What is transactional analysis

Transactional or transactional analysis is a systematic therapy for the development and change of personality. It was developed by the American psychiatrist Eric Berne in the 1950s and has been successful to this day. applied to solve the psychological and social problems of healthy people and patients with psychopathologies.

At the heart of transactional analysis lies a personality model built from three ego states: Parent, Adult and Child.

Berne argued that any communication takes place in any of the three states, and he called the interaction between people transactions. When one person talks to another, they give out a transactional stimulus and get a response.

The analysis of a person’s transactions helps to reveal his life scenario – a model that is formed in childhood and then completely determines the way a person interacts with other people and his future destiny. By becoming aware of your states, you can identify the script, and then change it.

Alla Petrova


Berne wanted transactional analysis to be understandable to everyone who uses it – he deliberately removed all drug vocabulary, did not use words from psychoanalysis, and called people clients, not patients. He believed that a person has all the resources to solve his problems. The therapist at the same time plays the role of an “honest mirror” – shows the client what and how he says, what state of the ego is in. Having learned to be aware of their states and switch between them, a person can solve problems on his own.

How Different Ego States Affect Behavior

Berne believed that all three states of a person are formed in childhood, up to about five years old, and then periodically replace each other, determining how a person will behave in a given situation. Below we will take a closer look at what they are.


This is a state in which a person thinks, feels and behaves in the same way as his parents, educators and other important figures from childhood did.

The parent supplies us with useful templates and saves mental energy. Thanks to him, we do not reflect for a long time on each life situation, and in many cases we act “on the machine”.

There are two states of the Parent, and each of them can be either positive or negative:

  1. controlling (KR) – sets boundaries, is responsible for conscience and morality, monitors compliance with the rules and maintaining order. In a negative state, CR criticizes, oppresses, and represses.
  2. Caring (ЗР) – sympathizes, supports and cares. In an unproductive state, it suffocates with excessive care, does not allow a step to take a step on its own.

Alla Petrova says that the positive states of the Parent are necessary for a normal life, but the negative states make you criticize yourself and others, cause internal suffering.


In the Child state, a person copies what happened to him in childhood. In it, people are prone to fantasies, irrational fears and expectations. The child may be:

  1. Obedient (adapted) – tries to please the desires of others to be praised. He follows the rules and obeys.
  2. Rebellious – resists, is capricious and stubborn, can show hostility. This ego state is especially pronounced in adolescence, when a person strives for independence.
  3. Natural – have fun, enjoy, play and create. In this state of ego, a person is emotional and enthusiastic, acts spontaneously and engages others, is curious, tries new things, and expresses himself through creativity. However, the Natural Child also has a dark side – self-indulgence and unjustified risk for the sake of momentary pleasure.

The positive states of the Child bring elements of spontaneity into life, help to express themselves and sincerely have fun. Negative ones prevent you from getting rid of addictions, make you get involved in dangerous adventures in order to prove something to someone.


This is a state in which a person perceives and evaluates reality based on direct experience, and not on past attitudes. An adult analyzes, plans and makes rational decisions, adapts to the surrounding reality and interacts effectively with it.

Berne noted that a person can be called happy in whom the important aspects of the Parent, Adult and Child have clear boundaries and are in harmony with each other. This balance makes it possible to better understand other people, not get involved in their games and communicate in the right way.

What types of transactions exist and how they affect communication

All three components of the ego can be involved in transactions, and the success of communication depends on the state in which the participants talk. Below we will analyze three types of interactions.

Transactional Analysis: Types of Transactions


In this variant, both the stimulus and the response to it occur between identical ego states. For example, two Children are fantasizing or having fun, two Parents are judging someone, or two Adults are solving a problem. Such interaction is entertainment, brings pleasure to both and can continue for as long as you like.

In addition, complementary transactions can occur between different states of the ego. For example, if the Child of one partner addresses the Parent of the other and receives an appropriate response. Child: “I’m so helpless, take care of me.” Parent: “Listen to me and I will do it.”


If the stimulus occurs in one state and the response occurs in another, the transaction becomes overlapping. In the book, Berne gives a classic example of such a breakdown in communication.

One person addresses another as an Adult to an Adult and asks, “Maybe we should think together about why you have been drinking so much lately?”

If the transaction were complementary, the second participant in the dialogue would respond something like: “Yes, perhaps. I would like to understand it myself.” Instead, the partner grumbles viciously: “You always criticize me, just like my father.” At this point, his Child enters the scene and the transaction becomes overlapping.

To continue the communication, the first Adult can either turn on the Parent and reassure or scold the Child, or try to bring the partner back to the Adult state to continue the dialogue in a constructive manner.


This is a variant in which some states of the ego seem to participate in the dialogue, while others interact at a deep level. Berne cites one story as an example.

The husband forbade his wife to dance, forcing her to stay at home. The woman suffered from this and told everyone that domestic tyranny prevented her from having a great time. Thanks to therapy, their relationship changed and the husband stopped interfering with classes, but suddenly it turned out that the woman was afraid to dance.

Transactional Analysis: Types of Transactions

At first glance, their transactions looked like an interaction between a Parent (“Stay at home and do housework”) and a Child (“If not for you, I could have fun!”).

But at a deep psychological level, it was a dialogue between two states of the Child. Husband: “I’m afraid you’ll leave me, so stay at home.” Wife: “Forbid me to do what I’m really afraid of.”

All games are built on such hidden transactions – endlessly scrolling series that prevent people from living a full life and are not even aware of it.

Why do people play games and how they affect life

Unlike entertainment – direct transactions that do not imply hidden meaning and bring pleasure, games serve to gain benefits.

E. Bern

Games People Play

Most often, games are played by people who have lost their mental balance; in general, it can be said that the more anxious a person is, the harder he plays.

For example, as shown above, in the game “If it weren’t for you …”, a woman, with the help of her husband, tried to hide her phobia from herself and at the same time received another bonus – she could play “If it weren’t for him” with her friends and receive sympathy from them.

In the game of “Flaw”, where a person constantly finds some kind of flaw in others, there will be several rewards at once. First, the Child will feel much more confident by exposing others in an unsightly light. Secondly, he will be given permission not to associate with such sluts, fools and misers – to avoid intimacy, in the process of which his own shortcomings might be revealed.

To get out of the game, you need to realize the course of its flow and the benefits received. Otherwise, a person risks wasting a single life in harmful pursuits and toxic relationships that bring only suffering.

Moreover, people unconsciously choose as friends and partners exactly those who are suitable for playing roles in familiar games.

Alla Petrova

When we play games, we satisfy our needs for habitual emotions, confirm our beliefs and our learned role. For example, if a child grew up in constant fear of an alcoholic father, in adulthood he will look for situations in which he can experience the same anxiety familiar from childhood. A person thus confirms his basic life position.

How transactional analysis can improve your life

The main task of transactional analysis is to teach a person to manage their ego states, get rid of the negative aspects of the Child and Parent and pump up the positive ones.

Alla Petrova says that at the first stage, the therapist diagnoses and finds out which states dominate and which ones lag behind. After that, a person can pump what he lacks.

For example, in addicted clients, the negative Natural Child is often dominant, but the Adult and Parent are underdeveloped. In such a case, he needs to turn his attention to lagging ego states. The Parent will help support himself, set goals and set prohibitions, the Adult will help control the fulfillment of goals, analyze the dynamics.

Alla Petrova claims that the switching occurs gradually, in small steps. For example, a person with emotional burnout will not be able to instantly resurrect the Natural Child and enjoy life as fully and vividly as before. But he is quite capable of taking small steps in this direction, for example, to please himself with some little things, to do things that arouse even the slightest interest and curiosity.

As the work progresses, the personality structure of a person is gradually corrected and all states of the ego reach balance. Moreover, as a person develops awareness, he can continue to work on himself without a therapist.

Vladlen Klimashin


After therapy, a conscious and flexible life based on autonomy begins. A person understands that sometimes he can be a Child and show appropriate thoughts and emotions, does not blame himself for this and does not block this part. Instead, he analyzes it and comes up with some creative ideas, allows himself to feel.

In the process of therapy, a person also frees himself from games and reworks his life script, deciding what he wants to follow and what he needs to give up.

Is Transactional Analysis Proven Effective?

There are many studies on the benefits of transactional analysis for completely different purposes.

Group and individual sessions help increase intimacy in couples, decrease family disagreements, conflicts and controlling behavior.

Therapy improves parent-child relationship with oppositional defiant disorder—negative and hostile behavior towards elders.

Moreover, transactional analysis helps parents to choose a healthy way of parenting, avoid authoritarian or permissive styles, better control their emotions and reactions and communicate with children from the position of an Adult, and not involve them in their painful games.

In the meta-analysis, 75 scientific papers also concludedthat transactional analysis helps to act more effectively in everyday life, establishes social interactions and alleviates the condition in various psychopathologies.

How to try transactional analysis

The best option is to find a psychotherapist or psychologist who works with this technique. You can try online consultations, individual or group classes.

If you want to figure it out on your own, first try taking a personality structure test. It will help you see which ego states are dominant and which are lagging behind and needing attention.

It is also worth reading books on transactional analysis:

  1. E. Bern. “People who play games”;
  2. E. Bern. “Beyond Games and Scripts”;
  3. K. Steiner. “Scenarios of people’s lives. School of Eric Bern”;
  4. T. Harris. “I’m ok, you’re ok”;
  5. M. James, D. Jongward “Born to Win”;
  6. S. Karpman. “A life free from games”;
  7. I. Stewart, W. Joines. “Modern Transactional Analysis”.

In these books you will find detailed descriptions of ego states, various games and scenarios, as well as good tools and exercises for working on yourself. But keep in mind that self-therapy has its own pitfalls.

Vladlen Klimashin

It must be understood that a person is limited by the experience and qualifications of his Adult, since it is this ego state that takes control when he begins to analyze his interactions, states and various scripted games. In this sense, a psychologist who specializes in transactional analysis knows many more psychological games, each of which, as a rule, is very sophisticated and unconscious.

Mindfulness meditation based therapy can also be used as an additional tool. It is not related to transactional analysis, but helps to cultivate a more sensitive attitude to emotions and feelings and monitor your behavior.