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The purpose of this introductory course is to provide a consistent and accurate introduction to TA concepts. 

Transactional analysis is a theory of personality and a social psychology for personal growth and personal change. 

The late Eric Berne, MD, the principal innovator of Transactional Analysis (TA), began applying it to group psychotherapy in the early 1950s; more recently, it has also been used extensively in psychotherapy work with families, couples, and individuals. TA is also being used in organisational development, education, religion, and a variety of other areas. Newer applications of it continue to be found. 

In 1958, Berne began a series of meetings under the name The San Francisco Social Psychiatry Seminars. On May 6, 1960, the group was granted a charter by the State of California as a non-profit educational corporation offering alternative approaches to earlier types of psychotherapy.

Later, as theory developed, the group took the name of The San Francisco Transactional Analysis Seminars (SFTAS).

In 1965, the SFTAS became the International Transactional Analysis Association (ITAA). Its purpose is to promote the understanding of transactional analysis and to provide education and training in the application of TA.  There is now a sister organisation, the European Association for Transactional Analysis (EATA). The two Associations have around 7,000 members throughout the world. 

In 1982, the Board of Certification (BOC), an independent arm of the ITAA, was formed to offer certification of competence in TA. In 1987 the BOC and the Training Standards Committee were incorporated separately as the independent Training and Certification Council of Transactional Analysts. The Training and Certification Council insists upon high standards and demonstrated competence for those offering treatment, counselling, teaching, or consultation in transactional analysis.

Only those who have attained certification through the Training and Certification Council are authorised to call themselves Transactional Analysts. On average it takes about 5 years to become a Certified Transactional Analyst and another 5-7 years to become a Teaching & Supervising Transactional Analyst.

The ITAA offers categories of membership which correspond to certification levels, designated as follows: Certified Members are Certified Transactional Analysts specialising in psychotherapy, organisations, counselling or educational applications, and Teaching Members are Teaching and / or Supervising Transactional Analysts specialising in psychotherapy, organisational, counselling or educational applications.

What is Transactional Analysis?

Transactional Analysis (TA) consists of a wide-ranging set of theories and techniques. It is a social psychology and a method of personal growth and development as well as an approach to improve communication and relationships.  The underlying philosophy is one of self-respect, mutual respect and caring.

Formulated originally in a therapeutic context, it is equally valid for application in organisations and by individuals who want to take the initiative in their own development. Certified Transactional Analysts operate in four specialist fields: Psychotherapy; Organisational; Educational; and Counselling.

TA is now taught and used world-wide in settings, as diverse as therapy groups, manufacturing and service industries, churches and religious orders, local and national governments, schools and universities, prisons and police forces, hospitals, and by individuals working alone to improve their personal adjustment to the world.

Organisational consulting based on TA is a contractual approach. Consultants teach understanding and skills in communication and problem solving in organisational life. TA consultants are trained to have insight into group dynamics - how groups work.

The emphasis is on finding choices for avoiding non-productive competition and conflict, and on developing more effective problem-solving strategies and management styles.

The Philosophy of Transactional Analysis

TA rests upon certain philosophical assumptions. These are statements about people, life and the objectives of change. The philosophical assumptions of TA are:

  • people are OK
  • everyone has the capacity to think
  • generally people are able to decide their own destiny, and any early childhood decisions can be changed.

From these assumptions there follow two basic principles of TA practice:

  • contractual method
  • open communication


People are OK 

The most fundamental assumption of TA is people are OK. This means: you and I both have worth, value and dignity as people. I accept myself as me and I accept you as you.

Everyone has the capacity to think

Everyone, except severely brain-damaged people, has the capacity to think. Therefore it is the responsibility of each person to decide what he or she wants from life. Everyone will ultimately live with the consequences of what they decide.

Decisional Model

 When we engage in not-OK behaviour we are following strategies we decided upon as young children. Anytime we make a decision, we can change that decision later. Thus people can change. We achieve change not merely by gaining insight into our old patterns of behaviour, but by actively deciding to change those patterns.

Contractual method

TA practitioners and their clients take joint responsibility for achieving whatever change the client wants to make.

 A contract is a statement of the responsibility of each party. The client says what they want to change and the practitioner confirms that they are willing to work with the client in this task and what recompense they want from the client in return.

Open communication

Eric Berne insisted that the client, as well as the practitioner, should have full information about what was going on in their work together. This follows from the basic assumptions that people are OK and that everyone can think.

Clients are encouraged to learn the TA concepts. Although TA’s language is simple, its theory is profound and closely reasoned.


A contract is:

An openly made agreement to commit to a specific action or outcome, which involves all the people who will contribute to making it happen.


: Mountain A & Davidson C. (2011), Working Together, Organizational Transactional Analysis and Business Performance, Gower

Contracts specify:

  • who the parties are that are involved

  • what it is they are going to do together

  • how long this will take

  • what the goal or outcome of that process will be

  • how they will know when they have achieved this

  • how that will be beneficial



Making an effective contract:

  • phrased in positive words

  • achievable

  • specific and observable 

  • made willingly and without coercion

In summary, the contract needs to be:

  1. Measurable
  2. Manageable
  3. Motivational

Claude Steiner sets out four requirements for valid contract making:

  1. Mutual consent – all parties agree to contract.
  2. Valid consideration – in legal language a “consideration” means some form of recompense is given in return for someone’s time or work. Whatever the details the nature of the consideration must be explicit and be agreed by both parties to the contract.
  3. Competency – all parties must be competent to carry out what has been agreed upon in the contract.
  4. Lawful object – the goals and conditions of the contract must be in conformity with the law. For the practitioner “lawful object” also implies adherence to ethical principles laid down by the professional body to which they belong.

Fanita English refers to three-cornered contracts. Her original suggestion referred to the situation where a trainer from the outside is brought in (see below), but it could equally be amended to incorporate all those who need to contract with each other, and might be a series of interlocking triangles.

Three-cornered contracts

Life Positions

A fundamental stance which a person takes up about the essential value he or she perceives in self and others:


"Total life direction or a person's overall life destiny." – Eric Berne

The OK Corral

In contrast to Life Positions, the OK Corral, (Ernst 1971) whilst consisting of the same four positions, represents the minute by minute behavioural changes of position we go through:

OK Corral Diagram

Reference: Ernst, F. (1971). OK Corral, The Grid to Get On With TAJ. Vol. 1;No. 4.

There is frequently confusion between Berne’s Existential Life Positions, which are enduring, and to which we go to under stress or as an outcome of a game or racket, and the OK Corral, which refers to more behavioural shifts moment by the moment.


: Berne E. (1972). What do you Say After you Say Hello? Corgi.

The Structural Ego State Model

Ego states are the building blocks of Transactional Analysis. They are intra-psychic and therefore cannot be directly seen by others. They therefore should not be analysed by others without your permission, which is why we use another model, which is observable and behavioural which we describe later on, under OK Modes Model. All the various ways that each of us behaves, thinks and feels may be put into three large categories of ego states called Parent, Adult and Child.  

The Parent ego states of a collection of attitudes, thoughts, behaviours and feelings which a person has taken in from outside sources who served as her parent figures.  This is therefore historical. 

The Adult ego state is a set of behaviours, thoughts and feelings which are direct responses to the here-and-now, not copied from parents or parent-figures nor replayed from the individual’s own childhood. However, we do of course integrate past experiences and ideally we do this after deciding that they are relevant today and so are not just copied from our past significant others. 

The Child ego state is a set of behaviours, thoughts, and feelings which are replayed from the individual’s own childhood - i.e. an archaic ego state.

Ego State Diagram

Berne defined an ego-state as:

“A consistent pattern of feeling and experience directly related to a corresponding consistent pattern of behaviour."


This means that each ego state is defined by a combination of feelings and experiences which consistently occur together.

 Putting the three ego states together, we get the three-part ego state model of personality.  It is conventionally pictured as a set of three stacked circles shown on the left.

 This version of the diagram is not subdivided and is called a first-order diagram.  The process of analysing personality in terms of ego-states is called structural analysis.

Ego states are names, not things. We use the term ego state to describe a set of phenomena i.e. a set of related feelings, thoughts and behaviours. In the same way Parent, Adult and Child are not things. They are names. You may hear statements like:  “My Kid wants some fun." The trouble with talking this way is that we may slip into believing that ego states have some kind of existence of their own, separate from the person we are talking about. It’s not “My Kid” who wants some fun, I want some fun.

This basic structural model is very simple and can be used in an over-simplified way.  It is described here in order to show one of the original concepts from which other more in-depth models have been formulated, such as the
second-order structural model of ego-states and behavioural models.  It is also important as a model to show intra-psychic processes.

References: Woollams S. &  Brown M. TA. The Total Handbook of Transactional Analysis. Prentice-Hall.

Stewart, I & Joines, V. TA Today. Lifespace Publishing.

Exclusion and Contamination


When a person shuts down one or more ego-states this called exclusion.  There are three possibilities:

  1. Excluded Parent means that the person will not have any ready-made rules about the world.  They make their own rules in every situation. 
  2. Excluded Adult means that the person does not reality test.  There is a constant internal struggle and behaviours may seem bizarre.
  3. Excluded Child means that the person will shut out the stored memories of their own childhood.  Feelings are often expressed from our Child ego-state.  Therefore those who exclude the Child may appear cold and distant.

Exclusion 1

The constant or excluding ego state is the one which is operational when two out of three ego-states are excluded.

Exclusion 2

Those with constant Parent will deal with the world through a set of Parental rules. 

 Those with constant Adult will have difficulty joining in the fun. (N.B.This requires a different understanding to the current Integrating Adult ego state.  This constant model is related to the older way of talking about Adult, that is as a computer, rational and purely thinking) 

Those with constant Child will behave, think and feel as if they are in childhood.  This person is likely to be experienced as “immature”.

Exclusion is never total. It is specific to particular situations.



Ego State Diagnosis

We cannot see an ego state – we can only infer the ego state a person is cathecting from their behaviour, from the ways in which others react to them, or by the person’s description of their own experience.

Berne described four ways we can “diagnose” this - and the more of these we use, the more confident we can be in our hypothesis.  When working in organisations we do not "diagnose" but assess the situation.  Whilst we are outlining Bernian thinking we suggest that some of them are best used just for ourselves or where there is a contract for doing so with an individual.  You will see why when we explain them.

Behavioural Diagnosis

Words, tone, the tempo of speech, expressions, postures, gestures, breathing, and muscular tonus provide clues for diagnosing ego states.

These are indicators, not guarantees.  You need to support your assessment by other methods of diagnosis.

Social Diagnosis

Observation of the kinds of transactions a person is having with others.   Our own responses to someone will often be a way of assessing which ego state they are coming from.

Historical Diagnosis

The person’s past also provides important information. If, as a child, I had feelings similar to those I am experiencing now, it is likely I am in my Child ego state.  If my mother or father behaved or talked in the same way that I am behaving or talking now, then I am probably in my Parent ego state.  This is generally only really only appropriate in psychotherapy situations.

Phenomenological Diagnosis

When I re-experience the past instead of just remembering it. Diagnosis by self-examination. Sometimes accurate and sometimes very inaccurate as the Child ego state may be afraid to allow the person’s Adult to know what is going on.

Ideally we use all four ways of diagnosis. In practice, this is not always possible.  When working in organisations using TA, we tend to rely on behavioural and social diagnoses.

Effective Communication

The OK Modes Model

We use here what is called the OK Modes model. We also use colour to denote effective and ineffective communication channels. The effective (green) aspects and more likely to elicit desired responses, and ineffective modes are coloured red because they invite unwanted responses. Generally, when a stimulus is sent from the green mode, the response will be from a green mode and vice versa.

OK Modes Model 1

The Mindful Process

Human beings do not just respond or react – they also initiate. How you behave in any particular moment will depend upon whether you respond in a reflex or automatic way, rooted in the past, or are in the present moment, dealing with current reality. 

The central area of the diagram is called Mindful as a reminder that you need to bear in mind the totality of the situation and possible consequences of any actions and interventions. It is not a Mode of behaviour as you cannot actually see someone being mindful but you will see their subsequent actions which reflect their Mindful process. The Mindful process is circular to represent being in ‘the flow’, taking into account the current reality and being effective in the moment. 

When in this central circle you have incorporated and developed the positive behaviours from the past and brought them appropriately into the present as resources to draw on. In the diagram above, we have therefore placed the other effective modes within Mindful process to reinforce this. When here you can discuss and debate with others, be interested in opinions and have thoughts and feelings that are related to the present. Should circumstances change you can decide whether to move to a different effective Mode. You may not always be overtly aware of doing this because, when in this mode, you are relaxed and creative. However, there are times when you need to stand back and observe a situation before deciding what to do next which is why Mindful is in the centre. All of the effective Modes communicate I’m OK, You’re OK, and They’re OK.

Supportive Mode

When in this Mode, you are appropriately caring and affirming in your behaviour and do not take away the other person's power, or assume their inability to do something. You will be consistent and your support will be reliable, and will fit what is actually needed.

Structuring Mode

This is the boundary–setting Mode, offering constructive criticism and being caring whilst firm. You respond to, and deal with, situations and take action when a limit has been reached and over-stepped. For example, a trainer outlines the schedule for the day and ensures this is kept to, unless there is a need to alter arrangements.

Co-creative Mode

Co-creativity in this model means being willing to join with others to develop and create something different, whether that be in discussion or in practical or logistical terms. From this Mode, you are able to recognize that you can create something together with others that is greater than the sum of the parts.  This Mode has developed through learning the rules that help you live with others and can work alongside others for the good of all. Both leaders and team members need to be co-creative and cooperative, which is a very different behaviour to that of being compliant. When relating from this Mode you behave in ways which keep you and others OK. You are able to consider the pros and cons of each suggestion and work with others. Indeed, productivity would lessen and little or no work would be possible unless people were willing to cooperate.  This includes such basic administrative details such as when and where you will meet and who will do what so that you can develop mutuality and co-creativity.

Playful Mode

This is the creative, fun-loving, curious and energetic Mode and is closely related to the Co-creative Mode. One of the strengths of this Mode is that you can confront others playfully as a way of dealing with a difficult situation. This can diffuse a potential problem and get the message across. You can be appropriately humorous and also encourage others to be playful.

When in the Mindful Process, it is possible to choose which – if any – of the effective Modes to use – depending on the situation.  If someone is invited to go into an ineffective Mode they have a choice – though it may not always be a conscious one. They can accept the invitation, and move to a subservient or domineering position in the conversation, or resist this invitation by staying in an OK–OK stance and responding from one of the effective Modes – thus remaining in Mindful Mode. This is referred to in TA as crossing the transaction – in that it will be an unexpected response for the other person. We cover transactions in the next chapter, and in the following examples, we will start to use transactional diagrams to provide a visual way of plotting a conversation.

From in the Mindful Process, you will be treating yourself and others as OK and are more likely to achieve a positive response. You can also have healthy fun from here and enjoy co-creating with others.  This follows Berne’s idea that when we are operating in a mindful, “integrated” way, we are charming and courageous and are appropriately utilising our past experiences in the present moment.  This is differentiated from someone who is operating in an ineffective, “unintegrated”, Mode and who may “revert to being charming, and may feel that he should be courageous” (Berne, 1961).

Ineffective Modes

If you slip into one of the ineffective Modes you have left the present and are operating as you did as a child or as a significant person from your childhood behaved with you. In the diagram, these are shown as boxes to symbolise the process of defaulting to the past behaviour, and in so doing, being rigid and inflexible.

The ineffective zones all reflect outdated and unintegrated experiences from your past. They will seem to "pop up" out of the blue in the same way that your leg shoots out when a doctor taps your knee to testy our reflexes. You don't seem to be in control of these responses – which would more accurately be described as reactions. They are the “overdone” counterparts of the positive ones within the Mindful Process circle and are likely to be "hooked" by a trigger, which could be:

  • another person’s ineffective communication, or
  • when someone press your "button" – a sensitive issue or area for you.

We will now add the ineffective Modes to the previous diagram:

OK Modes Model 2

Criticising Mode

When in this Mode, you can be authoritarian and act as though you believe that others cannot do things as well as you. In this Mode, you will either persecute, prohibit, or patronise. Leading from this mode is unlikely to develop a loyal supportive team or culture as the workforce will be tense and ill at ease. This mode communicates I’m OK and You’re not OK

Inconsistent Mode

Leaders in this Mode tend to be inconsistent in style – changing their behaviour in unpredictable and apparently random ways. For example, you may sometimes take control when others are capable of doing things for themselves, and then, at other times, sit back and leave the workforce to take control. This behaviour is confusing for those concerned as they do not know which of these options you as the leader will take. This Mode also communicates I’m OK and You’re not OK  because you either act as if you can do things better than others or you appear to be ignoring their needs.

Interfering Mode

When in this Mode, your behaviour is of "Rescuing" others (see Chapter 9 on Games – the Drama Triangle), that is, doing things for others which, in reality, they are capable of doing for themselves.  You could also be over-indulgent or fussing. Here you will behaviourally be expressing I’m OK and You’re Not OK.

Over-Adapted Mode

When in this Mode, your behaviour is one of over–adapting to others i.e. trying to please others without asking them what they want and being passive and compliant.  If you are a leader operating from this Mode you are likely to become stressed as you cannot please all the people all of the time. When in this Mode you express I’m not OK and You’re OK or I’m not OK and You’re Not OK.

Oppositional Mode

The behaviour in this Mode will be resisting and opposing without any objective or a consistent basis for doing so.  Employees who do this earn a reputation for being obstructive, saying “No” when others are saying “Yes” and vice versa.  When in this Mode you are unlikely to be willing to hear others and consider their perspective, and you will express I’m OK and You’re not OK or I’m not OK and You’re Not OK.

Reckless Mode

When in this Mode, you express You’re not OK (or You’re Irrelevant). At work you will tend to behave in ways which indicate an unwillingness to take responsibility for your actions. Your energy appears unfocused, you fail to keep to agreed time boundaries – by for instance frequently being late. This Mode is different from oppositional Mode in that the actions will not be a response to another person, but more you doing your own thing, regardless of the people around or the situation.

'TA Proper'

In TA, we think about effective communication occurring when we are in our Mindful Mode.

Being aware of which ego state you are commencing conversation from or responding to another’s conversation is important as an aid to effective communication. In formal language, the opening communication is called the stimulus and the reply is called the response.

We use the OK Modes Model to help explain what goes on during communication.  We, at Mountain Associates, do this because without the four types of diagnosis we are unable to know which ego state the other person is relating from.  We can decide which ego state we are relating from but this is all as further enquiry is often inappropriate in the workplace.

There are parallel, or complementary transactions which can go on indefinitely, crossed transactions which result in a break/shift in some way and ulterior transactions when two messages are conveyed at once.

Crossed transactions are not necessarily bad, and complementary transactions are not necessarily good.

Three Rules of Communication

  1. Parallel (or Complementary) Transactions can go on indefinitely
  2. Crossed Transactions result in a break/shift in some way
  3. The real power is in the psychological level of Communication

Parallel Transactions

A parallel transaction is an exchange (or stimulus followed by a response) where the Mode to which the first person addresses their communication is also the Mode from which the second person responds. This, therefore, results in a predictable response, and communication is likely to continue in a similar vein:

 Parallel Transactions 1

So here, a simple request for information is responded to by providing that information.

However, parallel transactions are not necessarily positive – a parallel interaction might be seen as unhealthy (or ineffective) for one, other or both people. So an initial stimulus from an ineffective mode may succeed in getting a response from an ineffective mode:

Parallel Transactions 2

Crossed Transactions

A second type of transaction is a crossed transaction. These can be helpful or unhelpful. Let’s take an unhelpful example first. The diagram for crossed transactions like this:

Crossed Transactions 2

In terms of strategy, the first person might repeat their question in an attempt to obtain an answer.

Ulterior Transactions or Implied Messages

When you have beliefs and thoughts that are not congruent with the words you are using then you send out a mixed message. For example, internally you may be thinking ‘Oh damn, it is her again. How can I cut short this conversation?’ In a situation such as this, the other person is likely to pick up something from your demeanour, attitude or tone of voice.

Consider the following unspoken statements and how they might affect those with whom you are in dialogue:

  • I’m really in a rush – I don’t have time for this conversation
  • I’m wondering if all the things I’ve heard about you are true
  • I nearly had an accident on the way into work this morning and I can’t get it out of my mind
  • I’ve just had a row with the boss and I’m going over and over in my mind the things I’d like to have said
  • I’m bored with work and bored with this conversation
  • I’m desperate to go to the toilet and I’m too embarrassed to tell you
  • I need to get my own way on this so that I get that promotion
  • I haven’t forgotten the last conversation you and I had on this topic –you’re not going to get away with those tactics again.

If you were to be thinking any of the above thoughts it is likely that they will be expressed in some way or other, even if not intentionally. The other person then picks up the hidden, psychological or ulterior message and responds to that. Therefore psychological messages have a tendency to create conflict. You often hear people saying something like ‘I know that’s not what you said, but it’s what you meant!

For example, ‘That’s a really nice top. Didn’t you wear it to a previous conference some years ago?’ or ‘It’s great that the CEO wants you to go to Brussels with her. You go to the same gym club don’t you?’ 

Ulterior Transactions

Both of these comments appear to be stating fact but have an additional underlying, negative message. For instance, "I see you are still wearing the same old clothes", or "no wonder you get to go on the jolly to Brussels when you're mates with the CEO". It is important that you know how to deal with such transactions.

Sometimes you are not sure what the message is that you are picking up but you just feel uncomfortable. You could blame yourself and say it must be that they don't like you and then try to avoid having contact with them. It might be that they were preoccupied with a problem they had and this was why they were distant with you.

Let’s take an example of a communication process that has the potential to escalate and to make at least one person feel bad and see how to avoid that.

In this instance you are doing a presentation and write up something you wish to teach on the flip chart. You teach from this and then, after some discussion, one of the participants says: ‘You’ve spelt ‘behaviour’ differently three times’ There appears to be an ulterior transaction here – one that implies something without actually saying it. In other words, "you can't spell the word behaviour". You, as the receiver of this comment, then have a choice. You can feel stupid and shamed by the comment and become defensive, in which case the process will get very messy. Alternatively, you could keep yourself and the other personOK, saying, in an even voice, that you had not noticed, and then check if this is a problem for the participant. In this way, if there was an attempt to show you up, this does not happen and you seek to understand the other person’s concern – for there may have been some reason for the comment that you do not understand.

So where you appear to be invited into a fight or to feel bad, you have choices about how you respond. You need to keep yourself and others OK and still deal with the situation in a way that is also boundary-setting. Remember, in this respect at least, suffering is optional!

Of course, the psychological message might be congruent with the social level message. In this instance, we would not refer to it as an ulterior transaction, since there is only one message – reinforced by the psychological level communication.

Ulterior transactions are those where what is said carries a second, hidden and contradictory message. When this happens distrust will develop and conflict is likely to ensue or, at best, the person or people on the receiving end of such communication are likely to withdraw and/or not commit to a course of action.

NOTE – In this model, when diagramming, rather than taking a long time to draw all the squares, it is possible to draw crosses for the ineffective modes - which will enable a quicker analysis. This is useful for trainers and consultants when diagramming in the moment on training courses.



“A stroke is a unit of affection which provides stimulation to an individual." – Woollams and Brown

Research has indicated that babies require touching in order to survive and grow. It apparently makes no difference whether the touching induces pain or pleasure. Therefore it can be seen that in extreme situations, negative stroking is better than no stroking at all.

Stroking can be physical, verbal or non-verbal. It is likely that the great variety of stroke needs and styles present in the world results from differences in wealth, cultural mores, and methods of parenting.

 Strokes can be positive and negative:

     A) “I like you.” 

B) “I don’t like you.”

 Strokes can be unconditional or conditional. An unconditional stroke is a stroke for being whereas a conditional stroke is a stroke for doing. For instance: 

     “I like you.” – unconditional

     “I like you when you wear that coat.” – conditional


As a negative stroke, this might read:

      “I don’t like you.” – negative unconditional

     “I don’t like you when you’re sarcastic.” – negative conditional

Many people have a stroke filter. That is they only let in strokes which they think they are allowed to let in – e.g. strokes for being clever. They will keep out other strokes – e.g. for being attractive.

SourceWoollams  S. & Brown M. 'TA: The Total Handbook of Transactional Analysis'. Prentice-Hall.

The Stroke Economy

Claude Steiner suggests that as children we are all indoctrinated by our parents with five restrictive rules about stroking.

  1. don’t give strokes when you have them to give
  2. don’t ask for strokes when you need them
  3. don’t accept strokes if you want them
  4. don’t reject strokes when you don’t want them
  5. don’t give yourself strokes.

These five rules together are the basis of what Steiner calls the stroke economy. By training children to obey these rules, says Steiner, parents ensure that:

".. a situation in which strokes could be available in a limitless supply is transformed into a situation in which the supply is low and the price parents can extract for them is high.”

Source: Steiner, C. (1971). 'The Stroke Economy'.  TA Journal 1(3).

The Five Permissions

(To counteract the five rules). 

It is fine to:

  1. give strokes when you have them to give
  2. ask for strokes when you need them
  3. accept strokes if you want them
  4. reject strokes when you don't want them
  5. give yourself strokes.

Source: Stewart, I. & Joines, V. 'TA Today'. Lifespace Publishing.

The Three Hungers

To understand why people transact with each other, TA suggests that some driving force has to be the reason. This explanation is found in the motivational concepts of stimulus hunger, structure hunger, and recognition hunger. (Games provide satisfaction for all three of these hungers and this satisfaction is referred to as the advantage, or payoff, of the game).

Stimulus Hunger

Human beings require a changing flow of sensory stimuli. If this flow is cut off the individual’s thinking becomes impaired. Research demonstrates that sensory deprivation in the infant may result not only in psychic changes, but also in organic deterioration. This shows how vital it is for the changing sensory environment to be maintained. The most essential and effective forms of sensory stimulation are provided by social handling and physical intimacy. The intolerance for long periods of boredom or isolation gives rise to the concept of stimulus hunger.

Recognition Hunger

Symbols of recognition become highly prized and are expected to be exchanged at every meeting between people. Deliberately withholding them constitutes a form of misbehaviour called “rudeness”, and repeated rudeness is considered justification for imposing social or even physical sanctions. There are spontaneous forms of recognition such as a smile or a hug. There are also ritualised forms of recognition such as a handshake.

When we are recognised and recognise others the implications are:

  1. someone is there
  2. someone with feelings is there
  3. someone with feelings and sensations is there
  4. someone with feelings, sensations and personality is there
  5. someone with feelings, sensations, a personality, in whom I have more than a passing interest, and/or who has more than a passing interest in me, is there.

Structure Hunger

Mere recognition is not enough. After the rituals of saying “Hello” have been exhausted, tension mounts and anxiety begins to appear. The real problem of social intercourse is what happens after the rituals. The everyday problem of the human being is how we structure our waking hours. If we do not have our hours structured for us, as they tend to be in infancy, then we are impelled to find or set up a structure independently, hour by hour.

 The satisfaction of structure hunger is the social advantage of the game. Structure hunger is the need to establish social situations within which time is structured or organised for the purpose of obtaining strokes. These social situations are necessary for the person to transact with others.

Games provide ways of structuring time.

Structuring Time

Berne identified six ways of structuring time:

  1. Withdrawal – when a person withdraws. They are mentally removed from others. Daydreams, fantasy and meditation are all forms of withdrawal. It’s usually safe, requires little emotional investment and acquires minimal stroke yield.
  2. Rituals – safe and predictable way of exchanging strokes. They may be short such as “good morning” or long and complex such as a religious ceremony. They provide important maintenance strokes.
  3. Pastimes – just talking about things - not actioning things. Doesn’t usually involve real closeness. Discussion about cars or cooking are examples.
  4. Activities work, hobbies, chores. Most people spend most of their time in activities. They produce strokes - for doing something well or negative ones for doing something poorly. Pay-cheques or trophies are other rewards.
  5. Games and Rackets – familiar ways of operating which have a predictable outcome, and results in a bad feeling at the end – the Racket (or Substitute feeling - Mountain Associates).
  6. Intimacy – most risky and most rewarding. No exploitation. May be pleasant or unpleasant. When a person is convinced that is OK they will risk being open and intimate in more situations.

Structuring Time

Time Structuring is a way of satisfying structure hunger.


A script is a personal life plan which we all develop by making a series of decisions early in life. These decisions are based upon the events in our lives and our interpretation of them. We begin making these decisions at birth.

These decisions form our life plan. In What Do You Say After You Say Hello, Berne gave the definition as:

“ unconscious plan made in childhood, reinforced by the parents, justified by subsequent events, culminating in a chosen alternative.”

Living out the Script

Winning Script – the accomplishment of a declared purpose, relative to the goals we set for ourselves. This involves:

  • being authentic.
  • knowing self, being self, becoming credible and responsive.
  • actualise uniqueness and appreciate the uniqueness of others.
  • care about the world and its peoples.
  • achieving goals.

Losing Script  – someone who does not accomplish their declared purpose. They are likely to:

  • feel uncomfortable with self, one's lot
  • experience powerlessness
  • not achieve the purpose set for self.

There are different degrees of losing script:

  • 1st degree – failures and losses mild enough to talk about.
  • 2nd degree – unpleasant outcomes and not topics for conversation.
  • 3rd degree – culminates in death, injury or illness or a legal crisis.

Non-winning – middle of the road person. Plays it safe. 

Classification needs to be undertaken with caution as there are different perceptions of what is seen as winning, non-winning etc.


  • Berne, E. (1966). 'Principles of Group Treatment.' Grove Press.
  • English, F. (1975). 'The Three Cornered Contract.'  TA Journal, 5(4). 
  • Hay, J. (1992). 'Transactional Analysis for Trainers.' McGraw Hill.
  • Steiner, C. (1974). 'Scripts People Live.' Bantam Books.
  • Stewart, I & Joines, V. (1987). 'TA Today.' Lifespace Publishing.

Script Messages and the Script Matrix

The script is a set of decisions. These decisions are responses to life experiences and messages received from others, mainly the primary caretakers. These messages are conveyed verbally and non-verbally.


Things we are forbidden. They are prescriptions against being successful, important, a child, or growing up; against thinking, feeling and existing.

There were twelve example injunctions identified by the Gouldings (Goulding, R. and Gould­ing, M. 1976)

Davidson (2001) developed the following mnemonic, which places the injunctions into categories.

Injunctions Mnemonic

1. The Program

The way we have been shown to carry out the script by our parents or significant others.

2. Attributions

Qualities which are attributed to us, both negative and positive. Qualities "forced" on us.

Examples are:

  • "You’re stupid."
  • "You’ll never make it."
  • "You’re good at practical things."

Attributions can be reported to a person about someone else:

  • “He’s the clever one.”
  • “She’s the creative one.”
  • “He’s naughty.”


Set ways of behaving that allow us to feel we are functioning effectively. These are commonly referred to as “drivers”

Driver behaviour is part of countering the script.


Goulding, R. & Goulding, M. (1976). 'In­junctions, Decisions and Redecisions.' Trans­actional Analysis Journal, 6(1). pp. 41-48.

Davidson, C. (2001). 'Shouldn’ts:  A Mnemonic for Summarising the 12 Injunctions.' INTAND, 9(1).

External Sources of the Messages

External Sources

Internal Replaying of these Messages

Internal Replaying

Drivers or Working Styles

Drivers are characteristic ways of behaving that are usually strengths but can easily become weaknesses when we are under stress. I have used the task of drawing up an action plan in order to identify how different people might respond:

"Hurry Up"

People with Hurry Up characteristics work quickly and get a lot done in a short time. Our energy peaks under pressure. Our underlying motivation is to do things quickly. We draw up an action plan with many items, all to be completed in a very short time. We then accomplish the changes only superficially, so that we fail to reap the full benefit of the changes. Or we select our priorities so quickly that we overlook significant areas that we should be working on.

  • Words:  hurry, quick, get going, let’s go, no time to...
  • Tones: staccato, machine-gun-like. Can rush words out so quickly that they scramble them up.
  • Gestures: foot-tapping, wriggling around in a chair, frequent looking at a watch.

“Be Perfect”

People with Be Perfect as a driver or working style go all out for perfection. Our major strength is producing accurate, reliable work. We aim to produce the perfect action plan, with just the right priorities and a great deal of detail on how we will implement the changes. This takes us so long that we never quite finish drawing up the plan anyway. Or we make each objective so complex that it would take hours to put any one of them into effect - so we never have a long enough period to get started.

  • Words: often use parentheses, e.g. “I’m here today, as I said, to teach you about working styles”. Typically use: as it were, probably, possibly, certainly, completely, as we have seen. Speaker may also count on the fingers to accompany the points being counted off by letters or numbers. Fingertips may be placed together in a V shape.
  • Posture: upright, evenly balanced.
  • Facial expressions: eyes look upwards and to one side whilst person pausing in speech, as though trying to read the perfect answer.

“Please people”

People with this characteristic make good team members. Our aim is to please without asking. We may ask the trainer to tell us what should be in our action plan. If the trainer wisely refuses, we may ask our colleagues on the course, or go back to check with our manager. We want someone else to determine our priorities in case we get it wrong. Or we worry about upsetting other people if we make changes to our own behaviour.

  • Words: “High-but-low” sentence structure, e.g. “I’ve really enjoyed your teaching, but I don’t know if I’ll remember what you said”, or “That was a terrific intervention, but I preferred how you handled last time”. Frequently use querying words and phrases like OK? All right by you? Kind of..? Sort of..?
  • Tones: High voice, squeaky tone
  • Gestures: Reaching out with hands, usually palms up. Head nodding.
  • Postures: Shoulders hunched and forward. Leaning towards the person.
  • Facial expression: Often looking up, eyebrows raised. Tense smile.

“Try Hard”

People with this working style tackle work enthusiastically. Our energy peaks with something new to do. We pay attention to a whole range of aspects which others may overlook when undertaking a task. Try Hard is about trying but not succeeding. We tackle lots of things enthusiastically but never quite finish them. Our action plan is therefore likely to be crammed with good ideas, which we will initiate and then get bored with. We will have several, so that we can move between them any time there is a danger that we might actually achieve one of them. We may get bored with doing an action plan, and side-track ourselves by starting to experiment with alternative layouts for the plan - and maybe even alternative designs for the action-planning session.

  • Words:  “What I’m trying to tell you is...”, “I’ll try and do what we agreed.” other typical words are: difficult, can’t, what?
  • Tones: Sometimes voice sounds muffled or strangled.
  • Gestures: Fists may be clenched. Often one hand placed beside eyes or behind ear as though straining to hear or see something.
  • Postures: Often strains forward. General impression of a hunched-up pose.
  • Facial expression: Likely to frown. 

“Be Strong”

 This working style means we keep a stiff upper lip. We stay calm and emotionless and are good in a crisis. We become energised when we have to cope. We keep on thinking when others may be panicking. However, we fail to see why we need an action plan anyway, as we are loath to admit to having any weaknesses. We may grudgingly put down one or two loosely worded items to keep the trainer quiet but will do our best to avoid facing up to any shortcomings. We cannot imagine why we would want to change when we are in control of everything already.

  • Words: will often use words that convey: “my feelings and actions are not my responsibility, but are caused by agencies outside me.” e.g. “You’re making me angry”, “ The thought struck me”. Also uses distancing words like one, you, people, it, that when talking about self. “That feels good” (meaning I feel good).
  • Tones: flat, monotonous, usually low
  • Gestures: absence of gestures.
  • Postures: closed posture, legs crossed. Body immobile.
  • Face: expressionless.


  • Hay, J. (1992). 'Transactional Analysis for Trainers.' McGraw Hill.
  • Stewart, I. &  Joines, V. (1987). 'TA Today.' Lifespace Publishing.

The Drowning Person

The Drowning Person

(unpublished), Lee, A.

Process Scripts

Process Scripts


A definition of discounting

'An internal mechanism which involves people minimising or ignoring some aspect of themselves, others or the reality of the situation'. This is done outside of awareness.

There are four levels of discounting –

  1. existence
  2. significance
  3. change possibility
  4. personal abilities.


There are three areas of discounting:

  1. self
  2. others
  3. the reality situation.


Discounting of self or others can include feelings, perceptions, thoughts and actions.

There are three types of discounting:

  1. stimulus
  2. problem
  3. option.

The levels and types are commonly put into a grid called the discount matrix.

An example of Discounting

Altitude sickness is a condition that can develop in people who are not accustomed to being above heights of around 10,000 feet. It can develop very quickly and is due to the body’s reaction to the lower atmospheric pressure. Apart from being very uncomfortable (symptoms include extreme dizziness, vomiting and splitting headaches) it is very definitely life-threatening - within hours. The only solution is to descend either to or below a height where the person did not get these symptoms. It is extremely distressing (and common) to see people quite clearly demonstrating these symptoms and discounting on a grand scale (and therefore putting their lives at risk). This illustrates the first type of discount - stimulus:

Stimulus Matrix


In order to account (and therefore avoid discounting):

  • notice the stimulus
  • realise there is a problem
  • accept it might be solvable
  • know that people can change
  • know that people can solve problems
  • know that there are options.

Substitute Feelings

The term Racket feeling was coined early on in TA as a name for “a familiar emotion, learned and encouraged in childhood, experienced in many different stress situations, and maladaptive as an adult means of problem-solving”.  

Mountain Associates call this a substitute feeling as we believe this offers greater clarity.

We also have a set of script behaviours, employed outside awareness as a means of manipulating the environment.  When we do this experience a substitute feeling.

We can also experience a substitute feeling in response to independently occurring stress situations, ones which we have genuinely done nothing to set up. For example, when you need to be somewhere and the public transport on which you are travelling breaks down. 

There is a connection between scripts and feelings: any time we experience a substitute feeling, we are in script.

Every family has its own restricted range of permitted feelings, and another wider range of feelings that are discouraged or prohibited. Sometimes the permitted feelings differ according to whether the child is a boy or a girl. Often little boys are taught that it is OK to be angry and aggressive, but not to be scared or tearful. Little girls may learn that they are supposed to react to stress by crying or being sweet and bubbly, even though they may feel like showing anger. 

When a child experiences any of the prohibited feelings, they make a rapid switch into an alternative feeling which is permitted. They may not even allow themselves to be aware of the prohibited feeling. When we experience a racket feeling in adulthood we go through the same process. In this way, a racket feeling is always a substitute for another feeling, one which was prohibited in childhood. Therefore we say the original feeling was authentic and the substitute feeling is inauthentic.

The expression of authentic feelings is appropriate as a means of here-and-now problem-solving, while expression of substitute feelings is not. In other words, when we express an authentic feeling, we do something that helps finish the situation for us. When we express a substitute feeling, we leave the situation unfinished.

Stamp Collecting

  1. The particular feelings the Structural Child ego state collects are called "trading stamps".
  2. We make collections of archaic feelings and then cash them in.
  3. When stamps are collected they manipulate others to hurt, anger, frighten them, etc.
  4. A child whose "favourite" feeling response was inadequacy, later tends to collect feelings of inadequacy.


When people communicate on more than one level at the same time, and when the results of their transactions lead to bad feelings, they are playing a game. A psychological game is defined by Eric Berne as “an ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome. The predictable outcome, or payoff, consists of bad feelings for each player”.

Games are:

  • repetitive - circumstances may change but the patterns remain the same
  • played without Mindful awareness - people don't usually realise they helped set up the game
  • always end up with the players experiencing substitute feelings
  • entail an exchange of ulterior transactions between the players
  • always include a moment of surprise or confusion. Somehow people seem to have changed roles.

Games are played without awareness so that the bad-feeling payoff comes as a surprise. Games are noted by their repetitive occurrence, always beginning with a discount and bringing a positive payoff as well as its negative payoff.

A game represents the child’s best strategy for getting something from the world. When we play games in adulthood, we are attempting to meet a genuine Structural Child Ego State need. It’s just that the means of satisfying that need are outdated and manipulative.

John James suggests that there can be a positive payoff comes after the negative payoff. For instance, when I have collected the negative payoff I say to myself in Structural Child: “Phew! Thank goodness for a bit of time and space for myself!”

Games are learned patterns of behaviour, and most people play a small number of favourite games with various persons and in varying intensities.

  • First Degree games are played in social circles with anyone willing to play and generally lead to mild upsets. For example: two friends agree that they will always pass business to each other. One then hears the other saying amongst other friends that he “might not honour this agreement”.

  • Second Degree games occur when the players go after bigger stakes, usually in more intimate circles, and end up with a bigger bad-feeling payoff. Here, one friend may discover that the other has awarded a contract to a different company in full knowledge that the content of the contract Is exactly what he provides best.

  • Third Degree games involve tissue damage and may end up in the jail, hospital or morgue, e.g. the friend burns down the other’s office in revenge.

Games vary in the length of time that passes while they are being played. Some can take seconds or minutes while others take weeks, months or even years.

People play games for these reasons:

  • to structure time (and so meet structure hunger)

  • a source of strokes (and so meet recognition hunger

  • to provide stimuli (and so meet stimulus hunger)

  • to reinforce the life position

  • to justify feeling bad because of what we are already believing and to shift responsibility onto others or something

  • to collect stamps

  • to help avoid intimacy

  • to keep people together but not too close

  • to provide safe predictability

  • to maintain our frame of reference

  • to avoid pain

  • to offer something to talk about afterwards

  • to attempt to meet unmet needs and resolve unresolved symbiosis.

Diagramming Games

The Drama Triangle 

Steven Karpman (1968) devised a simple diagram for analysing the “games” that people get into with each other. He uses three roles as in a play or drama, namely Persecutor, Rescuer and Victim.

For example, you may be one of life’s Rescuers. You think that someone else really needs your assistance and help them without checking whether this is appropriate. Alternatively, they may need your help but not as much as you give. The position of Rescuer always discounts someone else’s ability to problem-solve. It may be that you seem to be the one who makes the telephone calls on your teenager’s behalf, when in fact it would be more appropriate to help them to make the call by going through what they will say on the phone.

If you have made that telephone call you may not have got the outcome that your son or daughter wanted and they have a go at you for this. If this happens you may feel bad and move down into the Victim position, which is in fact where you had put your child by thinking they couldn’t make the call themselves. Your son or daughter then moves up into the Persecutor position. This feels a far more powerful place than being in Victim which is why people will make that switch.

So you can see that by getting involved in the Drama Triangle you can think that you are incapable, think others are incapable or hold others responsible for not looking after you “properly”. Once in any of the three positions - Persecutor, Rescuer or Victim – we can keep going around the Triangle indefinitely.

Often there is one position which we take up more than any of the others. Sometimes we don’t switch around. For example, a partnership where one person always decides what is going to happen and when. In these instances, there is usually an unspoken agreement that the one partner will look after the other. This “agreement” means that one person takes on the Over-adapted mode within the relationship whilst the other takes on the Criticising, Interfering or Inconsistent mode, thus creating a dependency. When one person tires of this then the roles on the Drama Triangle can start to show. Until this point there was unspoken agreement to just use the Rescuer and Victim roles - now the Persecutor role may come into play.

Reference: Karpman, S. (1968). 'Fairy tales and script drama analysis.'  TAB, 7(26). pp. 39-43.

Some Familiar Games – using the Drama Triangle

Drama Triangle

Persecutor to Victim Switch

Kick me – when the person invites negativity to reinforce that they are no good. A few people may invite this to confirm that at least they are good enough to be noticed. Their previous experience will probably have been that of being ignored, therefore they set themselves up to get negative strokes rather than none at all. At least this way they know they exist.

Cops and robbers – A version of the same game played in legal settings. The person opens by seeking to persecute the forces of law and order. But eventually sets up to get caught, thus finishing as Victim.

Blemish – the person always finds fault with others or the situation. This may stay as a theme for racketeering without pulling a game Switch. However, the blemisher may eventually get themselves rejected moving from Persecutor to Victim on the Drama Triangle, converting his racketeering into a game.

If it weren’t for you – always saying how others stop them doing things. However, should the other person leave or the situation change in some other way the complainer may still not do all the things they say the other person has prevented them from doing. They may discover they are actually too scared to travel or go ballroom dancing. In this way, they move from Persecutor to Victim.

Victim to Persecutor Switch

Now I’ve got you (NIGY)  person gives some sort of come one from Victim position and then catches the other person out, moving to the Persecutor position.

Yes but – person asks for advice and then fends off all suggestions.

Do me something seeks to covertly manipulate others into thinking or acting for him/her.


Rescuer to Victim Switch

I’m only trying to help you Helps others without being asked thereby discounting the other person’s ability to do it for themselves. Then they move into the Victim position when the help is rejected.


Rescuer to Persecutor switch

See how hard I’ve tried – similar to the one above but the switch is to the Persecutor rather than to Victim.

 To be recognised as a “game”, there must be a “switch” on the Drama Triangle. Sometimes people maintain their Victim or Persecutor positions and do not move around the Drama Triangle. The following is an example of the various ways this might occur:


There are various ways to stop a game, including the use of different options than the one automatically used. You can:

  • cross the transaction by responding from a different  ego state than the one the stimulus is designed to hook.
  • pick up the ulterior rather than the social message e.g. when a friend says “I can’t do this, I’m useless”. Rather than saying “let me do this for you” instead say “It sounds like you have a problem. What do you want me to do about it?”
  • the opening Con always entails a discount. There are further discounts at each stage of the game. By detecting discounts you can identify game invitations and defuse them with options.
  • replace the game strokes. Loss of strokes to the Structural Child ego state means a threat to survival. Game hungry Structural Child is more concerned with quantity than quality. This loss of strokes is also a loss of excitement that the game has entailed.
  • Changes can be made at any stage of the game. Keep off the Drama Triangle though. You cannot make someone stop a game but you can stay out of the game yourself. You also maximise the chance that you will invite the other person out of their game.

The Six Advantages of Games

  1. By playing games, I maintain the stability of my set of script beliefs.  E.g. each time I play Kick Me, I reinforce my belief that I need to be rejected in order to get attention (Internal Psychological Advantage)
  2. I avoid situations that would challenge my frame of reference.  I therefore avoid the anxiety I would feel at the challenge. (External psychological advantage)
  3. Games offer a framework for pseudo-intimate socializing in private.  A part of the Kick Me game may be long exchanges with the game partner.  In reality this is not intimacy. (Internal social advantage)
  4. Games give us a theme for gossiping in our wider social circle. When with other Kick Me players we can pastime on "Ain't it awful" (External social advantage)
  5. As a child I set up reliable ways of getting strokes in order to survive. Each time the game is replayed this satisfies structure-hunger as well as stroke-hunger. (Biological advantage)
  6. The function of the game is to confirm life position. (Existential Advantage)

Other Ways to Diagram Games

Goulding’s transactional diagnosis of a game:

  1. An ostensible stimulus, usually Structural Adult Ego State to Structural Adult Ego State (social stimulus), e.g. Do you want my help?
  2. A psychological stimulus (secret message) which includes  a statement about the self (a con), e.g. What would you  do without me? Structural Parent Ego State to Structural Child Ego State.
  3. A response to the secret message which includes a statement about the second player (a gimmick), e.g. Poor me I can’t make it on my own. Structural Child Ego State to Structural Parent Ego State.
  4. A payoff of substitute feelings.
  5. The game is played outside of Structural Adult Ego State awareness (if the participant is aware of the psychological level of the communication, she is manoeuvring the other, not playing a game).

Original Symbiosis Game Diagram

Original Symbiosis Game Diagram

Updated Symbiosis Game Diagram (Mountain, A. 2004).

Updated Symbiosis Game Diagram

Formula G

Formula G



Autonomy refers to the exercising of options which maintain OKness in self and invites OKness in others. This happens when a person is in the I am OK and You are OK life position. When two people relate from this position they are able to undertake and achieve tasks, exchange information, and be intimate.

By accepting responsibility for oneself and maintain an OK/OK position we are exercising our autonomy and taking charge of our destiny.

Clarkson talks about a person who has changed script as having a frame of reference in which changing is experienced as satisfying and autonomous. This is seen as cure. Cure was seen by Berne as a person putting their own show on the road with new characters, now roles, and a new plot and payoff. Script cure changes their character and their destiny as new decisions are made about how to live life. Therefore autonomy is freedom from script.

Clarkson talks about a person who has changed script as having a frame of reference in which changing is experienced as satisfying and autonomous. This is seen as cure. Cure was seen by Berne as a person putting their own show on the road with new characters, now roles, and a new plot and payoff.  Script cure changes their character and their destiny as new decisions are made about how to live life. Therefore autonomy is freedom from script.

Berne talked about autonomy as manifesting the release or recovery of three capacities:

  1. awareness,

  2. spontaneity

  3. intimacy

  • responsibility (addition by A. Moody TSTA(P))

Berne talked about autonomy as manifesting the release or recovery of three capacities:

  1. Awareness is the ability to hear, feel, taste and smell things in the way a new born baby does, uncensored. As we grow we learn to deaden our senses. For instance, when listening to music I might engage in an internal monologue:  “The tempo is too fast” or “I must get an early night”.
  2. Spontaneity means the capacity to choose from a range of options in feeling, thinking and behaviour. The spontaneous person responds to the world directly without reinterpreting it to fit Parental definitions.
  3. Intimacy means open sharing of feelings and wants between you and another person.

An autonomous person engages in problem solving and responsibility, rather than passivity.

Stewart and Joines suggest a definition of autonomy as:

“Behaviour, thinking or feeling which is a response to here and now reality, rather than a response to script beliefs."


  • Berne, E. (1985). 'Games People Play.' Penguin.
  • Steiner, C. (1982). 'Scripts People Live'. Bantam.