Transactional Analysis sessions can be carried out in the form of one-on-one counselling, or with families, couples or groups. And, although it is commonly recognised as a brief and solution-focused approach, transactional analysis can also be applied as an effective long-term, in-depth therapy.
What is Transactional Analysis used to treat?
Transactional analysis can be used in any field where there is a need for greater understanding of an individual’s communication behaviours and how these impact on their relationships – both personal and in work. Transactional Analysis can be incredibly powerful in helping an individual understand why they say the things they do and why they may have repeating patterns of relationships – for instance, understanding why partners may say they are needy or demanding. It can be particularly useful where there are areas of conflict, so couples can really benefit from this approach.
Transactional Analysis is used to explore a range of issues, including:
Eric Berne developed Transactional Analysis in response to more traditional forms of psychoanalysis, such as Freudian therapy. Berne was interested in our social interactions and believed that the way we relate to each other is a key cause of some of the issues we develop.
Transactional Analysis therapists believe there are three ego-states – or places that we operate out of. These are:
Adult – this is often known as the rational part of us, that processes information based on facts and reality, not on our perceived feelings about something. It might not be the most fun part of us (often it can seem a bit sensible!) but generally when we are operating out of our adult state we make good, sound decisions and communicate in an effective way.
Parent – these are the external things that we learnt as a young child – for instance what happened when you cried, what happened when you did something naughty, how your parents / carers looked after you or spoke to each other. They are classified into ‘Nurturing parent’ and ‘Critical Parent’ ‘voices’.
Child – these are the things you internalised as a child, the feelings and emotions experienced at an early stage. Again, there are two subtypes of child state – the ‘Free child’ and the ‘Adapted child’.
Transactional analysis purports that sometimes the difficulties we run into, such as work conflict or repeated patterns in relationships, are because we are operating out of an ego state that isn’t the most helpful to the situation.
For instance - we might react to a partner’s statement that they have lost their keys with anger (Critical parent) when a more useful response could be to say ‘I last saw them on the table’. When we react out of our ‘Critical parent’ the likelihood is we trigger our partner to respond out of one of their child states and this is where problems can arise as these states aren’t always the most helpful or easiest to navigate.
Though the above is a very brief summary of Transactional Analysis, it shows that by understanding our ego states better, and by learning why we think the way we do, we are able to make changes that then help the other people in our lives respond in more useful, healthier ways.
Transactional Analysis was exactly the right therapy for me – it has helped me enormously. I came looking for help in my career as I was bypassing promotions but walked away with a much healthier relationship with both my parents and my wife. It feels great!
Is Transactional Analysis right for me?
It can be really hard to know which therapy is the right one for your current circumstances. It’s normal for people to find one type of therapy works at a particular time in their lives, but then change to another type later on.
The key indicators that Transactional Analysis might be a good choice for you are:
You are interested in learning about how and why you interact in certain ways with others: Many of us feel we don’t behave in the most congruent way – the way others perceive us isn’t the way we perceive ourselves and this is an area that Transactional Analysis can really help explain – allowing you to make any changes you think would be beneficial to your life.
You would like to work in a solution-focused way: Whilst most therapists who use Transactional Analysis also offer other types of talking therapy, such as psychodynamic, pure Transactional Analysis is quite solution focused so perfect for people who have a set issue they want to tackle.
Your relationships follow similar patterns: Often we fall into similar patterns of relationships – things might be going well for a few months and then the arguments start and they tend to be over similar issues, for instance you feeling your partner does not support you enough. Transactional Analysis can really help understand why these patterns might come about.
Borderline personality disorder: Research has shown that Transactional Analysis can be very effective for those people who have BPD as it helps them learn new, healthier.
Why might Transactional Analysis be the wrong therapy for me?
Before deciding to have Transactional Analysis, it might be helpful to think about the following:
Are you looking for in depth therapy? If you want to spend time looking at your experiences as a child or have a specific issue you want help with, such as a trauma, you may prefer to opt for a therapeutic approach like Psychodynamic or humanistic therapy which allow you to talk through your experience of your emotions.
Do you want to look at your relationship patterns? A key benefit of Transactional Analysis is that you will understand why you relate to people the way you do and how you can do things differently.
By exploring ego-states parent-adult-child that we all occupy at different times we are able to shift awareness in one another and understand familiar patterns of behaviour and relational muddles we can all get into in our lives. Real change can come when we see the roles we are in and those we place others in.
Stuart Hannah is a highly experienced Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist. Until 2014 he was Looked After & Adopted Children Lead for Leeds & York NHS Foundation Trust, which he left to become Therapy Lead North for Five Rivers Child Care....
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