a racket feeling and store it up instead of expressing it at the time, we are said to be saving a stamp. A game is a repetitive sequence of transactions in which both parties end up experiencing racket feelings.

6. Autonomy:

To realize our full potential we need to update the strategies for dealing with life that we decided upon as infants. We need to move out of script and gain autonomy. The tools of transactional analysis are designed to help people achieve that autonomy, the components of which are awareness, spontaneity, and the capacity for intimacy.

The Philosophy of Transactional Analysis

The philosophical assumptions of transactional analysis are:

People are OK.
Everyone has the capacity to think.
People decide their own destiny, and these decisions can be changed.

From these assumptions follow two basic principles of transactional analysis practice:

(1) the contractual method

emphasizes that the transactional analysis practitioner and the client take joint responsibility for achieving whatever change the client wants to make, and

(2) open communication

means that the client as well as the practitioner should have full information about what is going on in their work together.

Copyright © 1996, Ian Stewart & Vann Joines

For reprint permission, please contact the authors at: Southeast Institute for Group and Family Therapy
103 Edwards Ridge Rd. Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514     e-mail: vjoines@earthlink.net (link is external) or ian@theberne.u-net.com (link is external)