Assignment: * Critically evaluate core Transactional Analysis (T. A) concepts and practice * Assess personal and professional learning from this module. The first part of this essay starts by outlining the key concepts of T. A. ; its assumptions, theory of personality and ego-states, transactions, strokes, games and the Karpman Drama Triangle, life scripts and existential life positions. It then goes onto critically evaluate core T. A. concepts and practice from the perspective of Humanistic, Cultural, Integrative and Behavioural approaches.
T. A. is a Humanistic psychotherapeutic approach formulated in the 1950s by Canadian psychiatrist Eric Berne who initially trained as a Freudian analyst. T. A. can be defined as ‘a systematic tool for personal growth and development’ (Sani & Karim 2005) and rests on three basic philosophical assumptions; people are intrinsically OK, everyone has the ability to think and individuals have freedom of choice and responsibility for these choices. Stewart & Joines 1987) Berne’s (1961) Theory of Personality is the foundation of T. A. which proposes individuals experience and reveal their personality predominantly through three ego states, labelled Parent (P), Adult (A) and Child (C) to represent their characteristics. The Structural model of Personality (Berne 1961) illustrates the content of each ego state and the Functional model illustrates its process; in Parent ego-state, ‘the person may behave, think and feel in ways ‘borrowed’ uncritically from.. arents/parent figures’, in Child ‘the person may regress to ways of behaving, thinking and feeling which he used when he was a child’ and in Adult ‘the person is behaving, thinking and feeling in response to what is going on around him here and now. ’ (Stewart 1996:4) Stuart (1996) believes the basic idea of the ego-state model is through observation you can reliably judge whether someone is responding to the present or replaying patterns from past experiences. In T. A therapy communication between the therapist/client is analysed as varying forms of transactions, which is termed transactional analysis proper.
A transaction is defined as ‘a unit of social intercourse’ (Berne 1964) with transactions occurring in everyday life in all interpersonal communication. Complementary transactions leading to smooth communication and having ‘a quality of expectedness about them’ (Stewart & Joines 1987:60) i. e. C/P, P/C, A/A, Crossed transactions resulting in a break in communication and occurring when ‘the ego-state addressed is not the one which responds’ (ibid:63) and Ulterior transactions having two messages, an overt social level message and covert psychological level message, the behavioural outcome always being determined at the psychological level.
Berne believed all humans experience certain hungers, stimulus-hunger being the need for mental and physical stimulation and recognition hunger being the need for acknowledgement from others (Stewart & Joines 1987). In T. A. transactions are used to gain strokes and satisfy recognition hunger, a stroke being defined as ‘a unit of recognition’ (ibid:72) necessary for individuals physical and emotional well-being. If positive strokes are not achieved, childhood strategies may be implemented to gain negative or painful strokes as strokes are vital for survival, following the principle ‘any stroke is better than no stroke at all’ (ibid:73).
The acquiring of negative strokes often entails what T. A. terms games which are ‘a rich source of recognition’ (Steiner 1974:37). Steiner (1974) believes the focus of T. A. is what goes on between people rather than inside people, with interactions often being destructive and controlling. Berne (1964) defines a game as an; ‘ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well defined, predictable outcome’.. with… ‘two chief characteristics.. their ulterior quality and.. the payoff. (ibid:44) The original game in Berne’s (1964) concept of games is ‘Why don’t you… yes but’ (ibid:101). In this game the instigator’s role is a helpless person overtly asking for the advice of others but unconsciously or consciously the instigator is not seeking advice but seeking reassurance. The covert, ulterior quality of this interaction is what T. A. terms a con. Stephen Karpman who devised the Karpman Drama Triangle proposes; ‘whenever people play games, they are stepping into one of three scripty roles: Persecutor, Rescuer or Victim’. Stewart & Joines 1987:236) In the above game, the instigator starts off as the victim needing to be rescued by the advice giver but once the advice giver realises whatever advice they offer is not accepted there is then a switch and they become the victim and the instigator becomes the persecutor. At some point in every game there is always a switch in roles. In T. A. theory games always have a payoff, and are played to re-enforce the player’s life script.
In the ‘yes but’ game the payoff for the instigator is the re-assurance he is right in his belief about others that no-one can help him and re-enforces his intrinsic belief about himself, that he is helpless. In T. A. the life-script is an important concept as all transactions, games, ego-states and the concepts they encompass relate to the re-enforcement of an individual’s life script. Berne defined life-script as; ‘a life plan made in childhood, reinforced by the parents, justified by subsequence events, and culminating in a chosen alternative’. Berne 1972:446) Woollams (1977) believes the child decides upon a life script as a best strategy for getting their needs met and surviving in a hostile world which is played out in the form of a drama with a defined beginning, middle and end. Script decisions are then carried into adulthood as script beliefs and unconsciously played out through the here and now being perceived as if it ‘were the world we pictured in our early decisions’ (Stewart & Joines 1987: 110) leading to scripty behaviour, thoughts and feelings manifested in games, drama triangle etc. Part of T. A. herapy is to help individuals become aware of their script beliefs, step out of scripty behaviour into script-free or autonomous behaviour using all the resources available to them as an Adult. In T. A. the value individuals place on themselves and others constitutes a ‘fundamental stance’ (Stewart & Joiner 1987:117) termed a life position which is decided in young childhood ‘early in the process of script formation’ and ‘likely to stay with him for the rest of his life’ (ibid). Life positions influence the life-script which reflects the individual’s belief about self, others and the world.
In T. A. there are four life positions, I’m Ok, you’re Ok reflecting an ideal belief about self/others/world and the other three reflecting more negative beliefs ie. I’m not OK, you’re not OK. In examining how the above philosophy, theory and techniques relate to practice, Stewart & Joines (1987) view the main aim of change in T. A. therapy is the promotion of client autonomy represented by awareness, spontaneity and intimacy which are also characteristics of ‘self-actualisation’ (Maslow 1943) a central tenet of Humanistic approaches.
Stewart (1996), views T. A. as an ‘actionistic approach’ and unlike Humanistic approaches, such as the Person-Centred approach which consider the counselling relationship as the primary agent for change, T. A. does not assume the counselling relationship alone is sufficient to affect personal change i. e. T. A. uses diagnostic techniques, treatment direction. Prochaska & Norcross (accessed:13/4/11) explain how the T. A. herapist firstly makes a structural diagnosis of the client’s problems ‘by analyzing emotional upsets in terms of conflicts among Parent, Child and Adult ego states’ (ibid:18), then provides the client with a framework to understand their ‘maladaptive behaviours’, educates them in basic concepts of T. A. and provides feedback on how the client expresses their Adult, Parent and Child states. From this and other diagnostic techniques the therapist outlines a planned and structured programme for change, using a contractual method to ensure the client is willing to accept joint responsibility for change and the suggested treatment direction.
In contrast with many approaches within the Humanistic paradigm that are non-directive and believe client-led therapy is necessary to empower the client through their own autonomy, T. A. appears to be a directive treatment process, with the therapist, at least initially, assuming the role of expert and educator, which is similar to Behavioural approaches such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. However even within person-centred approaches it appears directivity and the role of expert is now gaining acceptance i. e.
Sanders (2004), outlines primary principles of person-centred therapies including; ‘Primacy of the non-directive attitude at least at the level of content but not necessarily at the level of process. It is permissible for the therapist to be an ‘expert’ process-director… ’. (ibid:155) It could be argued some clients may prefer a more directive treatment approach, and diversity of choice within psychotherapy offers the client a range of options to choose from. From a Behavioural perspective Prochaska & Norcross (accessed:13/4/11) believe one of the criticisms in the application of T.
A. theory is that it lacks scientific validity, believing hypothetical constructs such as the ego-states need to find a way to be scientifically tested to gain scientific credibility. A further criticism being T. A. is ‘presented as a universal treatment’ (ibid:36) rather than specifying which problems it works best with, which also applies to most ‘insight-orientated psychotherapies’ (ibid). From a cultural perspective Prochaska & Norcross (accessed:13/4/11) criticise T. A. for solely focusing on intra-psychic problems of the individual and ignoring the affects of interpersonal roblems relating to culture and the family which could be seen as a reflection of Post Modernist thinking with other approaches such as the Person-Centred approach also being criticised for its individualistic stance. From a Humanistic approach with its emphasis on holism, Prochaska & Norcross (accessed: 13/4/11) believe current problems within western society such as fragmentation and isolation could be viewed as exasperated by an approach where the basis of personality is fragmented into varying ego states i. e. the second order structural model with its multitude of ego-states.
However it could be challenged ‘regardless of orientation most theorists who have explored intra-psychic process have described the mind as having some degree of multiplicity’ (Schwartz 1997:12), including; Parts/Internal Family Systems Therapy (Schwartz 1987), configurations of self (Mearns & Thorne 2000), sub-personalities (Assagioli 1973), archetypes and complexes (Jung 1968) etc. , which all could be viewed as reflecting postmodernist theory of multiple selves; “… theorists have binned any notion of the self as substantial essential or timeless…
The search for an authentic self being replaced by disintegration, fragmented desires.. ”. (Ward 1997:155) Transactional Analyst, Napper (2009), believes the diversity of T. A. is what makes it relevant to contemporary life. ‘One of the riches of transactional analysis is its breadth, from behavioural and cognitive ways of working to psychodynamic and self-psychology approaches’. (ibid:72) However T. A. also has critics within its own approach and although T. A does incorporate aspects of many approaches, Transactional analyst, Tyrangiel (2010) believes T. A. eeds to integrate an existential element, seeing problems such as isolation and guilt as existential problems rather than merely psychological problems. ‘We do not find meaning by attending to our egos. We do not construct meaningful lives by focusing on ourselves but by relating to the world. ’ (Tyrangiel 2005) This seems to tie in with criticism of T. A. from an Integrative perspective where Prochaska & Norcross (accessed:13/4/11) believe T. A. as a system could be accused of ‘lacking depth’ focusing on cognition at the expense of humanness. Humanness in this context may refer to a lack of a spiritual element within T.
A. In summary criticisms of T. A encompass; lack of scientific validity, a universal treatment approach to problems, issues to do with fragmentation, lack of depth and existential meaning and an individualistic stance. Prochaska & Norcross (accessed:13/4/11) conclude since the 1970s T. A. has been fading as a prominent approach within psychotherapy due to its ‘arcane language and research inadequacy’ (ibid:43) and see the future of T. A. as becoming an integrative psychotherapy combining with other approaches such as Systems theory, Gestalt etc.
Integration could be seen as a sign of the future for psychotherapy i. e. some CBT approaches are now integrating Mindfulness into their practice.. The second part of this essay assesses my personal and professional learning from this module. In looking at my personal learning, I start by outlining my habitual way of being at the start of the course and have concentrated mainly on the learning experience related to the ego-state model as this was very powerful for me and led to a re-appraisal of beliefs and values I hold about myself.
When I started this module I prided myself on being driven by emotion rather than logic and reason and now feel I was unaware of the consequences of maintaining an emotionally driven way of being. T. A. would describe someone with a seeming absence of logic, reason, reality-testing etc. as someone who ‘excludes Adult’ (Stewart & Joines 1987:54), exclusion being situation specific rather than total. Excluding Adult, according to Stewart & Joines (1987) resulting in an internal Parent-Child dialogue with thoughts feelings and actions reflecting this internal struggle.
Berne (1961:66-9) lists four ways of identifying and diagnosing ego-states; through behavioural, social, historical and phenomenological diagnosis, Behavioural diagnosis consisting of ‘a consistent combination of: words, tones, gestures, postures and facial expressions’ (Stewart 1989:32). At times of stress I feel there is an internal struggle going on inside me and through experiential exercises in class which incorporated peer feedback, I became aware of consistent combinations of visible behaviour which could be considered manifestations of my Parent and Child ego-states.
I learnt when stressed I habitually swing between feeling misunderstood, tearful, withdrawn, small, regressed, defensive, victim and childlike which could be viewed as characteristics of an Adapted Child ego-state and angry, loud, vocal, harsh toned, critical, accusatory, persecuting and judgemental which could be considered as a Critical Parent ego-state. Stewart (1996) believes time frames are at the heart of the ego-state model; ‘Parent and Child ego-states are both echoes of the past… only in the Adult ego-state is the erson responding to the present with her full present resources’. (ibid:27) Whilst Berne believes ‘the ultimate aim of transactional analysis is structural readjustment and reintegration’. (Berne 1961:224). From a T. A. perspective it did seem essential to reintegrate a more rational part, or Adult ego-state, into my way of being as responding to the here and now inappropriately through perceptions and decisions made in childhood seemed limiting, repetitive and destructive for myself and others. In T. A. he concept of ‘rubberbanding’ (Stewart & Joines 1987: 111) also results in temporary exclusion of the Adult ego-state. Rubberbanding is usually associated with stress and a here-and-now experience that triggers feelings from an earlier event from childhood, these feelings then being re-experienced in the current situation which are often inappropriate and unhelpful. Stewart & Joines (1987) relate this to the Freudian concept of transference and describe how in T. A. this is referred to as ‘putting a face on someone’ (ibid:111).
I have become aware in times of stress when I overreact to a person or situation that this is usually a ‘ghost’ from the past and I do feel childlike and rubberbanded back to archaic feelings and have learnt to ask myself “what or who does this remind me of? ”. Using cognitive abilities of logic, reason and problem solving in Adult ego-state takes me out of scripty behaviour and into the here and now with all my abilities as an adult available to me. Scripty behaviour being when… ‘we re-play the strategies we decided upon as infants’ and ‘respond to the here-and-now reality as if it were the world we pictured in our early decisions’. Stewart & Joines 1974:110) When I am in Adult I feel more adult, more in control of myself, I am able to see situations clearer and make decisions as to how it is appropriate to respond i. e. a Child or Parent ego-state may be appropriate or not depending on the situation. Stewart & Joines (1987) describe T. A. as a Decisional Model and in Adult I am aware that actions and attitudes have consequences and I take responsibility for the decisions I make. My communication is clearer and I am more aware of when I am playing games or being pulled into others games and can choose to step out of the game by responding from an Adult ego-state.
The biggest surprise for me and the greatest learning from this module is that I enjoy being more rational and able to problem solve and this does not mean I have become a cold unemotional person, rather it gives me the choice to harness or release my emotions as I think fit rather than being controlled by them. Whereas I previously considered focusing on actions and behavioural change as only scratching the surface of problems and have relied mainly on gaining insight into my problems I now feel that there is also value in a more actionistic approach both personally and professionally. ‘…. eople can change. We achieve change not merely by insight into our old patterns of behavior, but by actively deciding to change those patterns. The Changes we make can be real and lasting. ’ (Stewart & Joines 1987:7) In assessing my professional learning, although I am open minded to varying concepts of individuals experiencing and revealing their personality through different parts i. e. Berne’s (1961) three ego-states, I am not convinced individuals decide and follow an individual life plan and therefore have consciously not focused on script, drivers (a sequence of behaviour that leads into life script i. . Be Perfect), injunctions (twelve main themes of negative early decisions i. e. Don’t exist) and counterinjunctions (script messages passed down from the Parent in the parent to the Parent in the Child i. e. oughts and shoulds). I also have problems accepting concepts of other life plans i. e. from a Transpersonal approach I also dislike Hillman’s (1996) Acorn theory that proposes each individual has a destiny that is ‘already present before it can be lived… and has selected an image or pattern that we live on earth’. (ibid:8).
I can however relate to the T. A. concept of mini-scripts and repetitive cycles of behaviour as in my counselling practice I have observed clients acting out repetitive predictable patterns of behaviour, events and outcomes, although I am unconvinced this ‘reproduces, over a short time-period, the process of the entire life-script’ (Stewart & Joines 1987:155). Other T. A. concepts which I would be uncomfortable incorporating into my professional practice are diagnosing client’s behaviour during a counselling session and setting a treatment direction.
These go against my Person-Centred beliefs that therapy benefits from being client led and clients are unique individuals who empower themselves through exercising their autonomy. T. A. concepts which I assess as helpful to my professional practice are; the contractual method, ego-states, transactions and the Karpman Drama Triangle relating to games, all of which I believe can be viewed respectively as relating to therapy method, personality and communication, rather than re-enforcing a life script or existential life position.
The T. A. contractual method entails the client/counsellor entering into a contract which assumes the client/counsellor have joint responsibility for change, asks the client to assume 50% of that responsibility and agrees clear goals which the client wants to achieve. It could be argued that some individuals may set themselves up to fail by setting goals, however this may depend on the age and personality of the client and some clients may benefit from having a clear idea of the direction of change and actions this may entail.
With one young client with whom I worked, re-contracting and her setting her own goals helped shift her process forward when it had become repetitive and confusing. I now spend more time contracting, defining counselling, exploring what the client wants from counselling and discussing joint responsibility for change all of which I believe is helpful in the first session when clients are often unsure what is expected of them.
I also find it helpful to reflect on patterns of relating between therapist and client in terms of transactions and ego-states especially when the counselling relationship and client’s process feels ‘stuck’ i. e. if the client is constantly in Child ego-state and I constantly respond from a Nurturing Parent ego-state this is a Complementary Transaction which initially builds trust but over time the relationship may stagnate into fixed safe ways of relating that inhibit the client’s growth.
If I then respond in Adult to the client’s Child this Ulterior Transaction challenges the client’s normal way of relating or I may lead in Adult which invites the client to respond in Adult, both of which help shift the relationship out of its fixed position. Being aware of Ulterior Transactions when the client may appear to be in Adult but for instance is actually in Child is also useful as the client can then be invited to explore what is happening for them at a deeper psychological level.
In assessing the ego-state model as a parts theory, I am comfortable working with the different parts of self many clients bring and often clients talk about a younger, smaller child part that could relate to the Child ego-state in Berne’s (1961) model. Although I would not actively explain any theory or system of parts to clients as I believe this may impinge on their own perceptions of the parts they bring, I do believe the ego-state model is a useful framework to keep in mind when reflecting on work with clients. One concept I have at times incorporated into my counselling practice is the Karpman Drama Triangle.
This concept is easy to explain and understand and clients appear to find it useful when they feel stuck in negative patterns of relating that occur with differing people and situations, as it enables them to see their role in the game so they can take action to step out of these roles into Adult helping them feel more in control of themselves and the situation. In conclusion I have found it useful and enjoyable to learn about T. A. theory and practice and am able to use T. A. concepts I believe are of benefit to me personally and professionally and leave other concepts that do not align with my beliefs and value system.
I would say the most profound learning for me has been the realisation that insight alone may not always necessarily be sufficient to affect personal change and a combination of insight and action may be the most effective way forward. 3,300 words References Assagioli R. (1973) The Act of Will, New York: Viking Press Berne E. (1961) Transactional analysis in psychotherapy: A systematic individual and social psychiatry, New York: Grove Press Berne E. (1964) The Games People Play: the Psychology of Human Relations, New York: Grove Press Berne E. (1972) What do you say after you say hello?
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