Transactional analysis is a theory and a type of therapy that was developed by psychiatrist Dr. Eric Berne. In simple terms, transactional analysis is a way of studying the interactions between individuals. It is used to better understand human development and to help patients change their dysfunctional behaviors through therapy.
In learning the theory’s three ego states — parent, child, and adult — individuals may be able to identify what motivates some of their negative actions. At first glance, the theory can be difficult to grasp. But learning these key terms can help you understand how it works and illustrate its potential benefits. Here are 10 transactional analysis terms you need to know.
10. Parent Ego State
One of the three ego states, the parent ego state refers to anything you observed and mentally recorded from your parents or parental figures through the first five years of your life. These could be ideas, beliefs, or behaviors you witnessed among your parents growing up. As a small child, it’s likely you accepted whatever your parents did or told you without question. Some examples of things you may have recorded from your parental figures in this state might be, “always look both ways before crossing the street,” or “don’t run with scissors.”
9. Child Ego State
Your child ego state refers to anything that you internally felt and mentally recorded in response to external events during your first five years of childhood. If something happened, it likely registered a certain type of emotion within you. Some examples of such things you may have recorded during this time may be, “I feel happy when mom comes home from work,” or “I get scared when adults yell.”
8. Adult Ego State
The final ego state, adult, can also be referred to as the “learned” concept. This is where you begin processing information that you’ve gathered from all three states so you can arrive at a decision. You find the ability to evaluate and validate data that you’ve seen or felt. The adult state often takes on the role of validating information gathered from the parent state.
The basic unit of social action in which you acknowledge or recognize another person is defined as a stroke. Strokes can be verbal or nonverbal, and they can be positive or negative. Friendly pointing, smiling, making eye contact, or nodding your head are examples of positive, nonverbal strokes. Meanwhile, frowning or angry hand gestures are examples of negative strokes. Regardless of whether a stroke is positive or negative, Berne contended that receiving any stroke is better than getting no stroke at all.
A transaction refers to an exchange of verbal or nonverbal communication between people. It is defined as a unit of social intercourse. When two people encounter each other, a transaction is initiated by a transactional stimulus, or an indication to acknowledge the other person. A transactional response happens when the other person responds in a way that’s related to the stimulus. When studying subjects, therapists will pay attention to the ego state from which a person is “transacting” to analyze their ability to communicate. Transactions can take place between any of the three ego states.
Everyone needs physical contact, but as you grow out of infancy, you learn to accept other types of recognition. As an adult, it’s common for other forms of communication to take the place of that physical contact. You wave at your neighbor, you smile at a co-worker passing in the hallway, or you wink to seal a private joke with another peer. Each time you do these things, you want, need, and expect a reaction or some sort of recognition in return. In terms of transactional analysis, you’re seeking strokes. This desire to receive strokes is referred to as recognition-hunger.
If you’ve ever argued with a child or significant other, it may have disintegrated into a childish game to see who could get the best of whom instead of trying to resolve the dispute.
Games, or mind games, refer to dysfunctional patterns of behavior that are meant to draw strokes but instead augment negative feelings and hide one’s true intentions. In his 1964 books “Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships,” Dr. Eric Berne described examples of such games with phrases like “I’m Only Trying To Help You,” “See What You Made Me Do,” and “Now I’ve Got You, You SOB.”
3. Life Script
A person’s life script is their view of how their life is supposed to be lived. It is a plan that’s made unconsciously, and influences their values, as well as the decisions and behaviors they make. If a patient is adhering to a life script that’s unhealthy, the objective of transactional analysis is to help them change their script to something that’s better for their livelihood.
In transactional analysis, a contract may be established between a patient and a therapist. This contract would clearly state changes the patient would like to make and goals they’d like to achieve. A contract can help them specify what they want out of therapy, as well as help them take on responsibility for actions that occur during their treatment. They may be able to target certain thoughts or behaviors that may interfere with achieving their goals.
SCERTS stands for Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, and Transactional Support. It is an educational model that’s used to work with children on the autism spectrum and their families, and help them address the challenges they are facing. SCERTS aims to strengthen the child’s ability to communicate socially while dealing with potential behavioral problems that may occur and interfere. It also helps families, teachers, and therapists work together as a team to best support the child.
Ultimately, the goal of using transactional analysis in therapy is to help patients strengthen their adult state and become more independent. It aims to help individuals examine their own behaviors and discover ways they can improve. It can be used to treat children and adults, and can prove effective for both. It is not the only source of treatment, but it is one that may be particularly helpful for some in dealing with dysfunction behavior.
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