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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.”

—Robert L. Hempel, M.Th, T.A.P.
July 30, 2016.

2http://www.drthomasharris.com/im-ok-youre-ok-book-thomas-harris/

*TM — Teaching Member International Transactional Analysis Association which currently is called a Teaching and Supervising Analyst.

3 Training at Western Institute for Group & Family Therapy, Watsonville, CA, USA, March 1974.