You may have heard the term “ego” in psychology before, likely associated with Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis.2 Freud suggested that the ego, along with the id and the superego, made up a human’s psyche (the human mind, both conscious and unconscious). In Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, the ego is responsible for satisfying the id’s impulsive desires in a way fitting of the superego’s moralistic standards,
Similar to Freudian psychoanalysis, transactional analysis emphasizes the importance of ego states as a basis for understanding behavior. However, while Freudian psychoanalysis focuses on talk therapy to gain insight into unconscious thoughts and memories, transactional analysis analyzes a patient’s social interactions to gain insight into their ego states and help them solve their emotional problems.
Transactional analysis was influenced by Freud’s emphasis on gaining insight from ego states and developed by Eric Berne in the 1950s.1 Berne published two papers in 1957: “Intuition V: The ego image” outlined his separation of Adult and Child ego states, while “Ego states in psychotherapy” further distinguished between Parent, Adult, and Child as known today. It wasn’t until Berne’s 1958 paper, “Transactional analysis: A new and effective method of group therapy” that transactional therapy became a permanent part of psychotherapeutic literature. Published in the American Journal of Psychotherapy, the paper restated the three ego states and new features of transactional analysis: games and scripts.
For Berne, “transactions” referred to interpersonal interactions, “games” referred to certain patterns of transactions that were common in everyday life, and “scripts” referred to the specific games that were common for a specific individual.1 Specifically for transactions, Berne distinguished three parts: what someone says, the response someone expects, and the response that is actually received. Transactions are thought to be influenced by the “life positions” that people hold, which can be influenced by childhood scripts. These life positions are based on whether we think of ourselves and the person we are interacting with as “OK” (i.e. good and worthy). Berne held that everyone is born being OK, but every transaction can take on one of four life positions:
- I’m OK and you’re OK. This is the healthiest position, allowing for comfortable and happy transactions.
- I’m OK and you’re not OK. The person views themself as superior to the other, resulting in negative transactions (i.e. contempt, disrespect).
- I’m not OK and you’re OK. The person views themself as inferior and will unconsciously accept abusive transactions, seeking approval.
- I’m not OK and you’re not OK. People in this position do not have hope for support to improve their transactions.
Berne also believed in making a commitment to “cure” his clients, so he created a therapeutic “contract” for transactional analysis: an agreement between client and therapist to pursue specific communication changes.1 Berne thought that everyone had something problematic about their ego states, so negative interpersonal behaviours could not be cured by only addressing the patient’s interactions with another “problematic” individual. Rather, it was the patient’s communication styles as a whole that should be targeted.
Expanding on the games introduced in his 1958 paper, Berne published Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships in 1964.1 He defined these games as transaction patterns that appear normal, which actually conceal true motivations and usually lead to predictable and counterproductive outcomes. The “winner” of each game is the person who is first able to return to their Adult ego state, since games tend to evoke Parent- and Child-led reactions. There are general life games, marital games, party games, and sexual games, to name a few.
In 1964, Berne and a group of transactional analysts created The International Transactional Analysis Association: a research and professional accrediting body of transactional analysis.3