Transactional Analysis

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Transactional Analysis: A Review of Theory
Robin K. Walters-Powell
Wayne State University
SW 9220
Spring, 2010

Eric Berne, M.D. during the 1940’s as an alternative to psychoanalysis, created Transactional Analysis theory. Although influenced by the likes of Freud, Kahn, Federn, and Erikson, it was a transition to the optimistic side of human nature. It lends itself to the values of social work as it focuses on both the empowerment and value of human beings. This theory is evaluated through exploration of its historical origins, evolutionary development, key concepts, assumptions, usefulness and major contributions to the profession of social work. Ethical issues are discussed as well as the strengths and weaknesses of this approach.

Historical origins and evolutionary development
Born during the psychoanalytic movement, Transactional Analysis was the brain child of Eric Berne, M.D. He began constructing this theory in the early 1940s during his training as a Freudian psychoanalyst and psychiatrist (Corey, 2008). At that time there were many others also contributing to the field of psychoanalysis, including: Dr. Eugene Kahn, Dr. Paul Federn, Erick Erikson, and Sigmund Freud (as previously mentioned), all of which had a direct influence on Eric Berne (Turner, 1986). Transactional Analysis Theory evolved due to Berne’s dissatisfaction with the success of traditional psychoanalytical therapy, this included the slowness of psychoanalysis in helping people to solve their problems. Berne’s objections also included the fact that it was a time consuming method, very complex, and it was often poorly communicated to clients (Corey, 2008). During the 1940’s time period, social work was searching for a new focus on treating clients. The search turned inward and from this, psychodynamic theorists began to look for explanations that could assist in describing the conflict between internal and external forces. Freud had been the leading influence in this area, and from his work and experience, other theorists took liberty in creating their own way of looking at clients. His idea about human personality being multi-faceted was particularly influential on Berne. This idea that regardless of what the particular areas of personality are labeled, each person “possesses factions that frequently collide with each other. It is these collisions and interactions between these personality factions that manifest themselves as an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.” (The International Transactional Analysis Association, 1999). Through Freudian theory, these would be understood as the id, ego, and superego. Dr. Berne felt that Freud’s proposed structures were more “concepts and not phenomenological realities:”(Berne D. E., 2001). Although influenced by Freud, his approach took on a different method altogether. Freud believed that the three aspects of personality (Id, Ego, and Superego) needed to be well balanced in order to achieve a good state of mental health. Berne created a theory that considered a different approach, one that was based on the original idea of Freud that personalities are multi-faceted(Berne D. E., 2001). Berne took the alternative approach to therapy and instead of asking the client about it directly, it seemed that a problem was easier understood by observing the communication (verbal and nonverbal) in a transaction. Therefore, instead of interviewing the client directly, he took a different route and would observe the client in the group setting, noting all of the transactions that occurred between both the patient and the individuals involved in therapy. Also attractive to Berne was Federn’s work on analysis, structure, and the multiple aspects of the ego that resulted in human transactions (Turner, 1986). This also represents the split from the Freudian...
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