Transactional Analysis (often shortened to “TA”) is a theory and method of psychotherapy that helps us to understand our interpersonal relationships as well as conflicts and difficulties within our internal world. This makes it well suited to group and couples therapy and work with individuals.
The primary focus of TA is on change. It was founded by Eric Berne in the 1950’s and 60’s as a reaction to classical psychoanalysis, which he believed placed too much emphasis on analysis above change.
The TA approach rests on 3 core assumptions: People are OK; Everyone has the capacity to think; People decide their own destiny and these decisions can be changed.
An important principle of TA is contracting, whereby the client and therapist will openly discuss and agree the goals of the therapy, which may be about increasing awareness and understanding or focus on specific behavioural changes.
TA offers many powerful models for understanding how we relate to ourselves and to others. The most well known is the Ego State model (also known as the Parent-Adult-Child model), which explains how our thoughts, feelings and behaviours (ego state) at any time may be ones we copy from our parents (Parent), replays of our earlier childhood states (Child) or an appropriate response to the present situation (Adult). The term Transactional Analysis refers to the method of analysing which ego states we are in when we communicate (transact) with others. Using this model helps us to identify unhelpful and maladaptive patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving and move towards healthier ones.
TA also offers a model for understanding how our early childhood experiences influence the way we think, feel and behave in the present. Your therapist will explore with you what messages and modelling you may have received from your caregivers and what conclusions you may have drawn about how to live your life in order to stay attached to them. We call this our Script. Looking at how we re-play these patterns in later life, even when they are no longer appropriate, can help us understand behaviours that are often self-sabotaging and destructive.
More recently, Relational Transactional Analysis, puts the therapeutic relationship at the heart of the process of change. By paying attention to how the relationship between therapist and client develops, we can understand more about the client’s ways of relating to others and how they seek to get their needs met. How the therapist responds to those needs then becomes an important part of the healing process.