The only theory paper worth writing is how to cure patients

This week’s lecture was the concluding one on Transactional Analysis.

Dr Eric Berne’s seminar group from the 1950s developed the term transactional analysis (TA) which described therapies based upon his work. This expanded into the International Transactional Analysis Association. While still largely ignored by the psychoanalytic community, many therapists have put his ideas into practice and swear by the effectiveness of the ideas and methods.

Unlike other therapies Berne was not interested in merely listening. Carl Rogers, for instance, is best known for his contribution to client centred counselling and ‘non directive’ therapy. This is very different to what Berne advocated as he was interested in psychological cure and wanted to affect change in the client. For Berne the cures will be noticed in the following ways:

1. Symptomatic: I was depressed, now I am not.
2. Societal: Those who know you say you are looking and sounding better.
3. Transference: Introject the therapist in the client.
4. Rewrite the script: Ultimately the aim of the therapy sessions for Berne is to make conscious the script and then to rewrite it.

From a trans-personal perspective the therapy is about developing the good qualities in oneself.

Some interesting quotes from Dr Eric Berne:

The task of the therapist is to perform as rapidly as possible whatever operation is necessary to cure the patient. Otherwise the term therapist is a misnomer.”

The only theory paper worth writing is how to cure patients. That’s the only paper worth writing if you’re doing your job properly.”

There are two kinds of therapeutic goals. The first tries for something that is getting better or showing progress, which in effect is making more comfortable frogs out of people. The second aim of getting well is to cast off the frog skin and take up the interrupted development of the prince or princess“.

For Berne, the most effective way of dealing with grievance:

1). When you do xyz (You are stating facts of what was said or done by the offender)
2). I feel this (No one can argue with how you feel)
3). I want you to do this instead. (This is where you are asking for changed behaviour from others).

Case study: A man in a position of authority (the boss) pokes fun at and is demeaning to another employee in front of co-workers in a team meeting. The employee would address a grievance with the boss by stating that when the boss pokes fun and acts in a demeaning way to the employee it makes them feel embarrassed and demotivated in the workplace. In the first instance, you are stating fact, and in the second instance you are stating how it makes you feel which no-one can argue with. The third aspect of dealing with the grievance would be to say what you want instead i.e to be treated with respect. This is the bit where you are not dealing with the facts about what was said and how you felt but with your stated requirements for changed behaviour. There are power hungry bullies who would resent such a tactic and might seek to dismiss any approach so perhaps you need to pick your battles accordingly. But at least you know where you stand when the offender continues to behave in a certain way knowing that it causes offence.

The question then is why is TA not the norm if it is so successful? Therapists who use TA talk highly of knowing where you are yourself and where you are with the client. TA provides a model to demonstrate where somebody is going wrong in their life and in their relationships. However, perhaps the success of any therapy depends on (a) the skills and knowledge of the therapist and (b) the nature of the relationship between client and therapist. It could certainly be a component of any basic toolkit carried by the therapist but it is important to remember that people enter therapy for all sorts of reasons and some do not wish to change.

Related post

Transactional Analysis – Born to win

About Noel Bell

Psychotherapist in London. Check out my blog posts and more at
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