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Posted on March 2, 2020
Updated on October 13, 2021

Redecision Theory at Work

A redecision is making a change in the early script decision. This particular theory relies heavily on the use of the Structural Ego State model, which is intra-psychic rather than behavioural.

Bob and Mary Goulding are the originators of the redecision school of TA. Their approach incorporates Gestalt Therapy with TA, often using two-chair work to facilitate the process. Their emphasis is on recontacting the Structural Child ego state feelings that were experienced at the time of the early decision. They might then go on to undertake a de-briefing through the Structural Adult ego-state to ensure understanding.

The Gouldings felt that since the original decision was made from the Structural Child ego-state then to make a lasting change, the redecision needs to be made from the Structural Child ego-state as well. They also believe that changes made from Structural Adult are not as long lasting.

The Gouldings describe an impasse as two parts of the person as pushing against each other and therefore the person can become stuck. They conceptualised the impasse between different ego-states or different parts of an ego-state. As the individual strives to become autonomous, this sets up internal conflicts called impasses. The same can be said of organisations.

Type one concerns counterinjunctions. These are messages about how to be OK given by parents (e.g. Be Strong – you are OK if you show strength and minimise expression of feelings, or Be Perfect – you are OK if you get everything right). The decision to respond to these messages can begin the conflict with the person’s needs and here and now wants and hence the development of the impasse.

Type two re-decisions concern injunctions. 

"Injunctions are messages from the Child ego states of parents, given out of the circumstances of the parent's own pains: unhappiness, anxiety, disappointment, anger, frustration, secret desires. While these messages are irrational in terms of the child, they may seem perfectly rational to the parent who gives them" (Goulding & Goulding, 1979).

Type three relates to issues around identity. Many people talk about this type of impasse as “It’s always been this way”.

Mellor (1980) went on to develop his own understanding of impasse theory, writing in the TAJ about a developmental understanding of impasse theory. 

For him first degree (his term for type) impasses occur after the child is old enough to understand language.

Second degree impasses originate earlier and the messages relate are carried by feelings.

Third degree impasses relate to very early, even pre-natal experiences.

It is likely that we develop third degree impasses first, then second degree and then first. However, it is not always linear and interventions may need to go back and for forth as different impasses and types of impasses are uncovered.

Mellor’s and Gouldings models for diagramming impasses are different. For those of you who wish to investigate this further please see the references below.

Mellor finds that the consideration of development theory is helpful in his process with psychotherapy clients. Is this where organisational and psychotherapy applications divide or is there useful in the developmental model in organisations?  

We often experience impasses when undertaking coaching.  Someone may have developed a script about how to be a winner. Their parents may have stroked them for achievement at school, getting top grades, being the best at athletics, football etc. They may not be stroked for feelings or when they are playing and so on. Hence they develop injunctions and counterscripts such as:

Script Injunction

Counterscript instructions

Don’t have fun

Work Hard!

Don’t be satisfied!

Work harder! Try harder!

Don’t be who you are!

Be famous! Be best!

Parents needs come first!

Serve others! Be pleasing!

Don’t ask for yourself

Help other! Rescue!

Don’t be express feelings!

Be strong

Don’t be free!

Hurry up! Be pleasing!

Theodore Novey (1975)

The script is likely to lead such people to be successful - but at a price. They are stroked for doing, not for being. For example a family business may be thriving and the children in the family carry on the success and leadership in the same way. 

Also, someone may be driven to be successful by being different to their parents who were perhaps lazy, weak, crazy etc.  However, if we are counterscripting, we are still not being ourselves.

These issues can remain hidden until the person is into middle management, perhaps their children have grown up and left home. They have financial success, material wealth but are somehow dissatisfied. Their internal driver or working style is less effective in terms of negatively pushing them to strive. They start to wonder what they have done with their lives. They are beginning to be seen as lacking motivation at work, and are seen as problem managers. It is at this stage they come for coaching.

They may feel 45, going on two (Levin, Cycles of Development). They begin to struggle with the symbiotic relationships they have set up for themselves, at home with their life partner, or at work with a life-enveloping organisation to which they have given the last twenty years of their life. They feel restricted and repressed and want to break out and be independent. At this stage they could start to feel angry.

Imagine what the time structuring would be of a manager seen as “dead wood”. What would it be of someone who is really involved?

What type of impasse would the “dead wood” person be in?

As people change they will receive feedback from others. Some of that may be negative as they were used to the person being that way and it may have suited their relationship. These people may try to get the coachee to revert back to their old ways.  

Mostly, however, people are often give positive feedback and are pleased that the person is behaving differently. At first colleagues may expect the person to behave in the way they always have behaved and so jump to the old transactions etc., and then be surprised when they realise the coachee is different when they cross the negative transaction, account, and keep out of game playing.

Escape Hatch Closure

An “escape hatch” is the route out of taking responsibility. People may do this by committing suicide, going crazy or killing someone else. The term “escape hatch” was coined by Holloway (1973). 

Closing the “escape hatches” is about making a decision to change and to be free of the tragic script option. Therefore, if someone still has one of these three ways out of responsibility open it will make contracts for change and hard contracts unworkable. Whilst coaching is not therapy it is important to be aware of the need for a redecision, in terms of escape hatch closure, on the part of the coachee before coaching is likely to be effective.

With a global economy and diverse communities consultants and organisational leaders need to understand those with whom they are working, particularly if they come from a different ethnic origin. Escape hatch closure is a white western concept and we first need to respect other cultures.

See Mountain’s article (2000) on this subject.

Redecision in the Work Place

When people use their energy to resist change, they discount their ability to use their strength in constructive ways. Redecision work is also about people empowering themselves. 

How people distribute or attribute their power is a function of early decisions.

We can encourage coachees and employees to work out how much power they give themselves and how much they give to those in authority e.g. self 25% and boss 75%. This distribution is disempowering. According to Campos, people have three power options: give their power away, and discount self; keep own power, and solve problem; share it with others and mutually solve problems.

Coachee:  I don’t like my job; it makes me uptight.

Coach:  Will you say,” I make myself uptight”?

Coachee:  Okay, so I am giving my job power over me.

Coach: On a scale of 0 – 100 how much power do you give the job in determining how relaxed you are?

Coachee:  About 85% to job; 15% to self.

Coach:  How do you want to change it?

Coachee:  I want to give myself more power, say 80% and 20% to job.

Coach: Okay so how will you go about changing that? (Then you are into the work enabling the person to look at options and changes in behaviour, how they are stuck, their beliefs and so on).

(Campos, 1976, amended)

We can get impasses in the work place. For example, a type three impasse might occur when an organisation re-structures and takes on new employees. Those new in are likely to be motivated, have new ideas and accept the new structure, whilst those who have been in the organisation for some time may be resistant, scared and want things to remain as they were.

How might the other types of impasses occur?  What other ways might a type three impasse occur?


Boyd HS and Cowles-Boyd L (1980) Blocking Tragic Script Outcomes, TAJ 10:3

Campos L. (1976), Empowering, TAJ 6:4

Goulding B & M (1979), Changing Lives Through Redecision Therapy, Grove Press

Holloway W. (1973), Shut the escape hatch, Monograph IV, Wm. H. Holloway, M.D

Levin-Landheer, P. (1982) The Cycle of Development, TAJ 12:2

Mellor K (1980) ,Impasses: A Developmental and Structural Understanding, TAJ 10:3

Mountain A (2000), The Relevance of Culture and Relationship Dynamics for Closing Escape Hatches in Therapy, TAJ 30:2

Novey T (9175), Middle Essence and Management, TAJ 5:4