What is Transactional Analysis?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 December 2018
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Transactional analysis (TA) may have numerous definitions. Some may define it as the guiding theory used by some, especially certain groups of analysts and therapists to describe the state of personality and the interactions within personality and between people. It is also a legitimate form of therapy in which people evaluate these selected metaphors in terms of personal life, interaction with others and being with the self. TA enjoyed great popularity especially in the 1960s and early 1970s, but for many the theories were discarded or fell out of favor as TA ideas were popularized by books like Games People Play and I’m OK, You’re OK. Some feel these books, particularly the latter, which is not strictly TA created a pop psychology feel to the movement that ultimately damaged its credibility.

The person most credited with developing transactional analysis was the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Eric Berne. In essays and books, Berne created new descriptions of the way each person was composed. According to him, most people were part Child, Adult and Parent, and though Berne studied Freud, these terms are not exactly like Id, Ego and Superego. All parts of the person were useful, but the Parent part could be damaging if it constantly criticized and the Child part might be dangerous if it was in control at all times. Similarly, letting the Adult part continuously dominate stole fun the Child part might provide or robbed the whole person of the beneficial Parent script.


When people talk to or physically relate to each other in any purposeful way, this is a transaction. Serious communication and relationship issues arose when people transacted with the wrong part of someone else’s self, or used the incorrect ego element (Parent, Adult, Child) to transact with somebody else. The goal transactional analysis in practice was to figure out what part needed to respond and speak or act.

This issue could be used in couples’ or organizational counseling, and it was assumed people were capable of learning and changing behavior so that all three personality aspects were used and fed. Many people also sought individual counseling to analyze why their transactions weren’t working so they could approach the world in a renewed way. Counseling could often be very “at the moment” oriented, with a look at how present transactions were or were not serving the person who desired change. This might still hold true today for transactional analyst’s approach today, though many therapists integrate other ideas into their therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy.

The popularity of books written on transactional analysis by Dr. Berne was significant, and they brought several commonly used terms into everyday language. One of the ideas Berne presented was that of receiving strokes, or units of care. These could be differently defined depending on what the person needed. A stroke could be a smile, sex, love, approval, or it could be a negative stroke and be a physical blow, refusal, denial or many other things. In every transaction, people received or gave negative and positive strokes, and very positive ones were termed “warm and fuzzy,” which is usually shortened today to “a warm fuzzy.”

Though there are not very many people that solely practice transactional analysis today, there are still some who integrate these ideas into their work or remain committed to t his form of therapy. Organizations like the International Transaction Analysis Association (ITAA) continue to exist. ITAA and other country based TA groups remain committed to practicing this form of therapy and advancing its practicing through research.



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