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

What It Means To Be A Transactional Analyst

Many people come to be using Transactional Analysis because it has worked for them.  

However, when working in organisations many people use TA because they see it get results. With the former there is the danger that the individual focus means concepts are subjectively applied, whilst with the latter the concepts are so objectively applied that they lose meaning. The art is in the integration of both whilst holding the boundary between the two.

In Developmental and Organisational TA we need to consider the structure and systems within which we work. Without this we are not undertaking Organisational TA.

Before moving out into this wider arena we first need to explore TA as a system itself. Only then can we decide what it means to be a Transactional Analyst.

TA is a theory of personality, a system for understanding human behaviour and a social psychology. It is concerned with supporting people and organisations to change and develop in positive and significant ways. Organisationally, this fits with the Japanese concept of kaizen – continuous improvement.

Loria (1995) notes that TA is non-hierarchical in spirit.  Instead it highlights personal responsibility and rejects blaming, rescuing and victimising others. 

At a range of different levels TA is a developmental model. It explores child development and the impact of experience on the child but it is also developing a theory itself, with theorists constantly questioning and developing the theory. 

In that sense, TA is not a “complete” theory as it is always evolving.  If we viewed it as a complete theory then it would become stagnant. In his article, Loria quotes Messer (1987):

“In order to have a common language, we would also have to have a unitary way of perceiving things, an agreed upon mode of thinking about them…Human nature being what it is, a diversity of theory and language is bound to continue, at least in those areas of the world where people are encouraged to think freely, creatively and divergently”.

Open communication is also important in TA. Berne was one of the first psychiatrists to run open case conferences with the client present. Part of this process involves the client taking responsibility for themselves and their actions. 

TA also views human beings as striving toward health. Berne’s aspiration arrow or physis is often omitted from script diagrams and therefore this aspect is often overlooked. 

Traditional Freudian psychoanalysis tended to devalue the person’s unconscious drive toward health, wholeness and creative evolution.   

The concept of physis ensures that the script matrix is aspirational rather than deterministic. The downward arrows of the matrix represent the deterministic elements, whereas the physis arrow arising from the Structural Child ego state represents the aspirational elements. 

Another Difference

Clarkson (1990), outlines another difference between psychoanalysis and Transactional Analysts:

“ ….psychoanalysis emphasises the transference/counter-transference relationship, whereas behaviour therapy concentrates on the working alliance. Transactional Analysts focus on both the working alliance (the contract) and the transference/counter-transference relationship, as well as on the developmentally needed or reparative relationship, with the occasional allowance for transpersonal dimensions.”

Traditional psychoanalysis is based on 19th Century understanding about gaining control over negative impulses then surviving in a world that does not understand (Morris & Morris, 1966). Whereas, TA is about striving to health.

In addition, TA is also a social psychology and our inter-relationship with the community and the environment is a part of our approach. Transactional Analysts and those who practice TA need to strive for congruence between what we espouse and what we do. For example, is it okay to use products that we know exploit others, or which destroy the ecological balance? Is it okay to take on work which is financially lucrative but which compromises our ethical code and TA’s ethical code? 

Given the economic climate we might be particularly susceptible to drives to produce profits and this might overshadow and minimise the possible ethical drawbacks of the means to produce those profits. 

The greater the competition between rival business factions, and the greater the perceived risks associated with failure the greater the likelihood that ethically questionable business practices will be used.

Good practice is based on beliefs, values and opinions, from which ethical behaviour stems. There are few references to organisational ethical behaviour in the codes of ethics for TA organisations as these have primarily been written by psychotherapists. When we do refer to ethical codes we need to work out how these translate into action (see Garfield, 1993).

Developmental TA and in particular Organisational TA takes account of the systemic approach. This approach includes the awareness that the role of the consultant will also have an influence on the dynamic. This is supported by the constructivist theories which are about how we co-create  processes.   

Therefore, an Organisational Transactional Analyst needs to be aware that if our interventions do not produce positive developmental results we need to step back and look for a meta-position allowing us to explore the implications and consequences of our own ways of thinking, experiencing and behaving. In this way, it is necessary to look at both the client system and our own system and what is being co-constructed through the process.

The belief system is an important part of TA. We need to be aware enough of our own negative processes and deal with them in therapy and/or supervision so that we can remain Mindful. There are many people who know the theoretical concepts but do not put the underpinning philosophy into practice. In my opinion, this is not TA.

Just as we encourage our clients to experience themselves as “good-enough”, we too need to experience ourselves as good-enough, thereby reducing the need to be perfect.  

On the competence curve our role is often to enable others to move out of the trough of despair and up into experiencing themselves as competent, this too needs to be for us, which is what training is about.  

However, this also has a political element. We need to consider wealth creation and inequalities of wealth; sexuality and gender issues; racial and disability and cultural issues in general.  

This is particularly true within the organisational field as we increasingly work within a global market. How do those of us involved in Transactional Analysis take account of inequalities and really make sense of I am OK and You are OK? If we really put our actions where our theory is, what differences would we make to our lives and those we come into contact with?


 Clarkson P. (1993), Transactional Analysis as a Humanistic Therapy, TAJ 23:1

Garfield V. (1993), Ethical Principles for Work in Organizations, TAJ 23:2

Hay, J. (1993), Working It Out At Work, Sherwood Publishing

Loria B.L. (1995), Structure, Determinism and Script Analysis: Bringing Forth of Alternative Realities, TAJ 25:2

Messer S.B. (1987), Can the tower of Babel be completed?  A critique of the common language proposal.  Journal of Integrative and Eclectic Psychotherapy, 6. (In Loria, 1995)

Morris DG & Morris FR (1996), The Anatomy of Belief, TAJ 26:3

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

Mountain A. and Harper P. (1994), Working Cross-culturally:  Challenges for TA Psychotherapists, ITA News, No; 40.

Samuels A. (2001), Politics on the couch - citizenship and the internal life, Profile Books.

Schmid B. (1989), 'The Reality Constructive Perspective – Systemic Thinking and Professionalism Tomorrow', in Transactional Analysis in Organisations. First Volume eds. van Poelj S. and Steinert T.