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TA: An Elegant Theory

Author : Claude Steiner is a psychotherapist who has written extensively about transactional analysis. His writings have focused especially on life scripts, alcoholism, emotional literacy, and Interpersonal power plays. (Source:

Transactional analysis can serve as a sophisticated, elegant, and effective system on which to base the practical activities of professionals in psychotherapy, counseling, education, and organizational consultation. It was founded in the 1950s by San Francisco psychiatrist Eric Berne, MD. Transactional analysis has become a worldwide movement with upwards of 10,000 adherents. It is a sophisticated theory of personality, motivation, and problem solving that can be of great use to psychotherapists, counselors, educators, and business consultants.

Transactional analysis can be divided into five theoretical and practical conceptual clusters. These five clusters enjoy varying degrees of recognition within the behavioral sciences. They are listed below along with (between quotes) concepts that parallel them in the behavioral sciences.

  1. The Strokes Cluster. This cluster finds correlates in existing theories of “attachment,” “intimacy,” “warmth,” “tender loving care,” “need to belong,” “contact,” “closeness,” “relationships,” “social support,” and “love.”
  2. The OK Cluster. This cluster finds correlates in existing theories of “positive psychology,” “flow,” “human potential,” “resiliency,” “excellence,” “optimism,” “subjective well-being,” “positive self-concept,” “spontaneous healing,” “nature’s helping hand,” “vis medicatrix naturae” (the healing power of nature), and “the healing power of the mind.”
  3. The Script and Games Cluster. This cluster finds correlates in existing theories of “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.”
  4. The Ego States and Transactions Cluster. The idea of three egos states and the transactional interactions between them are the most distinctive feature of transactional analysis and yet have the least amount of resonance in the literature. However, the utility of this concept is the principal reason why people become interested and maintain their interest in transactional analysis.
  5. The Transactional Analysis Theory of Change Cluster. Transactional analysis is essentially a cognitive-behavioral theory of personality and change that nevertheless retains an interest in the psychodynamic aspect of the personality.

Echoes of each of these clusters of concepts can be found in writings in the fields of psychology, social psychology, and psychotherapy, where they exist independent of any awareness of their possible transactional analysis origins. Transactional analysis includes all five in a sophisticated, interconnected theory of personality and change. From the social sciences literature, we have collected a portfolio of method, theory, and research that corroborates each of the five theoretical clusters. This portfolio is summarized in the following sections.

A summary of TA concepts

Author : Fanita English , MSW, Teaching Member of the International Transactional Analysis Association, is an internationally known lecturer and workshop presenter. She went to an English school in Istanbul, Turkey, earned a Diploma in Psychology from the Sorbonne University, (Paris) and an MSW from Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania. She had psychoanalytic training at the Paris Psychoanalytic Institute and the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, Transactional Analysis with Eric Berne and Gestalt therapy training with Fritz Perls. From l953-56 she was the director of “Ridge Farm”, an institution for emotionally disturbed children outside Chicago. From l956-64 she was in private practice before becoming a Transactional Analyst in Chicago (where she also taught part-time at Chicago University.) In l970 she founded the “Eastern Institute for TA and Gestalt” in Philadelphia, where she practiced and taught untill l979. After l980 she worked exclusively in Europe, conducting workshops and offering lectures at a number of institutes, organizations and universities in Western Europe (Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy). She was a keynote speaker at the first two World Psychotherapy Congresses held in Austria. Fanita has written four books in German, two in French, one in Italian, and many articles and chapters of books in English. Her biography, entitled “Fanita English” was authored by Sigrid Roehl in German (Isko Press, Germany, 2004). Fanita lives in San Mateo, California.

“How did you become a transactional analyst?” I am often asked that question when I tell people what I do. I answer that originally my training as a therapist was in Freudian psychoanalysis and included eight years of personal psychoanalysis. I practiced as such for l4 years, treating both children and adults. Increasingly, the process seemed overly ponderous, time consuming and therefore not cost effective for patients, but I could find no better techniques.

Then, in l965, I read Dr. Eric Berne’s (l961) “Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy” and soon after I took time off from my practice in Chicago to go to California to train with the late David Kupfer at the then recently founded Transactional Analysis Training Institute in Carmel. While there I also had many stimulating contacts with Berne and personally experienced what many, including myself, call the life-saving value of “TA”. On returning to Chicago I transformed my practice to Transactional Analysis, started doing workshops to teach this method, and have been a dedicated transactional analyst ever since, although nowadays, partially retired, I limit myself to conducting workshops in various countries.

Inevitably, after finding out how I became involved, there follows a question such as: “And just what is Transactional Analysis?” Sometimes the questioner is just curious; at other times he or she is considering making a referral or perhaps signing up for a workshop or joining a TA Association. To some, I give a long answer, covering a good deal of information, with others I summarize briefly.