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The TAJ is a multidisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal focusing on transactional analysis theory, principles, and applications in various fields, including psychotherapy, counseling, education, and organizational development. Published quarterly since 1971, it offers scholarly articles from all theoretical perspectives and fields of application, including quantitative and qualitative research, case studies, literature surveys, book reviews, and reflective essays. Two of the four annual issues are organized around specific themes.
Three years ago, while waiting for a prescription to be filled at the drugstore, I picked up a copy of the current Scientific American. I scanned through an article by Meinard Kuhlmann, a theoretical physicist, who was offering in non-mathematical terms a way that a ‘quantum particle’ might be understood.
He suggested that a quantum particle could be conceptualized as a bundle of statistical probabilities and only when that particle encounters another particle is one of those possibilities actualized and thereby be observed in the ‘real’ world. What is thereby created depends in part on the characteristics of the particle it encounters.
That is a great description of exactly how we experience ‘personality’. I believe that this metaphor offers insight into why TA can be such an effective psychotherapeutic technique for bringing about change.
Although TA offers many possibilities for helping change to occur, to me the most important aspect of TA is that it is based on empirical observations. Using the quantum particle as a guide, the theory and practice of TA is built on the observation of what is created when two particles (here, personalities) interact. Freud’s ego, id and superego are hypothetical constructs describing an individual personality. The identification of an ego state in TA, on the other hand, is based on what is can be observed when two personalities transact with (encounter) each other. Their identity can be confirmed by independent observations. The ego states are learned ways of responding to the world during the developmental process from the womb to adulthood by experiencing and responding to those who are already adults around them. Such situations can be observed (or remembered) and their outcomes can be predicted.
Such independent observations are required for establishing a true scientific discipline. The scientific method also uses metaphors which guide the scientist in organizing the data which he or she is observing. From such observations, they can then theorize and predict.
Using the metaphor of the personality as a quantum particle, one’s personality can be characterized as a bundle of statistical possibilities. And the particular possibility which is actualized (observed) depends on the characteristics of that which it encounters—that is the ‘transaction’. The cluster of characteristics which is identified as a rebellious Child, for example, can only be observed by observing what is created as it encounters a controlling Parent. Water cannot be understood by studying oxygen or hydrogen independently. Only by examining the new substance they create as they are interacting (transacting) can water be understood.
Likewise, the personality. Once I took the Meyers-Briggs personality inventory in two different situations—once at work and once in my faith community. In the former, my scores were ESTJ but in the latter, they were INFP–the complete opposite. My day job was as a clinical statistician analyzing drugs studies to present to the FDA; my faith community was an experimental church exploring spiritual aspects of life in a communal context. The contexts actualized different possibilities in my ‘personality’.
Those who use the 12-step program of AA realize the danger of putting themselves in a situation where their addiction might be energized (actualized). The antidote is not to try to struggle with that experience—that would tend to strengthen it. They know that by calling their mentor they can help control their behavior because their encounter with their mentor actualizes a different aspect of their personality.
One of the reasons there are so many different theories of personality and therapeutic techniques is that they focus on an individual—whose personality has an almost indefinite number of possibilities. The theory of personality one develops depends on what questions one asks. And they are all true! They are trying to understand the sound of one hand clapping. One must study the sound that two hands make—like Berne did; like the Gottmans did; but like very few therapists do.
When considering the possibility of change, the statistical aspect is critical. The statistical probability is largely set as one figure out how to respond to the world he or she is experiencing. Everyone is born with an almost indefinite number of possibilities. I would claim that every diagnosis in the DSM is one of the indefinite possibilities of every human being (unless one is severely brain damaged). If an appropriate ‘other particle’ encounters them, one of those diagnoses is created. And therein is the opportunity for a therapist to help create change in a client.
As you use the various concepts of TA to transact with a client, consider the quantum particle—what new creations are actualized as your process goes forward? What is being actualized between you and your client? In order to become autonomous, certain probabilities might need to be increased as you and your client transact. The ‘Ego-Gram’ looks very much like a traditional histogram in statistics suggesting what statistical probabilities need to be increased.
It seems to me that Milton Erickson was often so unique but effective because he sensed which of the possibilities of his client needed their ‘statistical probability’ increased so that their life would be freer, more balanced and more autonomous. Then he gave his clients specific orders to do unique things that would actualize those possibilities so they could experience them by encountering that ‘other particle’ —other experience, other person, other entity.
The bottom line for TA practitioners:
- Always be skeptical of studies of one hand clapping. Study of body parts can give some information about what a person has been doing and is, therefore, more likely to do in the future, but only when both hands clap, can the sound itself be experienced.
- In using TA, always observe the sound of two hands clapping, and consider what might be hindering a full sound from being produced.
- Never forget that your client and you are both bundles of infinite statistical possibilities “waiting” to be actualized.
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
 “George (Our sponsored orphan in Crete).” Transactional Analysis Bulletin 1:4. Oct. 1962.
Social Justice Committee members: Bob Hempel, Cheryl Leong, Janice Dowson
***Blog posts on The NET represent the viewpoint of the author and have not been verified or endorsed by USATAA.***
Hot American summers seem to bring out some of the worst in our society. Anger erupts, violence happens, reactions escalate, and the reverberations in the news have hardly subsided before it happens again. The construct of race (which is not an actual biological thing) and the embedded history of white supremacy in America, inform our cultural scripting in ways that are both conscious and unconscious. Recent publicity about implicit bias is at least bringing some of that to the fore.
Those who want to be idealists may dream of a society that is not burdened with the products of white supremacy; i.e.,white privilege, income inequality, marginalization of people by color, nationality, gender, and economic status, etc. I hope that people reading this blog aspire to that ideal and recognize where and how we need to face up to current reality.
Some people respond to the Black Lives Matter movement as it if it is part of the problem. It certainly highlights their discomfort with the historical truth.
I received this quotation from a friend:
“Perfect analogy for how critics of ‘Black Lives Matter’ get it wrong. Like suggesting anyone promoting ‘Breast Cancer Awareness’ thinks other cancers are not worthy of attention.”
The idea that supporting Black Lives Matter means that you hate police or wish them ill is way off the mark. Anger that is not managed on either side is just a descent into spirals of craziness, bringing out exactly the opposite of what is needed.
OK-OK communication within communities can prevent many of these problems, though breaking up cultural scripts isn’t done overnight. But after centuries, people?
I saw a report that today would have been the 75th birthday of Emmett Till. If you don’t know who he was, look it up. Just as the videos of today tell their stories, the pictures of Emmett Till after he was tortured and killed galvanized the country. We need to be galvanized now, to be honest about the uneven distribution of power in our communities.
I say, idealists, people who promote I’m OK – You’re OK thinking, please honor those who rightly stand up for people whose lives have been treated as if they matter less.
For an informative very short video on this subject, check this out:
Lucy Freedman, CTA