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.

Image-3-Intro-TA.JPGResource 3 – How to understand and apply Transactional Analysis (TA) in your life

by Dr Jim Byrne

12th September 2015. Updated 13th July 2016

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


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.jpgDr 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).


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).

PAC_model1.jpgThe 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.

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.


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?

PAC_ES_model.jpgEgo 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:


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.


(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.


Adult_to_Adult.jpg(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:


+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***


Continuing Professional Development 

If you would like to earn a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Certificate in Understanding TA and Human Communication, then please read the text above, including Mini Paper No.6, and pay the fee of £9.75 by clicking the PayPal Buy Now button that follows:

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Certificate in Understanding TA and Human Communication


When you pay your £9.75 GBP fee at Paypal, you will be sent a question paper which contains a range of questions to be answered.  Once your answers have been submitted, and accepted, you will be sent a Certificate of Continuing Professional Development (10 hours credit) in Transactional Analysis and Human Communication.


Video overview of the ego-state model of TA 

Individuals vary in terms of their learning styles.  One of the main differences is that between visual, auditory and whole-body learning.  Because of the dominance of TV and video games, many individuals today find it most easy to learn from visual material.

Here is a little ten minute video introduction to TA, by Rory Lees-Oakes, outlining in particular the ego states.  It provides a good overview of the system. Please click the image that follows:


One of the earliest signs of the blossoming of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT) was the integration of (REBT) with Transactional Analysis (TA), back in 1999.  It seemed obvious to me at times that only the TA model could help the client to see where their unreasonable demands were coming from.  Let me explain:

Eric-Berne1.jpgLet’s have another quick review.  (Reviews are important for consolidation of memories).

Transactional Analysis was developed by Dr Eric Berne between the end of the Second World War and the 1970s.  The outstanding features of TA were that it was quick and efficient.  It was also anti-elitist, and it expressed psychological terms and concepts in easy-to-understand, everyday language.  Instead of lengthy and frequent sessions of psychoanalysis, Berne helped his clients to see that they were either:

(1) Operating from an unhelpful part of their personality; or:

(2) Playing dysfunctional ‘psychological games’ based on not-OK positions: (e.g. “I’m not-OK”; or “You’re not-OK”; etc). Or:

(3) Following an unhealthy life script which they created when they were too young to know what they were doing or choosing.

As mentioned already above, Berne described three core aspects of the human personality, which he labelled with the common tags of: ParentAdult and Child “ego states”.  (He capitalized Parent,Adult and Child ego states to distinguish them from an actual parent, an individual adult person, and/or a real child).

Later he split the parent into Nurturing Parent and Controlling Parent; and Child into Natural Child and Adapted/Rebellious Child.  Subsequent writers on TA multiplied the number of ego states which are possible, but eventually they were pruned back to the basic five mentioned here.  Evidence has been found that those five ego states are commonly active in counselling clients.  However, we cannot say that individuals have just five ego states, and no more.  Some psychoanalysts work with the ‘Hurt Child’, or the ‘Abandoned Child’, in their clients. And Psychosynthesis works with a broad range of sub-personalities, which are essentially ego states.

Let’s now present a brief review of the main ego states, in the following video clip by Theramin Trees:

What did you learn from this video clip?  About yourself?  About some other people in your life?  Perhaps you are too high on Controlling Parent yourself; or perhaps you are high on Child, and get bossed around by people who are high on Controlling Parent.

To find out more about your own ego states, you could complete a TA Quiz which can be found here: TA Questionnaire***

The value of TA questionnaires was brought home to me way back in 1984, when my wife and I completed them during marriage guidance counselling, with a TA therapist, and we discovered that, while I scored higher on Controlling Parent than I did on Adult, she scored higher on Adapted/Rebellious Child than she did on Adult.  This allowed us both to see that we would have to figure out how to become more Adult in our day to day functioning.

The aim of TA is to help you to get your Adult ego state in the Executive Position of your personality, which allows the Adult to control your decisions as to when it is appropriate and/or inappropriate to operate from Parent; and when it is appropriate and/or inappropriate to operate from Child ego state.  Also, to review your life position, and opt for the ‘I’m OK – you’re OK’ position (which is described further down this page).  The third major aim of TA is to help the client to ‘re-decide’ about any childhood decisions (or ‘scripts’) which are not serving them well as adults.

One way to grow your Adult ego state is to study Critical Thinking skills.



The Parent ego state has two sub-divisions: the Nurturing Parent ego state, and the Controlling Parent ego state.  Both of these states has a positive and a negative side.  Nurturing Parent ego state can be helpful to others, but it can also come on as the ‘smother mother’ or the over-solicitous dad.  The Controlling Parent ego state is needed in parenting, in setting reasonable boundaries for children.  However, it can be overused in adult relationships, where it shows up as domination and lack of democratic sharing.

The Child ego state also has two subdivisions: the Natural (or Free) Child ego state, and the Adapted/Rebellious Child ego state.  Again, both of these states have a good and bad side.  The Free Child ego state is the source of play and creativity; but it is also capable of engendering risky behaviours which threaten the survival of the individual.  And the Adapted/Rebellious Child ego state has the positive tendency to be pro-social and cooperative, and the negative tendency to be too conformist and weak in relation to bullies.

In the video clip above, the narrator says that the Adult ego state is not split.  But in E-CENT we argue that the Adult ego state is as split as the Parent and Child.  For example, the Good Adult ego state might design a new approach to bridge building, and make bridges safer for public use; while the Bad Adult ego state might spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to break into the Bank of England to steal all the gold bullion stored there.  Both states might be equally logical and effective in their strategic thinking, but one is immoral and the other is moral.  (More below).

# Counselling and therapy all over the world.

# What is E-CENT counselling?



Coming Soon: Holistic Counselling in Practice.***



TA in work 

Here is some further description of the three basic ego states of Transactional Analysis, applied to transactions in work situations.  This video clip shows a range of non-viable Parent>Child encounters; plus the ideal Adult-to-Adult option.

What did you learn from this video clip?  Which ego state do you “occupy” most or much of the time?  Is this working for you?  Do you over-use Parent or Child ego state?  How can you get you Adult ego state into the ‘executive position’ in your personality most of the time?

Further down this page, I will present a set of recommendations for ways in which you can strengthen your Adult ego state, and get it more and more into the executive position, so you can manage your life more autonomously, democratically, and enjoyably!


This is how the PAC model looks so far:

Figure 1 – A simple structural model:


The most effective place for and two individuals to operate from is Adult-to-Adult.  An exception would be in the case of a young child, or a person in need of comfort, when it might be more effective to operate from Nurturing Parent ego state to their Child ego state.  Another exception would be a case of health and safety, or supervision, when it would be appropriate for the person in the leadership role to operate from Controlling Parent to the Adapted Child ego state of the led individual.  (This all assumes that these ego states can only operate from a ‘good place’.  However, we will see later that there is a good and bad side to each of these ego states, and so it is important to outlaw Nurturing and Controlling behaviours (and Adult behaviours!) from the bad side of a person attempting to lead others).


For a more detailed description of the work of Dr Eric Berne in developing his theory of Transactional Analysis, please check out some of the web pages available on the Internet, such as, Internet-of-the,, and others, such as[1].  Or read Berne (1968), or Stewart and Joines (1987) – (For titles of books, see end of this page). Or take a look at some Rusland Diploma assignment questions and answers on TA, produced by Jim Byrne in 2002.

Counselling and therapy all over the world.

What is E-CENT counselling?

[1]; and/or here:; and/or here:


Holistic Counselling in Practice – Coming soon! ***


Revision Questions:

Recall a time when you were clearly operating from your Controlling Parent ego state.  What were you thinking, feeling and doing?  Describe the situation and the people involved, and the ego states of those other individuals.  What were the consequences for you of acting in that way?

Recall a time when you were clearly operating from your Adapted or Rebellious Child ego state.  What were you thinking, feeling and doing?  Describe the situation.  Who else was involved?  What ego states were they in?  What were the consequenes for you of acting from Child ego state?

Recall a time when you were clearly operating from your Adult ego state.  What were you thinking, feeling and doing?  What was the situation; who else was involved; and did you benefit from being in Adult?


Recall a time when somebody in work seemed to you to be operating from Child ego state.  What happened?  Was this because you were operating from your Parent with them?  How could you have switched to Adult, and invited an Adult response from them?

Recall a time when you seemed to be stuck in Child ego state with somebody in work.  What happened?  Was this because they were operating from Parent with you?  What could you have done to get out of Child ego state?


‘Parent-stoppers’ as self-protection

In general, in order to get out of Parent or Child ego states, you need to ask yourself a question?

What am I doing here?  Why am I responding like this?  What would be a more Adult way to behave?

To block somebody who keeps coming at you from Parent, you can acknowledge their message by responding from your Adapted Child ego state (‘I got that’; or ‘I hear what you are saying’); then ask yourself a question, like: ‘How can I get them into Adult?’  This question will move you to Adult (because you can only think about the answer to a question when you are in Adult ego state); and from there you can figure out an Adult-to-Adult statement to make to them, thus escaping from the Child state in you, which they were addressing, and trying to ‘hook’.

Another way to block somebody who is in Critical Parent with you is to find something to agree with about what they are saying – e.g. ‘You might be right about that’.  Or: ‘Perhaps I could have done it better…’, or whatever. This process is called ‘fogging’.  (See the downloadable Appendix, below, on ‘Fogging’).

To download this appendix on Fogging, please click the link that follows: