• Adam Rothwell

What is Transactional Analysis?

Have you ever had a conversation, gone away and wondered why you reacted the way you did? Perhaps you have had relationships in the past you couldn't leave despite their toxicity. We are complex as individuals and even more complex within our relationships and so sometimes we need to understand why we are the way we are. This is one of the central motivations of Transactional Analysis (TA), a psychotherapy which started in the fifties.

What would TA help me understand about myself?

There are many theories that make up Transactional Analysis, but in essence this type of therapy would help you to

  • understand how your past affects how you see the world now

  • how your way of seeing the world affects your relationships and

  • how to change the way you see yourself, others and the world in order to benefit your relationships and mental health.

One of the great things about TA is that it uses diagrams to help you understand theories easier. One example, which helps to explain the points raised above is the PAC model.

TA theory states that we all have different states of thinking, feeling and behaving.

Our Parent state encompasses all the feelings and behaviours we picked up from our parents or significant people around us growing up. These may be positive or negative and will be acted out in our current relationships.

Our child ego state encompasses all the thoughts and feelings we remember from childhood, so all the things we thought about ourselves as the result of other's words and actions. Again these can be positive, we often associate creativeness and free expression with the child, but also negative.

TA is about strengthening our Adult state - where our reactions to our current circumstances are measured and rational. We have the ability to step back from situations and not be swayed by our past experiences. This is made more complex by the fact that we interact daily with others and so the PAC model is then used to study interactions (transactions) between couples, friends and even strangers.

For instance, one person may enter a conversation with an adult question "do you know the time?" This is a reasonable question and would be beneficial to gain an answer to. But if the other person reacts from a parent state, shouting "you need to keep your own track of the time, you are so forgetful and you are always late!" you can see where the discomfort comes from. This is one of the aims of TA, to look at why the person reacted from the parent place, to re-evaluate these ideas and views and to try improve these interactions.

There are a great many other theories that make up TA, such as redecision therapy which looks to change the decisions being made in life, games which looks at specific ways we interact with others in order to get what we need in the moment (good or bad), and strokes which is the way others make us feel when we interact with then. However, I gave this example as it is one of the basic foundations of the theory.

What would a TA therapy session look like?

There are different ways in which Transactional Analysis is delivered, you can attend in groups which is beneficial in understanding how you interact with others. Couples can attend together and people also receive TA individually. Sessions would consist of talking, as with other therapies, and the therapist may use a whiteboard or paper to draw diagrams to help you understand what is being discussed. As a psychotherapy, you could attend TA therapy for a short amount of time or for a longer period, nowadays you would attend once a week.

If you wanted to find a TA therapist, you could search on Counselling Directory or The UK Association for Transactional Analysis.


Adam Rothwell is a registered Person-Centred counsellor, working in private practice, seeing clients online and by phone in the UK.

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