Book Review: Transactional Analysis In Psychotherapy

Transactional Analysis In Psychotherapy, by Eric Berne, MD

This is an interesting book, if you find psychology interesting [1].  Written by the same fellow who wrote the much less technical and much more popular book Games People Play, this book is a deeply technical look at the way in which the different ego states of people can be discovered and analyzed in multiple degrees.  This book is not for everyone; it tends to attack the legitimacy of moralistic “parental” approaches and as a result misses an important spiritual dimension in mental health, and its language is extremely technical and probably requires at least some background in Freudian psychology to fully grasp, although the basic principles of transactional analsysis are simple enough that even below-average intelligence combined with an intuitive observation of others is good enough to understand the fundamentals of this book, making this a deeply interesting book to read because of the generally humane atttitude of its author.  This author sounds like someone who would be a decent person to know and his approach to group and marital therapy remains highly influential, and there is much to appreciate here for those who are willing to wade through the book’s language.

This book is divided into four parts with an appendix at the end that provides a case study of an interrupted but largely successful and complicated example of the author’s therapeutic approach.  After a short introduction (1), the first part of the book looks at the psychiatry of the individual and basic structural analysis of the self, looking at the structure of personality (2), the function of personalities within the person (3), various pathologies that result over the course of life (4), the beginnings of those problems (5), the symptoms that tend to accompany mental health problems (6) and the diagnosis of these issues (7).  The second part of the book examines the subject of social psychology and transactional analysis, where the author talks about the stresses of social intercourse (8), the analysis of transactions within a given interaction (9), an analysis of games (10), the subject of the author’s more popular book, an analysis of the scripts people use to reduce stress (11), and an analysis of the relationships people find themselves in (12).  The third part of the book gives a look at the author’s approach to psychotherapy, with a discussion of the therapy of functional psychoses (13), the therapy of neuroses (14), and a lengthy discussion (filled with interesting transcripts) of group therapy (15).  The fourth and final part of the book contains more advanced and difficult material like a look at the finer and more complicated structure of the personality (16), advanced structural analysis (17), the therapy of marriages with the avoidance of triangulation (18), regression analysis (19), and some closing theoretical and technical considerations to the author’s approach (20).

This book is an odd book but a good one.  On the one hand it has an immensely dense technical apparatus springing from the author’s background in psychology that will be alienating to many readers who will have to look up quite a few words here even if their basic gist is straightforward enough.  Yet on the other hand the book is written with obvious compassion and a clear understanding that it is not intellectual ability but rather strength of character, sheer tenacity and integrity, and compassion and understanding of one’s self and others that is the biggest hindrance between people and psychological health.  This book is written by an essentially honest man for others who believe that being honest about ourselves and honest in our dealings with others is the only way that we can move beyond games to genuine intimacy and friendship with other people.  If that honesty can be difficult to find, this book reminds us that the costs of dishonest dealings with others in order to avoid uncomfortable realities can have a heavy personal cost.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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