How can Transactional Analysis help us better understand how we think, feel and behave?

Transactional Analysis. It sounds a bit strange and complicated, but it’s basically a style of psychotherapy and counselling which has some very simple and useful concepts to help us better understand our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

TA was founded by Eric Berne in the 1950s. He wanted to create more equality between psychoanalyst and patient and so designed concepts that used every day language and were easy to understand.

Central to the theory is the Parent Adult Child model and it’s something I think about a lot with my clients. There are three main states – Parent, Adult and Child. Let’s start with Adult as that’s the state we hope to spend most of our time in. Being in Adult is when we think, feel and behave in response to the here and now. For example, we hear a door slam and, while we may get a shock, once we realise it was just the wind that caused the door to slam, we calm down and get on with what we were doing.

Next let’s look at Child. This is when we think, feel and behave in a way that is rooted in the past. So when we hear the door slam, we might be paralysed with fear and cower in the corner, worried that someone is coming to hurt us. Or perhaps we berate ourselves for being so stupid because we left the window open, causing the door to slam shut.

Lastly there’s Parent. This is when thoughts, feelings and behaviours are copied from parents or caregivers. So when we hear the door slam, and perhaps we had a very authoritarian parent, we may be consumed with rage and look for someone to blame and punish.

If we are spending a lot of time in either Child or Parent, clearly this is going to have all sorts of negative repercussions on our relationships and work life. Plus this is usually happening subconsciously, so we are not aware of what is happening.

And that’s where counselling can help. Often with my clients, we will talk through scenarios from that week and try to unpick what happened, and whether their thoughts, feelings and behaviours could be rooted in either Child or Parent.

Does any of this ring true with you or someone you know? It can be interesting to think about why we end up in the same arguments with people over and over again, or get paralysed by anxiety before a meeting. But this process can also be painful and difficult, which is why lots of people opt for some support through a counsellor. You know yourself best, and the most important thing is to do what’s right for you.

If you are interested in finding out more about TA, look out for more of my blog posts in the coming weeks, and I also recommend the books TA Today by Ian Stewart and Vann Joines, and Games People Play by Eric Berne.

Photo credit: Pawel Czerwinski via Unsplash

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