Transactional Analysis

What is Transactional Analysis, and how is it used in E-CENT counselling?

Four models from Transactional Analysis (TA) counselling, as used in Classic TA and in E-CENT counselling:

(1) The ego-state theory and model;

(2) Script theory;

(3) The Drama Triangle; and

(4) the OK Corral.  Quotes and video footage from Dr Eric Berne.


How to understand and apply Transactional Analysis (TA) in your life

by Dr Jim Byrne

12th September 2015. Updated on 20th January 2021

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2009-2015/2016/2021


Sigmund Freud created the insight that the human individual has three main components to their personality or being.  These are: (1) the part that was born (the body-mind, or the ‘it’); (2) The internalized others (mainly mother and father, etc; which he called the over-I); and (3) The socialized personality (which he called the I: which Anglicized psychoanalysis called ‘the ego’).

Freud’s system of psychoanalysis was slow and difficult, and involved trying to externalize the contents of the non-conscious part of the mind of the patient/client.

Eric Berne was an American medical doctor and trained psychiatrist, who, at the end of the Second World War, was interested in finding ways of making psychoanalysis more accessible to ordinary people, in a way that was quicker and more efficient than Freud’s approach.


Games people play, coverDr Eric Berne began to develop his popularized approach to psychotherapy somewhere in the 1940s when he was a US Army medical officer; but his first paper on Transactional Analysis (TA) proper did not appear until 1957 (according to Stewart, 1989)[1].  Much work was done in the 1950s and ‘60s, with Games People Play appearing in 1964; and What Do You Say After You Say Hello? appearing in 1972 (after Berne’s early death in 1970).

Transactional Analysis really began when Dr Berne was working with a successful lawyer as a therapy client.  This lawyer felt very much an adult in his work, but he had an occasional tendency to say; “I’m not really a lawyer.  I’m just a little boy!”[2]  Eventually Berne realized that the lawyer operated from ‘different places’, or ‘different states of the ego’ – different parts of his personality.  Berne and a group of collaborators began to investigate those ‘ego states’, listening to audio recordings of psychotherapy sessions, and identifying the ‘places’ that the patient and the therapist were ‘transacting’ from.  Out of this research/practice process came the insight that we humans operate from different ego states, depending on the external circumstances of our social encounters, and our personal life histories.

[1] Stewart, I. (1989) Transactional Analysis Counselling in Action.  London: Sage.

[2] Berne, E. (1947/1986) A Layman’s Guide to Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis.  Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.  Page 328 (Chapter Nine, Transactional Analysis, by John M. Dusay, MD).


The Bamboo Paradox: The limits of human flexibility in a cruel world – and how to protect, defend and strengthen yourself

Finding the Golden Mean that leads to strength and viable flexibility, in order to be happy, healthy and realistically successful

A, Front coverBy Dr Jim Byrne.

With contributed chapters by Renata Taylor-Byrne


The Institute for E-CENT Publications: 2020


Are human beings like bamboo?  Are we designed to withstand unlimited pressure, stress and strain? Is our destiny to be sacrificed on the altar of ‘flexible working arrangements’?

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Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) has played into this narrative, and given it philosophical support, by promoting a form of Extreme Stoicism in the name of therapy and wisdom, which it patently is not. (General Cognitive Behaviour Therapy [CBT] also supports this agenda, but to a lesser degree, or in a less obvious way! And some forms of Extreme Buddhism also advocate ‘detachment’ from material concerns, such as the need for a balanced life!)

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Berne focused his system mainly on the ‘I’, or ‘ego’, and came up with the inspired insight that each individual begins life as a child, grows and develops (through a Little Professor stage, and then a more Adult stage), and they internalize experiences of their actual parents relating to them.  In the process, all of those stages of development, and experiences, are stored in the individual’s memory banks, so that we each have a Child part to our ego (or childlike-I); an Adult part to our ego (or adult-like-I); and a Parent part to our ego (or parent-like-I).

5, Paralle; A to A

The Adult part of us is partly a result of innate psychological development (as argued by Jean Piaget), and partly a result of our socialization (as argued by Lev Vygotsky).  It uses language-based logic and reason to ‘compute’ the world of experience.

The Parent part of us is copied from our parents, so that, when we are ‘in Parent ego state’ we are most often thinking, feeling and acting just like some parent figure from our family: mother, father, granny, etc.

Take a look at the following video clip, at Youtube, for greater clarity:

This is how Berne described TA and his ego state model, back in 1979, in his book entitled, What do you say after you say hello? 

“The basic interest of transactional analysis is the study of ego states, which are coherent systems of thought and feeling manifested by corresponding patterns of behaviour.  Each human being exhibits three types of ego states.  (1) Those derived from parental figures, colloquially called the Parent.  In this state, s/he feels, thinks, acts, talks and responds just as one of his/her parents did when s/he was little. This ego state is active, for example, in raising his/her own children.  Even when s/he is not actually exhibiting this ego state, it influences his/her behaviour as the ‘parental influence’, performing the functions of a conscience.  (2) The ego state in which s/he appraises his/her environment objectively, and calculates its possibilities and probabilities on the basis of past experience, is called the Adult ego state, or the Adult.  The Adult functions like a computer.  (3) Each person carries within (themselves) a little boy or little girl, who feels, thinks, acts, talks and responds just the way he or she did when he or she was a child of a certain age.  This ego state is called the Child.  the Child is not regarded as ‘childish’ or ‘immature’, which are Parental words, but as childlike, meaning like a child of a certain age, and the important factor here is the age, which may be anywhere between two and five years in ordinary circumstances.  It is important for the individual to understand his/her Child, not only because it is going to be with him/her all their lifetime, but also because it is the most valuable part of his/her personality”. (Pages 11/12).

He further theorized that, to be optimally effective, an individual needs to learn to function mainly with their adult-like-I (or Adult ego state) in the driving seat of their life – or what he called having the Adult in the Executive Position, or running the show.

The Parent ego state was seen as having good and bad aspects, and so it was important to learn to distinguish between those ego states, and to mainly utilize the good (healthy and helpful) aspects of those ego states.

The Child ego state was also seen as having good and bad aspects, and the good (healthy and helpful) aspects were to be promoted, and the bad aspects controlled or regulated.

Thus it became possible for a psychoanalyst to talk to virtually any emotionally disturbed former soldier, demobbed from the US Army, about whether they were functioning in an appropriately Adult way, or an unhelpful Child or Parent way.


How to Resolve Conflict and Unhappiness: Especially during Festive Celebrations:

Coping with and resolving frustrations, disappointments and interpersonal clashes at family celebrations like Christmas, Yuletide, Hanukkah, Eid, and Thanksgiving

Dr Jim Byrne (With Renata Taylor-Byrne)

This book is particularly relevant to the Coronavirus pandemic, because families have to increasingly self-isolate in cramped conditions; with too many people in too little space; for too long at a time!

Conflict can happen in families at any time of year.  It jut so happens that the first Monday after the Christmas & New Year annual holidays is called ‘Divorce Day’, because that is when the highest number of divorce petitions is issued. And it seems most likely that the other major family holiday times are the runners up in the divorce stakes.  However, what is hidden under these divorce statistics is the mountain of personal and social misery that precedes such drastic ‘solutions’ to repeated conflict, disappointments and interpersonal clashes.

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A review of the ego-state model of TA

Revision is the key to sound learning.  We need to get the same information in various ways, with variations, in order to build up a three dimensional sense of the field.  Let us begin by reviewing the basic theory of ego states.  I want to do this by presenting two questions from TA Mini-paper No.6, which I completed in 2002 as part of my Diploma in Counselling Psychology and Psychotherapy.  (The full paper can then be downloaded by clicking the link below.

Q1. Exactly what is an ego state?

2, PAC model

Ego states are patterns of thinking, feeling and behaviour – the main ones being Parent, Adult and Child – abbreviated to P, A and C.  Parent ego state is copied from actual parent figures from the past; Adult ego state is based on age-specific reality appraisal, which tends to be fairly logical and rational; and Child ego state is a relic of childhood, whereby we think, feel and act as we once did as a child.  This is how they are normally displayed graphically:

We tend to move around between ego states, depending upon the incoming stimulus; and we tend to have a set pattern of relating, which may be high on Parent; high on Child; or high on Adult; where ‘high on’ means that we spend a lot of time/energy in that particular ego state. When we communicate with each other, we operate from a specific ego state each time, and we also tend to address a specific ego state in the other person.  The possible combinations of potential transactions are shown in the next illustration:

3, Multiple PAC transactions

For most purposes, Adult-to-Adult interactions are best; but we need to use the (Good) Parent ego state when we are in parenting or supervising roles. 

And our good manners mainly come from our Child ego state.



Q2. Describe each of the following ego states:

(P) Parent: the Parent or extero-psychic ego state is a set of feelings, thoughts, attitudes and behaviours which resemble those of parent figures.  It contains controlling and nurturing aspects.

When I am ‘in Parent ego state’, I am thinking, feeling and acting just like some real parent figure from my past (my mother, father, grandparent, teacher, etc).

There are two main subdivisions of the Parent ego state: identified as the Nurturing Parent (NP) and the Controlling Parent (CP).

Both of these ego states can have positive and negative aspects, or sides, to them.  There is also the concept of the ‘Critical Parent’ ego state, which is seen as negative and destructive, perhaps being an aspect of the bad side of the Controlling Parent.

4, Nurturing and Controlling Parent images

(A) Adult: When in the Adult or neo-psychic ego state, the person (relatively) autonomously and (relatively) objectively appraises reality and makes judgements.  It functions like a partially self-programming probability computer.

When I am in my Adult ego state, I am functioning like a ‘computer’, by being relatively logical, rational and reasonable, in the here and now.

The next video clip describes how your adult ego state can be ‘contaminated’ by your Child ego state:


5, Paralle; A to A

(C) Child: The Child or archaeo-psychic ego state is a set of feelings, thoughts, attitudes and behavioural patterns which are historical relics of an individual’s childhood.

When I am in my Child ego state, I am thinking, feeling and behaving just like I once did as a little boy.  I may be adapting to others (Adapted Child ego state), rebelling against them (Rebellious Child ego state), or operating more authentically and autonomously (Free or Natural Child ego state).  And each of those states can be either good or bad:

6, Expanded ECENT PAC model

+FC = Positive Free Child ego state.

– FC = Negative Free Child ego state.

+AC = Positive Adapted Child ego state.

-AC = Negative Adapted Child ego state.


In E-CENT, we emphasize that the Adult ego state is also split into a good side and a bad side – which has almost always been overlooked by the major TA theorists!


To download TA Mini-paper No.6, please click the link that follows:

Click here to download Mini-paper No.6***


For more, click this link to go to Transactional Analysis, Page 2.***