Eric Berne

An introduction to the founder of Transactional Analysis (TA)

Eric Berne (1910 – 1970) trained as a psychiatrist. He became interested in the Freudian tradition and went on to train as a psychoanalyst. Berne had psychotherapy with Paul Federn. Though Federn was a close colleague of Sigmund Freud he had a different understanding of the ego and believed that people could consciously engage with it.

Berne developed these ideas and ended up rejecting Freud’s notion of unconscious processes. He believed that people could learn to recognise what was happening and change the way they responded. He wrote a series of articles on this topic which led to the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute refusing him full membership.

Berne decided to pursue his own path in psychotherapy, focusing on the importance of social interactions in nurturing or damaging our mental health. Berne referred to this way of working as ‘Transactional Analysis’ or ‘TA’.

With Transactional Analysis Berne replaced Freud’s Id, Ego and Superego with Child, Parent and Adult ego states. The Child ego state expresses our feelings and emotions. The Parent ego state represents the orders and rules we have been given or have given ourselves. The Adult ego state represents how we are and what we are learning.

When we are in the Adult ego state we can modify our feelings and question our desires. In this way we may come to feel differently about ourselves and behave in a more psychologically healthy way.

In my work as a psychotherapist I find Transactional Analysis to have certain limitations such as the sometimes confusing use of the terms ‘child’, ‘parent’ and ‘adult’. Nevertheless, I find Transactional Analysis to be a very useful way to understand and to explore our psychological lives.