Transactional analysis: the theory proposed by Eric Berne

Transactional Analysis is a humanistic theory of personality, human relationships, and communication which is applied in psychotherapy, personal growth, education and even the field of organizations.

Initially, it was a form of psychotherapy founded between the 1950s and 1960s by the doctor and the psychiatrist. Eric Berne, An innovative and creative thinker who brought together ideas from other currents (psychoanalytic, cognitive-behavioral, phenomenological, etc.), but this theoretical and practical body is still relevant and is applied in many contexts.

Who was Eric Berne

Eric Leonard Bernstein, better known as Eric Berne, is the father of transactional analysis. He was born in Canada in 1910 and died in 1970. He was the son of a Polish doctor who died of tuberculosis when Eric was just a child. Berne decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and, after earning a MD in 1935, began his career as a psychiatrist in 1936 at the Psychiatric Clinic at Yale University School of Medicine, where he worked. during two years.

A few years later, he began his studies in psychoanalysis with Paul Federn, one of Sigmund Freud’s first disciples. After passing through several health centers and after serving in the United States Army as a psychiatrist in 1946, when decided to live in California, continued his psychoanalytic training with Erik Erikson.

    Understand the concept of transactional analysis

    But Berne, while respecting his origins as a psychoanalyst, disagreed with certain ideas that this model promoted and, after the publication of various articles and books, develop their own model of “social psychiatry”. His works were true bestsellers, always written with a simple vocabulary allowing the understanding of both professionals and clients. For Berne, communication and knowledge are largely the solution to emotional problems, and he focuses his approach on social relationships, where transaction is the basic unit.

    Eric Berne himself explains in his book “The games in which we participate” that: “The unity of social relation is the transaction. If two people meet … sooner or later one of the two will speak, will give an indication or will show gratitude for their presence. This is known as a transactional stimulus. The other person will then say or do something that is related to the stimulus, and this is called a transactional response. ”

    Eric Berne’s model was gaining popularity and he decided to found the ITAA (International Association for Transactional Analysis) with the mission to deepen certain concepts of transactional analysis and provide different developments within the theory. This institution is still in force today to ensure therapeutic and training quality in the different centers where transactional analysis is practiced.

    An integrative approach

    Transactional analysis, by its multifaceted nature, is best described as an integrative approach. Unlike an eclectic approach, in which the practitioner chooses the most appropriate ideas or techniques from a wide variety of theories or models, the integrative approach finds a point of union between different models, unified in a new model.

    In transactional analysis, there are different schools, for example. classical or catechesis. As a practitioner integrates the concepts of transactional analysis, he chooses a school that corresponds to his way of being or doing therapy, or moves through the different approaches within that same. theory, it is therefore a question of finding a form that best suits the case being treated. In a way, it starts from a theoretical and practical basis and passes to a few variations, as is generally the case with psychoanalysts.

    From psychoanalysis

    In fact, Berne’s integrative approach was born because he, influenced by psychoanalysis, believed that Freudian theory focused all of its efforts on the past, resulting in a therapeutic practice that put aside “the here and now”. , forgetting the aspects as beneficial to the therapy as concentration on the conscious (but also the unconscious).

    To achieve this, combining ideas and techniques of classical psychoanalysis with ideas of humanism or behavioralism. The new theory didn’t focus so much on introspection into the past, but the present, the interpersonal context, or self-actualization and personal growth came to life in his new way of doing therapy.

    Transactions and states of jo

    One of the great successes of transactional analysis is that it offers a methodology and basic concepts expressed in simple, non-technical language, and in turn facilitates techniques of personal change.

    Psychological transactions are analyzed through ego states, Different from those proposed by Freud. There are three states of the ego: Father, Adult and Child.

    • trim: We speak and think with the patterns learned from an authoritarian figure in childhood. It is a copy of childhood.
    • adult: More rational and realistic state
    • boy: It is the most impulsive and spontaneous state.

    A transactional analyst will draw a diagram in which the states of the ego that manifest in a transaction can be seen. For example, an Adult-Adult transaction can occur when a surgeon operates and watches the nurse to bring the work tool closer. This is approached by producing a complementary transaction, where the gesture of looking would be the stimulus of the transaction and the delivery of the tool the transactional response. Communication will be fluid as complementary transactions continue.

    But unfortunately not all interactions are complementary and therefore some are dysfunctional, What Berne called cross-transaction. For example, in a relationship, one member, in this case the woman, asks the other member if he has seen his glasses. And the other member, in this case the man, replies: “You always blame me for everything!”. Man, instead of responding with the “Adult” ego, responds impulsively, that is, with the “Child” ego, and here a conflict or dysfunctional communication occurs.

    Objectives of transactional analysis

    Transactional analysis is a personality decision model that helps in understanding the relationship with others and with ourselves. It allows us to feel and realize who we are and what we need and want. It also empowers us in the face of change and allows us to have autonomy and initiative in our own personal development.

    The objectives of transactional analysis are essentially three: awareness, spontaneity and intimacy:

    • To be aware is to be able to distinguish what is real from what is fancy. It is self-knowledge.
    • Spontaneity is linked to the expression of thoughts, Feelings, emotions and self-needs.
    • Intimacy is the ability to open up to others, To be authentic and close.


    Transactional analysis is a popular theory, although its effectiveness is called into question by the lack of scientific studies proving its effectiveness (in part, this is due to the fact that it is part of psychoanalysis and its epistemology). Today it is still possible to train not only in therapy, but there are masters focused on other fields of application, for example in transactional coaching by organizations.

    Here are some of the most important aspects of this theory. Transactional analysis focuses on:

    • relationships, In all its forms: with oneself and with others.
    • The belief that a profound change it goes through experience.
    • It’s a theory of communication who analyzes the different forms of interaction: between individuals, couples, families, organizations, etc.
    • It allows you to analyze and understand irrational beliefs, Impulsive behaviors, prejudices, illusions …
    • It is a method of individual and group therapy, And intervenes on cognitive, affective, relational, psychological, behavioral and personality parameters.
    • The practitioner actively participates in his work he can be a neutral observer, just like the client.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Ego states in psychotherapy: Am. J. Psychother., 11: 293-309
    • Berne, Eric (1964). Games People Play: The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis. New York: Ballantine Books
    • Bern, Eric (2007). Games in which we participate. Barcelona: RBA Llibres, SA

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