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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

Transactional Analysis: Tool for Developing a Healthy Life

Transactional Analysis (TA) was created by Eric Berne in the 1960s as a form of cognitive behavior therapy.  Here are some of the basic ideas regarding this type of therapy, which are ingenious. Transactional Analysis is a brief therapy, which is reality based and involves personal responsibility and action.

Following are some important definitions needed in order to understand how TA works:

Ego States:  In TA, every person has three sub-parts or “ego states;” these are:  The Child, Parent, and Adult

Child Ego State:  This is the “felt” ego state, similar to a child. The Child ego state feels and expresses the emotions of the person based on input from the external world.

Rebellious Child: This child state reacts against the controlling Parent.

Conforming Child: This child state reacts by conforming to what the Parent wants.

Free Child: This ego state is curious and does what he wants as he explores the world.

Natural Child: Spontaneous and child like ego state.

Parent Ego State:  The ego state that takes in information from the external world, usually from one’s parents, that guide a person’s decisions. There are two different types of parent ego states:

Nurturing Parent:  This is the caring ego state, one that offers love and concern for the Child.

Critical (or Controlling) Parent: This ego state is bossy and controlling and tries to “make” the Child do what he demands.

Adult Ego State:  This is the “grown up” and mature ego state. This persona acts as a data processor, analyzing the given information prior to making a decision.

Transactions:  Communications between the ego states of two (or more) people. In fact, the ego state of one person can evoke the ego state of the other person. For instance, the Controlling Parent of one individual evokes the Rebellious Child or Compliant Child in the other.

Complementary Transactions: This occurs when the inviting Ego State evokes the invited Ego State to engage in an interaction. For example, when one Adult converses with another, “Nice weather today!” – “Yes, indeed it is a nice day!”

Crossed Transactions: This occurs when the inviting Ego State receives a response from an uninvited Ego State. For example: Adult – “What time is it?” (Meant to evoke the other’s Adult.) Response – “Why are you always nagging me?!” (Unexpected response from Rebellious Child.)

Ulterior Transactions: According to Berne, people communicate on two levels – the social message (what people say) and the psychological message (what they mean.) In the case of the ulterior transaction, the explicit social conversation occurs parallel with an implicit psychological message. For example, on the surface two adults may appear to be talking to each other, while under the surface two Child Ego States are flirting.

Strokes: Berne describes these as fundamental units of social interaction. A stroke is a unit of interaction. It provides recognition to the receiver. Strokes can be verbal or non-verbal, physical or psychological, and internal (from the self) or external (from others.)

Positive Strokes: Compliments and other types of positive recognition.

Negative Strokes: Insults and other types of negative recognition.

Unconditional Strokes: Strokes related to what you are – strokes for being.

Conditional Strokes: Strokes about what you do – strokes for doing.

Stroke Filters: These are personal filters that individuals have to only allow certain strokes in and keep certain strokes out. It is important to note that each person maintains his own life position by using filters.

Games: Berne defines Games as those interactions between people which are dysfunctional – “Games are  sets of ulterior transactions, repetitive in nature, with a well-defined psychological payoff.” Here are some examples of Games People Play according to Berne:

Life Games: Alcoholic, Debtor, Kick Me, See What You Made Me Do?

Marital Games: Courtroom, Frigid Woman, Look How Hard I Tried

Good Games: Glad to Help, They’ll Be Glad They Knew Me

Transactional Analysis: The method of studying interactions between people.

There are many more definitions to sort through, such as Rackets and Stamp Collecting and Injunctions. Transactional Analysis is a very compelling type of therapy that can be beneficial to people looking for an effective brief therapy that doesn’t delve too much into a person’s history, such as is the case with psychotherapy.

I’ll leave you with one last definition: Life Scripts.  What is a Life Script?  According to Berne, it is the mostly unconscious life plan that governs the way your life is lived out.  Your Life Script is  developed early in your life as a result of the messages you received from your parents and other significant people in your life, and the early decisions  you made. It is a well-defined course of action that  you created as a child, which was maintained by subsequent events.

Unconsciously, Life Scripts have a significant effect on how you live out your life. They affect most of the decisions you make. They control what you think and they shape the image you have of yourself. The irony is, you probably don’t even realize you have a Life Script.

I’ll leave you with a few questions. What Life Scripts drive your life?  What are you doing to help yourself identify your Life Scripts? What Life Scripts would you like to change?



Changing Minds (n.d.) Transactional Analysis. Retrieved from: (n.d.) Transactional Analysis. Retrieved from: (n.d.) Good Games. Retrieved from:

Erskine, R.G. & Zalcman, M.J. (1975). The Racket System: A Model For Racket Analysis. ill. Rackets and Other Treatment Issues. Vol. 9, No.1, January 1979

Newton, C. (n.d.) Transactional Analysis – Part I (The Masks We Wear). Retrieved from:

Newton, C. (n.d.) Transactional Analysis – Part II (The Games We Play. Retrieved from:

Newton, C. (n.d.) Transactional Analysis – Part III (The Scripts We Follow). Retrieved from:

Tomlinson, I. (n.d.) Racket Feelings and Stamp Collecting. Retrieved from:


Transactional Analysis: Tool for Developing a Healthy Life

APA Reference
Stines, S. (2018). Transactional Analysis: Tool for Developing a Healthy Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2019, from