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What is
Transactional Analysis?

Introducing Transactional Analysis

Eric Berne, MD

Transactional analysis is a theory of personality and interpersonal relations which may be used for personal growth and change, professional development, and social development. 

Transactional analysis (TA) was developed by Eric Berne, MD (1910-1970), a Canadian-American psychiatrist and psychoanalytic therapist, as well as a number of immediate and subsequent colleagues.


Berne referred to TA as a social psychiatry as his interest was in how people behaved and interacted with each other, and hence his focus on transactions.


Some transactions enhance people, and contribute to healthy living by means of clear, open communication. Other transactions diminish people, and lead to unhealthy relations often by means of what Berne referred to as crossed or ulterior transactions.

In order to develop this discipline of understanding what was going on between people Berne considered what was going on inside each person or party involved in an interaction or transaction. From his background of training in psychoanalysis, Eric developed the concept of the ego into ego states. From his observations of patients, he concluded each person has specific and consistent sets, patterns or states of their ego which they tend to use regularly in similar situations or with similar sorts of people. 

He developed a model for understanding human personality based on three broad categories of states of the ego, which he referred to as Parent, Adult and Child ego states. He suggested that people interact with each other from their own particular style of one or other of these three ego states, shifting between them according to the outside situation (through transactions) as well as what's going on inside them.

Parent Adult Child explanation

Thus, transactional analysts are trained to recognise from which ego states people are transacting - in conjunction with the client or clients - and to follow transactional sequences so that they can intervene and help people improve the quality and effectiveness of  their communication.

Transactions take place within the context of time. Berne included the time factor in his analysis. He identified several types of short-term sequences of transactions people engaged in with each other without being fully conscious of the seemingly predictable outcome which ended up with what he referred to as the 'players' experiencing various degrees of hurt. He called these short sequences games or psychological games. These games fit into a long-term lifestyle Berne called a script or life script. In childhood, each person begins to shape the life script they will live out without being aware of the impact of what they are doing. It is the script which is the major influence on the sorts of transactions people engage in when they interact with each other.

There are many books on TA which both introduce and elaborate these concepts, some of which are noted below and others of which are noted on other pages of this website.


A full introduction to the foundational theory of TA is offered in 12 hour course called the TA101. This is taught by internationally accredited TA trainers. 

Since Berne's death in 1970, TA has developed both in its original, clinical field but also into other fields of application, i.e., counselling, education, organisations, and psychotherapy, in each of which it is possible to study for a professional qualification. It has also grown as a movement and organisationally and now has practitioners and proponents all over the world.


Cornell, W.F., de Graaf, A., Newton, T., & Thunissen, M. (2016) Into TA. Routledge.

Lapworth, P., & Sills, C. (2011). An introduction to transactional analysis. Sage. 

Stewart, I., & Joines, V. (1987). TA today: A new introduction to transactional analysis. Lifespace Publishing.

Woollams, S., & Brown, M. (1978). Transactional analysis: A modern and comprehensive text of TA theory and practice. Huron Valley Institute Press.


Transactional analysis practice is based upon mutual contracting for change. Transactional analysts view people as capable of deciding what they want for their lives. Accordingly transactional analysis does its work on a contractual basis between the client and the therapist, educator, or consultant.

I'm OK - You're OK

"I'm OK - You're OK" is probably the best-known expression of the purpose of transactional analysis: to establish and reinforce the position that recognizes the value and worth of every person. Transactional analysts regard people as basically "OK" and thus capable of change, growth, and healthy interactions.

Since the 1960s, Eric Berne's theory has evolved and is used in the application of Psychotherapy and Counselling, and is utilised in Organisational, Educational and Developmental contexts (see Our Community - Practitioners).

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