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What is TA?

Right, let us start from the beginning – what is TA, or Transactional Analysis?

Theory of TA was developed by Eric Berne, who wanted it to be accessible to everyone (unlike the traditional Freudian psychoanalysis). He chose to use simple words to describe very complex ideas and concepts.

The philosophical assumptions of TA are:

– People are OK
– Everyone has the capacity to think
– People decide their own destiny, and these decisions can be changed

What does this mean?

People are OK: Sometimes I might not accept what you do, but I always accept who you are. Your behaviour might be not OK at all, but it does not mean that you are not OK as a person.

Everyone has the capacity to think: All of us, unless we are severely brain damaged, can think. Therefore we can decide what do we want from life. Then we have to live with the consequences of what we decide.

People decide their own destiny: When we are very little, we decide upon certain strategies that we then follow in our life. We needed these strategies in order to survive in the world of “grown-ups”, which sometimes seemed dangerous and hostile.

As we grow up, we still pursue the same strategies, even if the results we get are unproductive and painful. We do that just because it is familiar and comfortable to do so.

It was our decision to adopt these strategies and it can be our decision to decide to abandon them now. We cannot be made to feel or behave in a certain way by other people, it is always our decision to do so. People can change, but first they have to make a decision to change.

Kevin comes to see a psychotherapist. If it was his decision to enter therapy, it means that he understands that his problems are not somebody else’s fault, but come from within himself and he can solve them. If, instead, he is forced into therapy by his wife, school teacher, employer etc. etc., therapy is not likely to produce any results. He will keep blaming everyone else for his misfortunes and continue to follow his old strategies.


The most basic concept of TA is the Ego-state model. An ego-state is the set of related behaviours, thoughts and feelings. It is a way we manifest a part of our personality at a given time.

If I am behaving, thinking and feeling in response to what is going on around me here and now, using my resources as a grown-up person, I am said to be in my Adult Ego-state.

At times, I may behave, think and feel in ways which are a copy of one of my parents or parent figures. On this occasion, I am said to be in my Parent Ego-state.

Sometimes, I may return to ways of behaving, thinking and feeling which I used when I was a child. It might indicate that I am in my Child Ego-state.

Let’s see how all this works for Kevin.

Kevin is at work. His boss comes up to him and asks: “Kevin, can you get this report done for me, please?” To which Kevin replies: “Yes, I can get it to you in half an hour”, which he then does. Here Kevin is in his Adult ego-state – he accessed the information available to him at the time and acted upon it.

Kevin is meeting a girl at the bar. He knows that the girl likes him, but as she is walking towards him across the bar, he suddenly remembers how his older sister used to say that he is stupid. He feels his heart racing, he mumbles and talks nonsense and the girl does indeed start to suspect that Kevin is not very smart. In this situation, Kevin was in his Child.

Kevin is driving a car. Another car with a woman behind the wheel overtakes him. Kevin swears and said to his mate: “That woman behind the wheel is a potential killer!” This is exactly what Kevin’s dad used to say. We therefore can conclude that Kevin was in his Parent.


How does learning about Ego-states helps us in communicating with each other?

When I am interacting with you, I can choose to address you from any one of my three ego-states. You in turn can reply from any of your three ego-states. This unit of social interaction is called a Transaction.

There are different types of transactions.

A Complementary Transaction is one in which the transactional vectors are parallel and the ego-state addressed is the one which responds.

For example:
Kevin elbows his friend and giggles, his friend elbows Kevin back, also in a friendly way. Both of them are in their Child Ego-states.

Kevin’s girlfriend, Marianna, tells her friend: “Kevin never called me back. All men are pigs!”
Her friend replies: “Yes, all of them!”

Both girls are in their Parent ego-states, as they replicate ideas and behaviours that were modelled to them by their mothers.

A Crossed Transaction is one in which the transactional vectors are crossing and the Ego-state addressed is not the one which responds.

For example:
Kevin asks his mother: “What time is it?”
To which she starts shouting at him: “How dare you! You were meant to be home at 9!”

Kevin addressed his mother from his Adult, but got a reply from a Parent ego-state.

Kevin’s boss comes up to him and says: “Kevin, could you please prepare this report for me?” Kevin rolls his eyes and says in a whiny tone: “Why always me? Can’t somebody else do it?”

Here the boss addressed Kevin from his Adult, but got a reply from Kevin’s Child.

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