Transactional Analysis (TA) was first described as a coherent concept by Eric Berne in his 1964 book ‘Games People Play’. Berne outlined his theory of the person, which places interpersonal interactions, or transactions, at the centre. He defines a transaction as occurring when we respond to a stimulus signal (e.g. a question) from another person.
In responding to these stimuli, we are likely to adopt one of three mind states (i.e. child, adult or parent), which will intersect with the other persons mind state. The child state is based on feelings, the parent mind state is generally critical, whilst the adult mind state – which is the preferred mode – is rational. Thus transactions, or conversations can occur at a number of levels e.g. child – child, child – parent, adult – child etc. As you can imagine, adult to adult mind state interactions are best, as they will be rational and often co-operative, whilst parent – parent interactions may be overtly critical in nature, which if repeated may descend into conflict.
Berne hypothesises that, during difficult or stressful times and/or periods of insecurity, we may regress in a child mind state. In a healthcare setting, ‘difficult’ patients experiencing illness may be operating from their child state, and require positive reinforcement to build their ‘adult’ self. Hostile relatives may be operating from a judgemental, ‘parent’ state and thus require a response which is adult, and rational. This of course assumes that we are conscious at all times of our behaviour, and that of others, and the mind state being adopted by either party. Equally, it should be recognised that these mind states are dynamic, and may change frequently during the course of any interaction. Indeed, Berne argues that transactions assemble into ‘games’ which, when repeated / practised often enough during our lifetime condition us to respond semi-automatically to stimuli (like ‘scripts’). In this regard, being finely tuned to the positions being adopted – usually unconsciously – and developing insight is paramount.
The ultimate goal of Transactional Analysis is to build up our adult mind state through positive and productive interactions to be rational, caring and co-operative. TA offers a systematic approach to understanding ourselves and others, and its approaches are practical, insightful and readily communicated. This makes TA an ideal framework for teaching & learning ‘soft-skills’, as it aligns a reasonable explanation of both the conscious (behavioural) and unconscious (emotional) processes in people, with parallel principles for effective behaviour modification.