“There are two TA’s: the one we care trained to think in and use in understanding our clients, which is not simple, and the direct language we use in speaking to clients, which is simple.” – William Cornell
How can I teach TA to new clients?? That is a challenge. Even though TA is simple and effective, there are so many definitions and diagrams that clients (and new therapists) can get confused or overwhelmed.
When I was an organizational trainer, I learned three elements were necessary to convey new information in an effective way. 1. Good visuals 2. Simple definition/diagrams 3. A good story. These 3 elements help clients and students absorb the new data, and gives them a system and structure for continued learning, and relates the information to their lives.
1. Good Visuals
“A picture is worth a 1000 words.” When I drive to a new location, I need a road map. I need to see how I am getting to my destination. I need to see the journey as a whole, ‘the big picture’. Unless I get the big picture, I don’t grasp simple concepts.
But since principles for personal growth are abstract and conceptual, how can I put those concepts in visual form? I came up with a visual tool that includes seven basic TA principles—belief systems and behaviors—that contribute to an authentic life. I put it in an electronic book, called “The Seven Principles for Creating an Authentic Life.” I use the picture (and metaphor) of a flourishing tree to represent an authentic life.
Most people can understand the principles of nature. They know a healthy tree needs two things-a good root system, and strong branches. The root system requires good, rich, nourishing soil ( in order for the roots to grow deep into the soil). A good root system provides stability and strength. As a result, the tree emerges with strong, healthy, flourishing branches.
A flourishing tree is a metaphor for a flourishing life. This diagram shows two TA belief systems and five behaviors that contribute to an authentic, flourishing life. The Seven Principles helps clients see how belief systems (root system) and behaviors (branches) come together to create an authentic life.
2. Simple Definitions and Diagrams
I teach my clients and students seven basic TA concepts using short, concise phrases. So Principle 3 “Understanding Self and Others” represents a BIG, complex subject, but it is summarized in simple, easy-to-remember terms. I explain that each principle has a corresponding TA diagram that we use to understand our belief systems and behaviors.
And as in nature, I gently remind them that change and growth takes time.Changing ones’ belief systems or learning new behaviors requires persistence and patience. The TA Tree is a simple reminder of the tools they can employ to work on these area of their life.
3. A Good Story
This is the story I tell my clients/students about using The Seven Principles with an actual client.
A few years back, a physician came to see me. She was recently divorced, depressed, and desperate. She also was impatient, and wanted good results now.
I said “When you see a new patient, how do you proceed on the first visit?” She said, “I take a history. I rule out what does not apply to the patient. Then I come up with a treatment plan”. I told her we would do the same process.
After explaining the Seven Principles, I asked her to identify areas she was already doing well, and areas she needed work. She said “My childhood was fine. I think I have good foundational beliefs about life. But I have been told I talk down to people. And I work too much.” Together, we identified 2 areas for work— good communication (principle 4) and Time Structuring (principle 5). We made a contract to address these 2 behaviors and skills (treatment plan).
As we continued our work, other principles came into play. But she was very clear on what she wanted, and how she could get there.
The Seven Principles Tree helps clients can see the ‘big picture’. They can choose the areas on which they want to work, and ‘rule out’ areas they are already doing well. In my experience, most clients want to focus on 2-3 areas. This clear direction for the counseling process gives a client confidence and hope. Throughout the process, they can refer back to the flourishing tree, and remind themselves what it takes to have a authentic life.
For TA teachers, The Seven Principles Tree and The TA Tree gives them a visual tool to teach TA belief systems and behaviors. They can post a copy next to the dry erase board, and refer to it during sessions. It makes their task to teaching TA easier, and can be taught to individuals, couples, families, businesses, and groups. It serves as an introduction to TA. It is my hope that is it is a springboard for more TA exploration.
The Seven Principles for Creating an Authentic Life is available through iBookstore. For more information about the TA Tree, or other tools, contact Catherine M. O’Brien at theTAteacher@gmail.com
Practitioners of Transactional Analysis were interviewed on their use of and appreciation for TA during the 2013 USATAA conference. USATAA proudly re-posts this wonderful video that features highlights from several of those interviews.
***Blog posts on The NET represent the viewpoint of the author and have not been verified or endorsed by USATAA.***
Since the 1960s when Thomas A. Harris, PhD./T.M.*, first introduced to his best-selling, I’m OK— You’re OK , (Harper & Row, New York, 1969), this phrase has been trivialized over and over again.
I accepted the phrase wholly when first introduced to the concept. The concept was born in Eric Berne’s San Francisco Seminar Through the years I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the phrase. Many persons have argued with me that people’s behavior makes this concept false. A psychiatrist argued against the concept saying, “Watch out for ‘third-degree Bernes'”. Comedians have joked about in their routines for years. A New Yorker cartoon (1972)1 caption had a woman on a phone conversation saying, “We are reading “I’m Ok—You’re OK” and we’re ok because of the martinis, not the book.” Most usage, I believe, have missed the true meaning of the concept.
My teacher, the late Morris L. Haimowitz, Ph.D/T.M*, said that I’m “OK—You’re OK” means, “I value myself and I value You.” The first time Morris mentioned this in my training group, I felt a breath of fresh air. He put into words what I had been feeling for years.
Religious literature such as the Hebrew and Christian bibles support this concept “loving self and neighbor.” Jewish theologian, Martin Buber, wrote a book, I and Thou (Translated by Walter Kaufmann, Harper & Row, New York, 1996) which espouses that all human beings are created in the Divine image and are valuable.
Mary Goulding, MSW, TM, emphasized another aspect of OK—OK understanding, “being” and “doing”. She taught at the Western Institute for Group and Family Therapy about being and doing strokes. The nature state of the person is OK by herself/himself. OK-ness is a part of our Being. There is a contemporary notion that one has to “do” in order to be OK. She taught trainees that each person is OK in their natural state without “doing” anything.
I had a couple in my congregation who were compulsive in a loving way of giving food and other gifts to me as a single pastor. I invited them for lunch as a Christmas gift to them. To their chorus of “what can I bring”, I answered, “Nothing! Bring yourselves for I love you the way you are and this is my Christmas gift to you.” They were OK as persons and didn’t have to give the pastor a gift to be OK. They came to lunch and a wonderful time was held by all.
I ask our Transactional Analysis community to re-visit the concept, I’m OK—You’re OK. Please don’t gloss over this important teaching. Help those in our therapy practice and those outside the office to understand the concept “I value myself and I value others.”
***Blog posts on The NET represent the viewpoint of the author and have not been verified or endorsed by USATAA.***
Eric Berne is known for coining the term ‘strokes’. He explained it as a basic unit of recognition. It was believed that human beings were born with an innate stimulus hunger. Experiments in the 1940s suggested that infants failed to thrive in environments where physical stimulation was limited. This hunger for touch develops to become a hunger for recognition in social and intimate relationships.
These were the types of strokes that Eric Berne described.
Internal strokes (strokes we give ourselves)
External strokes (strokes we give to others)
Unconditional strokes (strokes for being)
Conditional strokes (strokes for doing)
Positive strokes (strokes that communicate okayness)
Negative strokes (strokes that communicate not-okayness)
Claude Steiner is known for theorizing the ‘stroke economy’. He suggests that we can be restricted by the parent ego state in five main ways:
don’t give strokes when we have them to give
don’t ask for strokes when we need them
don’t accept strokes if we want them
don’t reject strokes when we don’t want them
don’t give ourselves strokes
These five ‘rules’ reinforce a culture of scarcity as opposed to how limitless strokes can be given and received. I once encountered someone from a chaotic household and that led to him making an early decision to “trust no one to care.” His script beliefs were entrenched in ideas of stroke scarcity and that happy interactions were close to impossible. I invited him to take on a little experiment for the week. He would try for 7 days and every morning to smile at one person on the way to work on the bus. To his astonishment, people smiled back! There were no threats, exchanges or bartering. The strokes were limitless.
TA literature describes the ‘stroke filter’ as a contaminated Adult ego state process where the person chooses to interpret positive strokes as negative ones. This maintains their particular life position.
What are STROKE PROCESSORS?
This write-up suggests a clear way to facilitate for clients to understand how their life scripting (early decisions about themselves and the world) might affect their Adult ego state functioning. The Adult ego state might be processing strokes in 4 different ways:
Processing the intended stroke as much more important or significant than intended. An individual could take a simple greeting smile from another as a sign of sexual flirtation. Or an individual could take a piece of Adult negative feedback as a Critical Parent insult.
Brian was regularly playing some ‘kick me’ games at dance night clubs. His eyes would scan the room for attractive women who would respond to his smile. He would interpret each smile as a green light for close contact dancing or an invitation for intimate conversation. Often the women would interpret his behavior as inappropriate.
Processing the intended stroke as less important or significant than intended. An individual could downplay a compliment or ignore the significance of a negative complaint.
Sam had an ‘under-achieving’ life script. His early decision to not succeed led to him to perpetually discount his personal intelligence and abilities. Each time a colleague complimented his ability he would minimize its significance in his mind. “They are just being nice.”
An individual could take a negative stroke and interpret it as positive or take a positive stroke and interpret it as negative. For example, an individual could take a compliment as a reminder of how they are not-ok.
Susie was constantly nervous about her appearance. Nothing ever felt enough for the world- even if she was told otherwise. She always had makeup on even when she went to bed. Her husband tried to tell her he loved her but all she could think was- “he wouldn’t love me without the makeup.” “Don’t be you or else…”- she continually told herself. Her husband’s unconditional positive strokes were converted as conditional strokes and further processed as negative strokes.
An individual could select the strokes they want to absorb and the ones they want reject.
Grace, an employee, got her first employee appraisal and all she chose to hear were the negative strokes. She decided she was a terrible worker even after her manager had a ton of positive feedback to offer.
Bringing these ‘stroke processors’ to the awareness of the client can be effective for decontaminating the adult ego state. It can allow for an exploration of the life script, early stroking patterns and early decisions. It can more importantly, be an invitation for clients to make new autonomous decisions about how they want to ‘process’ strokes in the here and now.
This blog post is about having what you want in life. This is a big presupposition, that we can live the life we want. And really, why shouldn’t we?
Two things can prevent us from living that life. One is that we made decisions early in life, outside of our awareness of today, that still limit us. These decisions were often made at times of stress or trauma, and we re-create some version of that experience unconsciously.
Seems illogical that our early decisions, that didn’t really solve things back then, can still be the source of issues today, and yet, that’s the way we write our life scripts.
Some coaches insist they deal only with the present and future, and don’t get into that stuff from the past.
It’s not about rehashing the past, or even remembering all the details. We can recognize the tracks of the past in the present, and clear them up. Much energy is released when we clear out old decisions.
The second way we prevent ourselves from living the life we want is that we haven’t envisioned it. Life script change is not just letting go of past decisions, it involves making new ones, and then enacting them day by day.
When we made our early decisions, we had no idea of the possibilities our lives could hold. Now we have a chance to explore, learn from others, and create lives based on consciously chosen assumptions.
This whole concept of choice is pretty radical. Whether we have some things in our life that we don’t want, or want some things that we don’t have, this is what we are choosing today.
The TA (transactional analysis) belief that we are all OK includes the idea that we are at choice – if we can get in touch with the internal decision-maker who wanted to stay OK, and made limiting decisions in service of that goal.
That decision-maker is grown up now, and can be the designer of a happy life, with much more knowledge than he or she had back then.
You can access online and in-person courses about TA and other positive psychology methods, if you want to re-connect solidly with that OK self to make new decisions, and maybe help others do the same.
Whether you are new to TA or are already experienced with it, and whether you are learning for yourself or to expand what you can do with your clients, please join USATAA, understand the decisions you’ve made and their impact on your life, and find out what life you really can live.