I always mention in my announcements, advertisements, and promo materials that I embrace the Transactional Analysis (TA) approach, and I am often asked what that is. I’m afraid I do tend to forget that most people can’t be expected to be experts in the various directions of psychotherapy (fair enough). Let me rectify this now and explain what exactly it is that I do.
Let us start with the fact that there are many approaches in psychotherapy. Practicing therapists study one of these paradigms or combine methods from several approaches, if they believe that is going to help their client.
There is no such thing as a “better” or a “worse” approach – it all depends on the client, the therapist, and the goals of the therapy. It is important to understand that although there are many approaches, their number is limited, and they have all been approved by national and world psychologists’ and psychotherapists’ associations. One cannot just invent a new therapy method (such as, say, tea leaves-based therapy) and practice it next to other widespread methods.
All approaches must go through a stage of approval and have their evidential base and work ethics analyzed by specialists. You might have heard of other psychotherapy methodologies, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, psychoanalysis, gestalt therapy, coaching etc. A list of all approved approaches may be found, for example, on the website of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Every direction has its own set of theoretical insights, practical methods, and philosophical concepts.
So what is so special about Transactional Analysis?
According to its theoretical background, TA is a psychodynamic approach. This means that we examine a person’s unique experience as the underlying base for their present peculiarities and issues. It is our past that moulds us in the present. The way we feel, act, and think now is a consequence of our previous experience. Based on this, the therapists working in TA have developed theoretical concepts for ego-states, transactions, psychological games, life scripts and many other exciting notions I wish I could go on describing here, but it would take me several volumes.
Based on these theoretical developments TA has designed a number of practical methodologies and recommendations (such as contracting, working with ego-states using chairs etc.). In addition to this, Transactional Analysis uses a number of practical techniques that are common for many psychotherapy approaches (questionnaire, confrontation, illustration etc.).
As far as its philosophy is concerned, TA is part of the humanistic perspective. In order to explain what that means I must delve into history and remind my readers that psychotherapy as such only became a separate discipline in the 19th century, being based on philosophy, ethics, religion, medicine, and parapsychology. The first philosophical approach (also known as “First Force Psychology”) was psychoanalysis. The next one to emerge was behaviourism. Well, the humanistic approach (“the third force”) developed as a rebellion against what some psychologists saw as the limitations of behaviourist and psychodynamic psychology.
Humanism rejects the behaviourist view of the person as a combination of stimuli and reactions. It also rejects the psychoanalytical theory about the irrational and the unconscious fully determining a person’s behaviour. Instead of this, the humanistic approach developed the concepts of freedom of choice and every person’s potential for self-actualisation. As part of the humanistic perspective, Transactional Analysts developed the philosophical concepts of OK-ness and Autonomy.
I realize that such a description of Transactional Analysis may leave you with more questions than answers. TA is a deep-reaching method with numerous unique developments, and I wouldn’t be able to describe them all in one short blog post. But I hope that I have managed to explain what TA is, at least in general terms, to share my enthusiasm and inspiration, and to kindle your interest for it.