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Communication breakdowns happen with most people, all the time. It can be a matter of seconds for a positive conversation to turn negative which often take a toll on relationships. If you are someone looking forward to having constructive and positive conversations with people close to you, the transactional analysis model could help you. It is a type of psychological model that examines an individual’s interactions and communications. It is widely regarded as a fundamental therapy that helps individuals reach their peak potential, but some experienced coaches may use this model with clients. Let us understand how transactional analysis helps in personal growth and well-being.

What is Transactional Analysis?

Transactional analysis is a psychoanalytical theory and model in which the focus is on interpersonal behaviors. The International Transactional Analysis Association definition is ‘Transactional Analysis is a theory of personality and a systematic psychotherapy for personal growth and personal change.’ 

The transactional analysis theory was developed by Eric Berne, a famous psychiatrist, in the 1960s. He combined Sigmund Freud’s theories of personality along with his observations on human interactions to frame the transactional analysis model. According to Berne, facial expressions, gestures, body language, and tone may be regarded as more important in a conversation than spoken words.

The transactional analysis model suggests that identifying the ego states of a person will help to understand his or her behaviors which can be altered to resolve emotional problems. In simple words, it helps to understand why people behave the way they do. Through sessions and talk, therapists or coaches who use transactional analysis as a model can help clients to get absolute autonomy over their lives. As per Berne, spontaneity, awareness, and intimacy are the three vital human capacities that help an individual to gain autonomy over his or her life.

The Key Concepts in Transactional Analysis  

There are three basic principles of the transactional analysis model. They are:

  • Every individual has three ego states – Parent, Adult, and Child.
  • Every individual has transactions with others and within the self. The word ‘transaction’ stands for communication or interaction between two people.
  • Every individual activates their ego states unconsciously during transactions which sometimes lead to communication breakdowns.

Ego States 

Ego states are defined as the way we think, feel, or behave which makes up our personality at any given time. In simple words, our ego states determine the way our individuality is expressed, our interactions, and our relationships. It is an important aspect of transactional analysis.

As per Berne’s definition, ‘an ego state is a system of feelings accompanied by a related set of behavior patterns.’ He recognized that all of us go through three different ego states which are named Parent, Adult, and Child. Regardless of whether we are aware of it or not, our ego states get activated all the time.

  • Parent– This ego state refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behavior that get incorporated from the primary caregiver and other important people. In other words, it is rooted in the past. In this ego state, you may try to respond as one of your parents would have done or behaved similarly to how they have done.
  • Adult – This ego state is rooted in the present and it is hardly influenced by past experiences. It involves direct responses and is mostly straightforward. It is usually without a lot of emotional triggers.
  • Child –This ego state involves the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that we have learned as a child. It is rooted in the past, reactive and strongly influenced by our parents.

Unconscious Scripts 

Therapists and coaches who use the transactional analysis model believe that every individual has the potential to live as they want it to be. However, this potential is often hindered by repetitive patterns that are based on our childhood experiences. These repetitive patterns of behavior, thoughts, and feelings are known as unconscious scripts. We can and we need to work through these unconscious scripts to build a great life.


During communication, ego states interact and lead to transactions. The transactional analysis model identifies three types of transactions – Complementary transactions, Crossed transactions, and Ulterior transactions. Complementary transactions refer to successful transactions where the ego states of two people are sympathetic and complementary. Crossed transactions occur when an individual talks from a particular ego state and receives an unexpected response. Ulterior transactions happen when three or more ego states interact at the same time. In these interactions there is more going on beneath the surface of the communication. Understanding the type of transactions we are using, basically which part of ourself we are communicating from will help to create meaningful, constructive conversations.


Berne defines strokes as ‘a unit of recognition’ in which one person acknowledges another by speech or act. It refers to compliments, recognition, and acceptance. It is important in communication as it helps to establish the connection between two people. There are different types of strokes – positive and negative, verbal and nonverbal, conditional and unconditional strokes. The types of strokes which we receive in our childhood have a certain impact on our personality.

How does Transactional Analysis work?  

Transactional analysis is a brief and solution-focused approach that explores the client’s personality by identifying the ego states present in transactions. The therapist or coach will use various transactional analysis based techniques, models, and tools to understand how the past experiences of the individual have shaped his or her personality. The talk therapy or coaching sessions are conducted in a non-judgmental, respectful, and secure atmosphere. The therapist or coach and the client will work collaboratively to identify the repetitive patterns that limit the individual’s potential and determine areas for improvement in communication. The goal of transactional analysis is to make the individual become conscious of the ego states and examine various thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that stop him or her from reaching their peak potential.

Summing Up

Transactional analysis is one of the popular forms of therapy that can be applied in the fields of medicine, education, business management, personality development, and more. It is now used by skilled coaches as it is effective model. Developed by Eric Berne, this model addresses the ego states in an individual. It suggests that we can better understand ourselves by analyzing our interactions and conversations with people close to us. The Transactional analysis model helps clients to regain autonomy over their lives and reach their full potential. It is considered as one of the popular models which helps people to have better, meaningful, and constructive conversations and is a useful model to apply in coaching sessions at times.

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