The previous features explained what counselling and psychotherapy are (both are frequently referred to simply as ‘therapy’), and how counselling therapy works.  This article discusses a particular type of therapeutic counselling approach known as transactional analysis (TA).   It is an important ‘tool’ that is used in Hants Counselling therapy sessions in Basingstoke.  Transactional analysis was developed in the latter 1950s by American psychiatrist Eric Berne and hopefully, in reading this article, you may recognise certain emotions and aspects of human behaviour and, through this recognition, develop an appreciation of how counselling therapy might help you.  

Therapy and the unconscious mind

Before transactional analysis therapy was developed there was an emphasis on improving patients’ mental health by helping them understand their unconscious thought processes (the thought processes that run in the background and of which we are unaware – one example is driving a long way and on arrival being unable to remember the last half hour of the journey).  Transactional analysis developed this further and is founded on the concept that each person has three ego states: Parent, Adult and Child.   The therapy helps patients understand what these states are, and which state they are in when they interact with each other.  TA is all about the interactions between people (verbal and non-verbal) and the ego states behind them.  It’s a very ‘accessible’ form of counselling therapy because the ego states are easily recognised by patients who can then understand which state they have been in at particular moments of interaction.

Therapy and the three ego states

The Parent ego-state is the state in which we think and behave in response to an unconscious mimicking of how our parents acted.  A very simplistic example is a person who feels the need to thump a table top to make a point because this seemed to work for his father, but without realising that that is the reason he does it or necessarily understanding that it might work negatively by discomforting others.

The Adult ego state is the one in which we think and behave by making best use of all the knowledge and experience we have gathered as adults.   This is the most rational ego state and the therapy aims to strengthen it. 

The Child ego state is the one in which we revert to thinking and behaving in a similar way to how we did as a child.  An example might be feeling deep shame or anger in response to being seen to accidentally knock something off a supermarket shelf, rather than simply acknowledging it as a straightforward accident and putting it back.

Therapy and creating a positive outcome

The therapy works by exploring how personality is shaped by experience – especially childhood experience.  It is usually one-to-one therapy but can be applied with couples or small groups.  The therapist will carefully help the patient to understand when he / she is in a particular ego state and how this might be impairing relationships with others and personal happiness.   In a sort of ‘partnership’ the therapist and client will discover what has shaped the client’s methods of communication and the client will learn how to avoid repeating sub-optimal behaviour patterns.  The recognition – and gradual elimination – of sub-optimal interactions enables patients to enjoy better relationships with those around them and a better emotional life.

Therapy in Basingstoke

At Hants Counselling’s therapy rooms in central Basingstoke, transactional analysis is a core counselling tool.  If you would like to know more about how it might help you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

In the next feature we will explore interactions – and the ego state behind them – in more detail.