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Marco Mazzetti

Transactional Analysis in Contemporary Psychotherapy

Edited by Richard G. Erskine
 Published by Karnac Books, London, 2016

Few years ago, Richard Erskine (2010) gathered some distinguished TA authors to re-read and update the concept of Script, one of the most fruitful ideas of Eric Berne. The result was an excellent book (“Life Scripts: a Transactional Analysis of Unconscious Relational Patterns”) that offered a meaningful discussion of such a key concept of the theoretical corpus of TA as a relational experience. The book focused on the adjective “unconscious”, well present in the first Berne’s writing, and lost somewhere between 1966 and 1970, the time of his death, and that remained almost completely forgotten in the first decades of the development of TA after Berne.

That book played a paramount role in solidly rooting the concept of Script in the psychotherapeutic scenario of the twenty-first century: it offered us a chance to rethink a concept that showed its strength and its nature of real advancement by surviving over time. At the same time, it needed to be re-thought and enculturated in a new era, with new knowledge, new cultural climate and sensitiveness: “Life Scripts” met well this need.

The successful outcome of the book encouraged Richard Erskine to repeat the experience, by collecting contributions in a new publication, covering a range of key concepts in TA psychotherapy theory and practice.

The new book was conceived during the Transactional Analysis World Conference in August 2014 in San Francisco, California, where Erskine organized a one-day symposium entitled “Therapeutic Methods in Transactional Analysis: Current Perspectives and Emerging Developments”. At this conference, presenters demonstrated and discussed their unique understandings of TA theories and procedures, and how they had developed the methods of TA to fit their current clients in psychotherapy nowadays. They were subsequently invited to submit a chapter demonstrating their way of thinking, re-thinking, and applying Transactional Analysis in their today’s professional life, in order to give birth to “Transactional Analysis in Contemporary Psychotherapy”.

The development of Transactional Analysis during the half a century after Eric Berne’s death has been complex, sometimes controversial, and, most of the times, highly creative; Richard Erskine account for it in his preface. However, despite all the discussions and different visions and perspectives, my personal opinion is that TA has nowadays a theoretical corpus that is basically coherent, consistent and accepted by the almost unanimous majority of the members of its practitioners’ community; I couldn’t find any real incompatibility between the ideas developed by the contributors of the books: rather, they appear as the light reflected by the different facets of the same diamond.

I wish to add that – probably still more important – not a single concept of the original ideas of Eric Berne has been denied by the advancement of the neurosciences, the infant research, and the new perspectives in developmental psychology and psychotherapy (like the attachment theory, or the EMDR approach, for example). The more the different sciences have advanced, the more the TA core concepts have been validated and consolidated.

Richard Erskine’s book witnesses the life and liveliness of Transactional Analysis nowadays, preserving its tradition, and updating it to the new times. The great composer and orchestra director Gustav Mahler wrote somewhere that being a traditionalist doesn’t mean being an adorer of ashes, but a preserver of the fire. Besides being theory developers, the authors gathered by Richard Erskine in “Transactional Analysis in Contemporary Psychotherapy” are proud and effective preservers of Transactional Analysis original fire.

From the first pages, I was captured and fascinated by this book: it combines both new ideas with solid and profound views of classical TA theory. The various methods are presented with their historical roots and in their lively actuality, complete with real case examples: it speaks both to the TA historian and to the passionate practitioner’s wish to be up-to-date.

The first gem of the book is the foreword written by Jim Allen, himself being part of the history of Transactional Analysis, a past President of the ITAA and an Eric Berne Memorial Award winner. Jim honors his role as the witness of the development of TA from the beginnings, introducing us to the different chapters with constant references to the history of TA and coeval psychotherapy, tracing the connection with precursors like Fritz Perls and Virginia Satir, his personal experiences with Milton Erickson and Anna Freud, relationships with other approaches like attachment theory etc. Allen’s foreword is not simply appreciative, but provocative as well: he underlines the need for promoting research, and offers us useful questions for a further theoretical development of TA.

But let’s go through the content of the book: the first chapter, by Richard Erskine, is entitled A Transactional Analysis of obsession: integrating diverse concepts and methods. This writing is a compendium of integrative Transactional Analysis. Erskine considers a wide variety of TA concepts, integrates them into effective diagrams (the Script System and the Integration of six therapeutic facets) and shows their application in a long-term clinical case study. It is probably the best opening of the book: in this chapter it is quite evident by one side the firm coherence with the original, founding Bernean ideas of TA. By the other side it demonstrates the development of the approach based on the clinical experience of the author, and on his ability in using the contributions appeared in the literature during the last decades.

Ray Little’s chapter, on Transference-Countertransference focused Transactional Analysis, reconsider Ego States into a relational frame. I specially appreciated the care in exploring the internal world of the therapist, underlining her/his need for awareness to discover the subtleties of the therapeutic relationship. The more I develop as psychotherapist, the more I think this internal contact being the key tool for an effective interaction with our patients.

John McNeel, in The heart of Redecision Therapy: resolving injunctive messages, comes back to one of the cornerstone of TA psychotherapy, the Gouldings’ approach, tracing the history of Redecision therapy and offering a new conceptualization and categorization of injunctive messages. He brings new grapes to the solidly rooted grapevine. There has been some discussion inside our world about the role of the Redecisional approach in a relational therapy era. My opinion on this is firm: I stay with McNeel, I think that Redecision therapy is an evergreen, and the exploration of relational ways to apply it nowadays could be surprisingly fruitful and enriching.

In Opening to the vitality of unconscious experience, Bill Cornell refocuses on one of his long-term passions: bringing back the unconscious to TA. He wrote years ago a meaningful article (Cornell, 2008) and edited a special issue of the TAJ devoted to the Relevance of the Unconscious for Transactional Analysis Today. Bill re-read Berne’s key concepts after his studies on Winnicott and Bollas, and considers how the therapist becomes a new unconscious object for the patient, by living and discovering the countertransference with sincerity, authenticity and vitality.

Elana Leigh’s article, From impenetrability to transparency: the “I” of the beholder, is on the same wavelength. The attention to the interpersonal dynamics elicits how relevant it is finding a balance between this new approach and the therapist previous and consolidated habits. Leigh, reflecting on Freud’s lessons, discusses the dilemma between plunging into the relationship and at the same time maintaining a therapeutic neutrality.

The following chapter (Changing transgenerational scripts) is written by Gloria Noriega Gayol, who received the EBMA in 2008 for the researches she developed on the transmission of transgenerational scripts, published in articles (Noriega, 2004) and books, showing how intra-psychic and relational dynamics are passed inside the families from a generation to another. Gloria describes how she works on transgenerational and family dynamics, integrating in her TA approach elements derived from psychoanalysis, systematic therapy and psychodrama. She describes her transgenerational script workshop and presents the verbatim of a treatment session with a patient.

In Inference, re-experiencing, and regression: Psychotherapy of Child Ego State, Richard Erskine and Amaia Mauriz-Etxabe articulate their therapeutic approach to early traumas, discussing the precautions and protections needed for a regressive therapy, and the relevance of the relational dynamics in such a treatment, giving wide room to the role of the implicit memory.

In facts, the treatment of the early traumas has always been a therapeutic problem: how dealing with non-verbalized material? When the trauma is not present in the explicit memory, how can we reconstruct it, how could it be worked? It is a dilemma not easily solved even by therapeutic approaches founded on trauma therapy, like the EMDR. I do share Erskine and Mauriz-Etxabe strategy: no hurry, no pressure, but a delicate, sensitive relational attunement is the most promising approach in my experience as well.

The way to deal with suicidal patients is the matter of the chapter Evolving theory and practice with self-destructive individual. The author, Tony White, echoing the Freudian concept of Thanatos, the death instinct, introduces the concept of death wish, a drive motivating the Free Child, as a “Don’t Exist Decision”. He takes into account this decision in the treatment of the patients showing self-damaging behaviors, and presents and discusses some case studies.

Two of the most interesting contemporary authors of TA, with a sound attention to the relational processes, Charlotte Sills and Jo Stuthridge, offer us a new perspective on the Bernean concept of games. In Psychological games and intersubjective processes they guide us to understand the subtle implications in analyzing the games from an interpersonal perspective. Based on this, they describe three levels of games, classified from a relational point of view. The understanding of the transference/countertransference implications of games is a major contribution to deal with these dynamics in therapy, as clearly shown by a variety of clinical examples.

Moniek Thunnissen, a very experienced and skilful Dutch psychiatrist, offers us a way to understand and deal with severe psychiatric disorders in Transactional Analysis in the psychotherapy of personality disorders. Focusing on a story of an in-patient, she accompanies us into a three months therapeutic program in a hospital setting: her contribution is specially valuable as it shows how TA, in skilful hands, could be a complete and effective frame of reference to treat major clinical disorders; it will be of great help for colleagues treating patient in a residential setting.

Social-cognitive Transactional Analysis: from theory to practice is a chapter written by Maria Teresa Tosi, and ideally dedicated to her master Pio Scilligo.

Scilligo was a pioneer in introducing Transactional Analysis in Italy and, as a University professor, played a paramount role in accrediting TA into the academia. As a researcher, he made constant effort to support TA with scientific evidence, and developed the social-cognitive TA approach, relatively new outside Italy (De Luca & Tosi, 2011, Scilligo, 2011, Bastianelli, 2014), which Tosi describes accurately. The model presented in this chapter could have a significant application in the research on transference/countertransference dynamics.

Finally, the last chapter of the book is written by Karen Minikin and Keith Tudor, and is entitled Gender psychopolitics: men becoming, being and belonging. They are remembering us a fil rouge constantly present in TA: a history of social commitment, and of a sound consideration of the social and political implications. They are reminding us the radical psychiatry of the 60’s and 70’s of the last century in discussing the implication of the social, political, economic and cultural influences in forging a human being, and apply these reflections to the analysis of the development of masculine gender identity.

The different authors and their contributions are witnessing how rich, polymorphic and multi-faceted Transactional Analysis can be in its clinical approach, and how this variety can become, in the practitioner’s consulting room, a matter of flexibility and adaptation to our patients’ needs. Richard Erskine is closing his preface with these sentences: “I am a transactional analyst because TA offers an array of theories and methods that guide us in providing psychotherapy and counselling at the cognitive, behavioural, affective, physiological, and relational levels of the client’s development.”

I imagine several of us, transactional analysts, could share this statement; I’m doing it for sure, and this beautiful book reflects the richness and vastness of Transactional Analysis both at the times of its origin and in its development nowadays.


Bastianelli, L. (2014). An Italian Team Uses Transactional Analysis to Help Children in Brazil Transactional Analysis Journal, January 2014; vol. 44, 1: pp. 87-95.

Cornell, W. F. (2008). What do you say, if you don’t say “Unconscious”? Transactional Analysis Journal, 38, 2, 93-100.

De Luca, M. L. & Tosi, M. T. (2011). Social-Cognitive Transactional Analysis: An Introduction to Pio Scilligo's Model of Ego States. Transactional Analysis Journal, July 2011; vol. 41, 3: pp. 206-220.

Erskine, R.G. (2010). Life Scripts: A Transactional Analysis of Unconscious Relational Patterns. London: Karnac Books.

Noriega, G. (2004). Codependence: A Transgenerational Script. Transactional Analysis Journal, 34, 4, 312-322.

Scilligo, P. (2011). Transference as a Measurable Social-Cognitive Process: An Application of Scilligo's Model of Ego States. Transactional Analysis Journal, July 2011; vol. 41, 3: pp. 196-205.

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