Transactional analysis is a system of psychotherapy developed by Eric Berne, MD (d. 1970). We see it as one of the first forms of integrative psychotherapy, because Berne integrated theories from psychoanalysis, behavioral therapy and humanistic psychotherapy approaches. Transactional analysis is now used also in education, counselling and organisational work.

We will describe here some basic concepts of Transactional Analysis.

Ego states

Eric Berne (1972) defined ego states the following way: ‘Ego states are coherent systems of thought and feeling manifested by corresponding patterns of behavior’.
He described three main categories of ego states: Parent, Adult and Child. The Parent ego state consists of introjections of other people, the Adult ego state are thoughts, feeling and behaviors related to the here and now; and the Child ego-state consists of fixations from the past.

Adult ego state

The Adult ego-state is ‘characterised by an autonomous set of feelings, attitudes and behaviour patterns which are adapted to the current reality’ (Berne, 1961, p. 76). When a person is in Adult ego state, he’s in full contact with what is occurring inside and outside his organism in a manner appropriate to that developmental age (Erskine, 1988). Adult ego state consists of current motor behaviour; emotional, cognitive and moral development; the ability to be creative; and the capacity for contactful engagement in meaningful relationships.

Parent ego state

Berne (1961, p. 75) gave the following definition of the Parent ego-state: ’A Parental ego-state is a set of feelings, attitudes, and behaviour patterns which resemble those of a parental figure’. The Parent ego states are the manifestations of introjections of the personality of actual people as perceived by the child at the time of introjection (Loria, 1988). Introjection can be understood as a defence mechanism used when there’s a lack of full psychological contact between a child and adults (Erskine, 1988). Introjected elements may remain as a foreign body within the personality and are often unaffected by later learning, influencing behavior and perceptions. Parent ego-state can function as an active ego-state or as an intrapsychic influence. When the Parent is an active ego-state, a person feels, perceives the environment and acts as parents did years before. If the Parent is intrapsychically influential ‘the individual manifests an attitude of child-like compliance’ (Berne, 1961, p76.).

Child ego state

The Child ego-states are sets of feelings, attitudes and behaviour patterns which are relics of the individual’s own childhood (Berne, 1961). When Child ego-state is activated, the person feels, thinks and acts, as he was, when he was a child of certain age. Child ego-states represent fixated relics of childhood, which are not yet integrated into Adult ego-state. Erskine (1988) describes Child or archaic states of the ego as ‘the entire personality of a person as he or she was in a previous developmental period of time.’. The Child ego-states can be exhibited in one of two forms (Berne, 1961). The adapted Child is manifested by behaviour which is under the dominance of the Parental influence (compliance or withdrawal), whereas the natural Child is manifested by autonomous forms of behaviour such as rebelliousness or self-indulgence.


Transaction is defined as a unit of social intercourse and consists of transactional stimulus and transactional response. The transactional stimulus is a message that a person sends, whereas the response is a reply of the other person to the person who started the communication. In Transactional Analysis we investigate which ego-state produced the transactional stimulus, and which one provided the transactional response.

Script and Script System

Erskine and Zalcman (1979) define racket (script) system as a ‘self-reinforcing, distorted system of feelings, thoughts, and actions maintained by script-bound individuals.’ The racket system demonstrates how the person is supporting and carrying out the script decisions in day-to-day life. It has three interrelated and interdependent components: the script beliefs and feelings, the rackety displays and the reinforcing experiences.

The script beliefs and feelings are the Parent and Child contaminations of the Adult. Script beliefs begin to develop when a child is under pressure because of parental behavior or environmental trauma, particularly in circumstances where expressing feelings does not result in needs being met. The child attempts to understand and explain his experiences and unmet needs by making decisions about himself, others and quality of life. Those decisions are maintained today as script beliefs. The decisions the child made were for him the best possible choice, under the circumstances, as a means of solving the immediate problem. Script beliefs influence what stimuli are attended to, how they are interpreted, and whether or not they are regarded as significant by the individual.

When needs are not met in adult life, script beliefs and related feelings may be stimulated, as they were at the time of early decisions. The person is then likely to engage in behaviors that will verify the script decisions. Those behaviors are called script display, and include observable and internal behaviour. Observable behaviours can include a person’s words, sentence patterns, tone of voice, displays of emotion, gestures and body movements. A person may act the way defined by the script beliefs or attempt to defend against the script beliefs. In addition or in place of the observable behaviors, individuals often have Reported internal experiences. These internal experiences are not readily observable; nevertheless the person can give a self report. Script display also includes fantasies in which the individual imagines behaviour that lends support to the script beliefs. When individuals engage in rackety display they discount other options and describe that their behavior is the ‘only’ way they can respond. They often get others to confirm the script beliefs.

Script display behaviour can result in a reinforcing experience, that proves that the script belief is valid and thus justifies the behavior of the script display (Erskine, & Mousand, 1988). Reinforcing experiences are a collection of emotionally laden memories, which reinforce the script beliefs. Only memories which support the script beliefs are accepted and retained. Memories that negate script beliefs are rejected or forgotten, because they could challenge the script beliefs. Reinforcing memories are in that way the recall of selected events during a person’s lifetime.


A game is a series of complementary ulterior transactions leading to a well defined, predictable outcome (Berne, 1964). Games are repetitive and are played without Adult awareness. When people are playing a game they communicate on more than one level at the same time. Something different is happening at the psychological level from what seems to be happening at the social level. Games end up with predictable outcome – payoff, which consists of racket feelings for each player. Berne developed his theory of games and later added to his early definition also the switch – a sudden change of roles in communication which includes a moment of surprise or confusion.
Games have their origin in childhood. A game represents the child’s best strategy to get something from the world. They are played for many reasons. People play games to further their life script, reinforce their script beliefs and life position. Games are also a way of getting strokes and are used as a way of time structuring. They can also maintain symbiosis.
A useful way of analyzing the dynamics of games is Karpman’s Drama Triangle (Karpman, 1968) (Figure 8). It consists of three roles: Persecutor, Rescuer and Victim. Whenever we play games we step into one of these three scripty roles, which are unauthentic and involve discounting. When people are in the Persecutor role, they put other people down and see them as not O.K. Rescuers offer help and discount the autonomy of the other person and his/her power to help himself. When people are in a Victim role, they are themselves who are feeling not-OK and one-down. They discount themselves and often seek Persecutor to belittle or reject them or Rescuer to help them to think for themselves. When people are playing games the participants move round the drama triangle and change roles.
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