TA: An Elegant Theory

The Transactional Theory of Change Cluster

From its inception, 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 underlying script-they would be able to modify their lives in a positive direction. Consequently, an important therapeutic function was to provide “permission” for changing behavior and “protection” for sustaining the change in the face of social and internal pressures to maintain the status quo. The implication of the permission transaction is allied with the concepts of “guidance,” “problem solving,” “treatment strategies,” and “interventions.” Protection is allied with the concepts of “support,” “empathy,” and “secure base.”

As a psychoanalytically trained psychiatrist, Berne had a historic and cultural bent toward psychodynamic thinking. Even though he focused on transactions between visible ego states, he was well aware that, as Freud had discovered, a great deal occurred behind the scenes. However, with the years, as many of Freud’s concepts were widely questioned (Crews et al., 1995), Berne’s psychodynamic thinking became less and less psychoanalytic. As his transactional analysis thinking matured, it moved away from libidinal conflicts and transference phenomena in the direction of the dynamics of script formation, proliferation, maintenance, and redecision.

Therapeutic contracts, first seriously proposed by Berne in 1966, and suicide contracts, a later development, are now an accepted part of modern psychotherapy, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy (Heinssen, Levendusky, & Hunter, 1995; Levendusky, Berglas, Dooley, & Landau, 1983; Levendusky, Willis, & Ghinassi, 1994). To the extent that cognitive-behavioral therapy is, at this point, considered the most effective method of psychotherapy, transactional analysis can easily argue that we partake of that effectiveness. Novey’s (2002) excellent and rigorous research on the effectiveness of transactional analysts as evaluated by their clients is a powerful, corroborating study.

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