What Is Transactional Analysis?

Transactional analysis is a social psychology developed by Eric Berne, MD (d.1970). Berne’s theory consists of certain key concepts that practitioners use to help clients, students, and systems analyze and change patterns of interaction that interfere with achieving life aspirations. Over the past 40 years, Berne’s theory has evolved to include applications in four fields: counseling, education, organizational development, and psychotherapy. Research studies have evaluated the effectiveness of transactional analysis in a wide variety of contexts.

The four fields of application:


The TA counseling specialization is chosen by professionals as therapeutic counselors and or complimentary counselors. Complimentary counselors work in a diverse range of roles such as personal development coaching, social welfare, health care, pastoral work, prevention, mediation, facilitation, and humanitarian activities, to name a few.


Educational transactional analysis is used by educational practitioners working in training centers, preschools, elementary and high schools, universities, and institutions that prepare teachers and trainers as well as in support of learners of all ages to thrive within their families, organizations, and communities.


Organizational transactional analysts who work as consultants, coaches, trainers and facilitators in, or for, organizations using transactional analysis concepts and techniques to evaluate an organization’s developmental processes and challenges as well as its dysfunctional behaviors. They are involved in developing strategies to enable effective change.


Transactional Analysis Psychotherapists utilize TA to facilitate their clients’ capacities for self-actualization and healing by learning to recognize and change old, self-limiting patterns. TA psychotherapy can be facilitated one to one or in groups.

Key Concepts in Transactional Analysis

“I’m OK – You’re OK” is probably the best-known expression of the purpose of transactional analysis: to establish and reinforce the position that recognizes the value and worth of every person. Transactional analysts regard people as basically “OK” and thus capable of change, growth, and healthy interactions. This idea is an underpinning philosophy in TA.

Transactional analysis practice is based upon mutual contracting for change. Transactional analysts view people as capable of deciding what they want for their lives. Accordingly transactional analysis does its work on a contractual basis between the client and the therapist, counselor, educator, or consultant. The contractual method is an underpinning principle in TA.

Eric Berne made complex interpersonal transactions understandable when he recognized that the human personality is made up of three “ego states”. Each ego state is an entire system of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors from which we interact with one another. The Parent, Adult and Child ego states and the interaction between them form the foundation of transactional analysis theory.

Transactions refer to the communication exchanges between people. Transactional analysts are trained to recognize which ego states people are transacting from and to follow the transactional sequences so they can intervene and improve the quality and effectiveness of communication.

Berne defined certain socially dysfunctional behavioral patterns as “games.” These repetitive, devious transactions are principally intended to obtain strokes but instead they reinforce negative feelings and self-concepts, and mask the direct expression of thoughts and emotions. Berne tagged these games with such instantly recognizable names as “Why Don’t You, Yes But,” “Now I’ve Got You, You SOB,” and “I’m Only Trying to Help You.”

Berne observed that people need strokes, the units of interpersonal recognition, to survive and thrive. Understanding how people give and receive positive and negative strokes and changing unhealthy patterns of stroking are powerful aspects of work in transactional analysis.

Who was Eric Berne?

Eric Berne was a Canadian-born psychiatrist who created the theory of transactional analysis as a way of explaining human behavior. Berne’s theory of transactional analysis was based on the ideas of Freud and Jung and at the same time was distinctly different.

Click here to see the complete bibliography of Eric Berne’s publications.

Terrence Berne, Eric’s son, is responsible for the Eric Berne literary collection and archives. Visit www.ericberne.com  and www.ericbernearchives.org  for more information.

More information on TA theory and Eric Berne is available here on the ITAA and EATA websites.