TRANSACTIONAL ANALYSIS - ERIC BERNE

Eric BerneTransactional Analysis was invented and developed by the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Eric Berne in San Francisco towards the end of the 1950s. Transactional Analysis (TA) offers a systematic theory of the personality and social dynamics, which derives from clinical practice and experience, an active, ‘rational’ form of psychotherapy and provides a theory of human communication. TA is based on the analysis of ‘transactions’, i.e., on the observation of external manifestations of social relations.

A transaction occurs when a transactional stimulus (something which is said, a gesture, a facial expression, an action) of one individual (person X) results in the transactional response of another individual (person Y): a response which in turn becomes a stimulus for X, whose further possible response will become a new stimulus for Y. In this way, a chain of stimuli is triggered, which, in TA, becomes the subject of analysis together with its programming. Once the chain has been initiated, and knowing the personality traits of the subjects involved in the social exchange, to a large extent the sequence of events will be predictable.

In order to identify, codify and recognise the personality traits of a subject, TA uses a method called the ego-states model.

An ego-state can be described as a compact system of emotions and thoughts referring to a subject, which motivate corresponding models of behaviour. In other words, it is a set of thoughts, emotions and behaviour organised in a coherent manner, which reflects the experiences of its past or present. For example, the set of feelings, attitudes and models of behaviour adopted by a subject, similar to those of his/her parental figures (i.e., real parents and/or other figures that were significant points of reference during infancy and childhood), identify his/her Parent ego-state. The set of feelings, attitudes and models of behaviour that can be traced back to his/her ‘individual childhood’ (i.e., how the person behaved as a child during the first 4/5 years of life) form his/her Child ego-state. An autonomous set of feelings, attitudes and models of behaviour which are coherent and adapted to present reality reflect his/her Adult ego-state.

TA posits the presence in every human being of three ego-states: the Parent, Adult and Child. Starting from this premise,

it is known that:
-every adult individual was once a child;
-every human being who possesses a sufficient quantity of brain tissue is potentially capable of an adequate degree of consciousness of reality (reality testing);
-every individual surviving in adult life has had functioning parents or caregivers who took the place of the parents.

We may thus hypothesize that:
-vestigial remains of infancy and childhood survive in later life as complete ego-states (Child);
-reality testing can be considered a specific function of an ego-state and not an isolated 'faculty' (Adult);
-the  control of behaviour can be assumed by an ego-state of an external individual in the manner in which it is perceived (Parent).
With a little practice, by observing an individual, one may easily identify the presence of the ego-states by reflecting on and ‘reading’ a person’s posture, look, gestures, tone of voice and vocabulary.

The Parent ego-state of the severe kind can be characterised by details such as: hands at the sides, serious look, indications of an attitude that would tend to forbid certain actions or a sense of order, a hard tone of voice and vocabulary that expresses a desire to give orders or be judgemental. Inversely, a loving Parent would be indicated by such signs as: a maternal appearance with a slight flexion of the neck to one side, a look expressing affection, arms open in a welcoming attitude, a comforting tone of voice and words of encouragement.

The Adult stands upright and shows such signs as: a relaxed, soft posture, a thoughtful look with an indication of an ‘operative’ and careful approach to others, a stable (almost monotonous) and precise manner of speaking, and a vocabulary expressing evaluation.

The Child of the serene and spontaneous type would show signs such as: smiling and relaxed, uninhibited and happy, with a strong, energetic tone of voice and a rather exaggerated vocabulary. Inversely, the Child type may be shy, reserved, hiding in his/her shell, fearful, sullen, tearful and demanding, with a vocabulary highlighting his/her perceived incapacity (No, I can’t …, I hope that …, I would like to …).

Once learned, use of the ego-states model leads to an increased awareness of one’s personality traits and, if necessary, allows one to adapt them to external requirements and reality with the intent of promoting responsible and congruous management of one’s thoughts, emotions and behaviour. Such an awareness also allows one to ‘read’ social transactions, starting from the awareness of the characteristics of the individuals involved. It thus increases an individual’s capacity to manage communication, rendering the communication more effective with respect to pre-established goals.

The treatment of anxiety disorders with Transactional Analysis
Anxiety is an emotional event: a ‘physiological’ condition during which the psyche and body become oriented towards a stimulus in order to prepare for coping with and reacting to the stimulus in the best way possible. It is an adaptation of the individual to environmental situations which require satisfactory responses. However, sometimes an excessive presence of anxiety may limit the individual’s capacity to think and act in a manner appropriate under the given circumstances, invalidating the natural resources that are available. In such a condition, anxiety becomes dysfunctional and one would therefore begin to speak in terms of an Anxiety Disorder.

TA allows one to identify those 'distorted fantasies of the Child ego-state or those 'erroneous convictions' of the Parent, which can induce a ‘fear of being inadequate’ (generally the fear of failing or a fear of losing a person to whom one is attached), which present with the symptoms of anxiety. In the Child ego-state, thoughts, emotions and behaviour are structured on the basis of the skills and experience available at a very young age (up to 4-5 years old), thus, it is reasonable to think that there may be even quite significant distortions of reality and that the corresponding experience is conditioned by these. The Parent ego-state is structured on the basis of educational, social and cultural mores, tendencies and points of reference derived from the environment in which the subject lived during very early life, therefore, without having the capacity to evaluate their adequacy or inadequacy, he will have absorbed certain moral and religious values, habits, cultural traditions, beliefs, family habits and prejudices, which might be wrong or even appropriate for the present age but inadequate for its present reality.

Transactional analysis aims at increasing awareness of the Adult ego-state in the here and now. In the case of anxiety symptoms, questions raised include, "What’s the worst thing that might happen today when that anxiety is felt?” and, once the fantasy has emerged, "What does it matter if it does happen? In this way past experiences can emerge which induced the patient to interpret reality (in the past) as ‘dramatic’ or ‘catastrophic’ and which still condition him/her in the interpretation of present reality. To re-elaborate these fantasies with the awareness and information available in the present, allows for an evaluation of reality to correct any distortions and decide what to do to manage the possible current sources of distress.

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