“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.
Our tradition of dynamic social justice expands with USATAA’s Social Justice Committee inauguration. Social action traditions among transactional analysts began in 1961 with the San Francisco Social Psychiatry Seminars sponsorship of George, a six year old boy from Crete, whose father was killed by an abandoned WWII mine. This Social Justice blog will serve the dual purposes to recognize and build upon the social activism of our colleagues engaged in social justice work and record developing social justice theory and practices.
This inaugural Social Justice Committee blog remembers and celebrates two courageous social activists and transactional analysis colleagues, Josephine Bowen Lewis and Denton L. Roberts, Jr, who passed away in the last few years, and passed the social justice torch along. We want to honor their accomplishments and leadership with their pictures and the reflections of those fortunate enough to know these loved USATAA members. We remember Jo and Denton for their years of expertise, devotion, and love to our organization.
Jo Lewis was an inspirational therapist and international speaker and change agent. She co-founded the Center for Cooperative Change, held an Associate Trainer appointment at the Southeast Institute for Group and Family Therapy, and served as General Coordinator for USATAA in 1998. She loved her role as teacher and facilitator at many TA conferences.
When Jo passed suddenly in 2014, many were stunned at her unexpected passing. We could not quite believe it was true. We want to acknowledge and thank Jo for her friendship and her lifelong, significant contribution to this world and to transactional analysis.
Denton Roberts, who passed away on December 12, 2011, was a founding member of USATAA, and has been called a “force of nature.” He served as General Coordinator for USATAA in the early 1990’s, and on ITAA’s Board of Trustees, facilitating a scholarship and education fund, which he hoped would aid future transactional analysts to grow USATAA. He was USATAA’s third general coordinator; flipping words as he did ideas, Denton often joked that he was the “Coordinator General.”
Denton’s friend and colleague, Bob Hill, eulogized Denton and praised his history of social activism, calling him “a raconteur with few peers, and a caregiver par excellence, a shepherd to church members, and a citizen of the world.” Hill notedDenton’s “unflagging commitments to do what he could in a world racked by pain and rocked by unrest,” adding that ‘from the hot days of Selma, to the poverty-scarred streets of South Central Los Angeles, to a nation inebriated on the wine of war, to the hallowed space of Ground Zero in New York City, Denton provided leadership and love, presence and prayer, counsel and creativity…..he kept his eyes on the prize of equality, loveable-ness, empowerment, and the precious value of every human being.” This eulogy emphasized Denton’s capacity to convey “calm to the distressed, peace to the tormented, challenge to the wandering, insight for the confused, grace for the troubled, humor for the overstressed, hope for the brutalized, and love for the abandoned,…while he “kept a firm hand on the plow that turned over fresh furrows for the individual… with clear-minded insights, an unfettered intuition that bordered on genius, and a deeply compassionate heart…. as he helped to strengthen and transform life-saving, life-giving institutions.
More memorial tributes to Jo and Denton from friends and colleagues are excerpted below. Please add your own to the comments below.
“It is with great joy and honor that I celebrate Denton and Jo’s social activism in ITAA, USATAA and in each of their professional and personal lives. In the introduction to his book, Able & Equal; a Gentle Path to Peace, Denton writes, “When people function from the basis that they and all people are capable, powerful, loveable, valuable and equal there exists what I identify as Human Esteem which provides the bedrock upon which peace is built.” In my experience, Denton Roberts operated from this premise in his relationships with all, both at the personal and institutional levels. His work at All Peoples Church in Los Angeles was indicative of his dedication to social justice.
Jo and I worked together with Valerie Batts and other consultants at VISIONS Inc. to foster multiculturalism and confront racism, sexism, heterosexism and all other forms of oppression at all levels. With her husband Mark Wise, Dr. Bowens Lewis developed and operated The Center for Cooperative Studies in Atlanta, which touched many lives and organizations in support of justice.
Both Jo and Denton were active in ITAA boards and committees, always with a focus on social justice and equity. As General Coordinators of the USATAA, each of them operated from the cooperative non- hierarchical structure of the organization. Denton went with me to the lawyer in San Antonio who wrote up the incorporation papers for the USATAA in 1982. There were many mentors in the ITAA for Jo and Denton in support of their activism including, but not limited to Muriel James, Mary Goulding and Graham Barnes. Intuitive awareness and passion for peace and justice through equality remain.” ~ Felipe Garcia
“We could count on Denton when facing challenges. He volunteered his energy and time to work for ITAA after the Executive Directorship ended, to keep the organization going through the transition.” ~ Gloria Noriega
“Jo Lewis had a clear moral voice. Jo was one of the people who would stand up at Board of Trustees meetings or in large conference gatherings to point out that what we were doing, or the direction being embarked upon, was wrong.”~ Richard Erskine
“Denton Roberts expanded cultural script theory with his article for the Transactional Analysis Journal, “Cultural Scripts” (Vol. 13, No. 4, October 1983 pp. 253). Building on Berne’s diagnostic metaphor, Denton argued that “a huge splinter” in society’s toe was based on oppressive superiority. He offered a “gentle” treatment plan in typical Denton fashion.” – Bob Hempel
“I have admired Jo’s fearless, yet gentle persistence as she delineated subtle forms of gender discrimination or raised thoughtful challenges to privileged perspectives at conferences for over 25 years. As moderator for the USATAA Master’s 101 at the 2007 San Francisco conference, she saw to it that we presenters honored our timelines and contracts with her usual grace.” ~ Janice Dowson
“Jo Lewis was one of my role models as a TA therapist. She supervised my first TA 101, giving feedback in a loving and confrontative manner. When it came to values issues in tough council and committee decisions, Jo helped us ground into what really mattered. She was a wonderful Child to Child playmate, whether we were out buying her a coat at a chilly San Francisco summer conference, or ordering luscious strawberries romanoff from room service after a tough day giving TA exams; Jo showed how to live life well.
Before meeting him in person, I read Denton’s landmark cultural scripts article in the TA Journai, which informed my early work on changing cultural and gender scripting. I imagined him to be formal or professorial and was surprised at his humble, casual demeanor when we met. When we both served on the ITAA Board of Trustees, people listened to Denton’s voice of reason, which was usually introduced with droll humor. He told plenty of jokes and stories, and must have been a good companion on his trail rides in the Sierras with TA people, such as Vince Gilpin.” ~ Lucy Freedman
 The full name of this precursor to ITAA was San Francisco Social Psychiatry Seminars for the Study of Transactional Analysis and Social Dynamics
***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.