the world's a stage and all the men and women are merely
In As You Like It
scripts are intuitively derived from life scripts,
and a good way to start is to consider the connections
and similarities between them.
In What Do You Say After You Say Hello? 1973,
years ago, we began our Transactional Action Laboratory,
and have been using role-playing with Eric Berne’s
main concepts - ego states, strokes, games, life scripts,
existential positions, time-structuring, payoff, drivers,
drama triangle, decisions, rackets, permissions, and contracts
- for education, counseling, organizational training and
The Transactional Action Laboratory is a space,
or setting, with very specific characteristics, strict
rules and clear objectives. It has a time and a transitional
(symbolic) and transactional (relational) place. We shall
explain here the format and contents of this personal
developmental space-time, where one reflects and rehearses
life. Although it requires some stepping back (and must
be done in a symbolic way), the exercise is nonetheless
real and representative of actual life.
Eric Berne began his lifelong work by investigating and
theorizing about the characteristics that define relations
that two or more people establish between themselves.
He also identified the ego states that affect the multiple
transactions in which people engage every day (hence the
name Transactional Analysis, the name he gave to his theory
of personality). However, Berne never stopped saying what
many transactional analysts seem to have forgotten: action.
In his book The Mind in Action Berne (1947) faulted
some practitioners for their static execution of the theoretical
concepts of TA. Berne and his followers did not define
concrete drama tools or methodologies in psychotherapy
or training that could show how people might react to
inappropriate, or unsatisfactory, transactional behaviors
to modify them.
While diagnosing in Transactional Analysis claims to be
a strategy for change, personal development and treatment,
most attempts to diagnose are forms of labeling (something
that Berne himself rejected), and something that many
transactional analysts have not been able to avoid. The
goal of diagnosis using test data collection, intuitive
observations, and mutual contracting for change, is to
avoid the labeling trap. Change and/or treatment require
concrete actions that maintain a dynamic relationship
with the nascent changes a trainee or client seeks and
When we want to get across the idea that therapy training
activities should focus on personal change via concrete
actions, we think Transactional Analysis should be really
called Transactional Action. We follow this path so that,
in practice, we have tried as much as possible to get
participants in therapy, or involved in training, to describe
the past of the scene talked about or played out in the
present here-and-now by getting them to play the other’s
role in the script. This is the basis of Moreno’s
psychodrama and sociodrama, i.e. using symbolic representation
to bring forth into the present moment the conflict and
At first glance, it might seem a bit unorthodox to bring
together in the spatio-temporal setting, a psycho- and
socio-dramatic approach and Transactional Analysis. Still,
Transactional Analysis reaches its full value in conjunction
with other approaches that validate and complete it at
both a conceptual as well as a practical and experimental
This gets me into trouble in the ITAA these days.
There are many people who want to take Transactional Analysis
back to psychoanalysis… Well, I am a camper, especially
on this one: I feel strongly that not to go in the direction
of the social/transactional aspects of Transactional Analysis
is to abandon the model. This is the essence of Transactional
Analysis. It was the heart of Berne’s theory, and
it is what made Transactional Analysis different. It is
about the analysis of transactions, not the analysis of
psyches. Transactional analysts analyze transactions,
I like to say. (Steiner, 1998).
in Transactional Action
We defend role-playing starting
from the principle that a person learns better if the
various aspects of him- or herself (intellectual, emotional,
physical and spiritual) can be active together during
the same activity, i.e. role playing. The original
technique of psychodrama, adapted much later by Gestalt
therapy, offers a fairly convincing demonstration of ego
states’ reality (Steiner, 1984, p.55).
Fritz Perls (1969), who was truly impressed by Eric Berne’s
work and the latter’s emphasis on role-playing,
was disappointed when Berne and his followers failed to
build properly on this activity. As Perls suggested,
the idea of maturation, integration and transcendence
of role-playing appeared as something foreign to them
(Perls, p. 264).
Since we cannot follow people at each stage of their lives,
nor determine through testing or interviews how they use
their ego states or the transactions they experience daily,
we must rely on role-playing activities. As metaphors
of life, they allow us to examine in simple and quick
ways what we need. In this context, role-playing is a
kind of time-out or break from reality which allows us
to perceive this same reality and bring the subject closer
to himself, treading the less frequented paths of intimacy,
autonomy and the spontaneity of the here-and-now. In such
a training or therapy setting, active participants can
neither pry open the chest of future uncertainties, nor
open the bag of past tricks, as they do every day when
they become unhappy as a result of their inability to
live in the here-and-now. The immediacy that role-playing
offers is about finding oneself and others and being able
to live a fictional reality that, more often than not,
can actually explain day-to-day reality, or even transcend
What is hidden away in our unconscious mind is revealed
in images and metaphors we generate in the spontaneous
dramatic play we perform and in the speed with which we
carry out each action. This way role-playing is better
than words, allowing us to save a lot of time and strive
for what Berne sought from the very beginning, namely
a quick and effective way to treat and train.
Our role-playing activities belong to the field of experimental
research. Their goal is to interconnect the means of self-understanding
proposed by Transactional Analysis to the role-playing.
It is used as a factor of innovation in Transactional
Analysis, compensating for its excessively analytical
rationality and lack of practical tools for training or
Demonstrating Ego States
In our Transactional Action Laboratory, we created
a few acting-out activities to identify different ego
states. The results obtained through the egogram test
(like those achieved through general testing) only provide
indicators. In order to find someone’s dominant
ego states, it is important to know the person’s
life history, origins, family, what he/she has done and
continues to do in life, what he/she knows, feels, and
experiences. These matters cannot be revealed in a simple
test or interview.
A first part of the work is demonstrating ego states.
This is related to life experiences that form a triple
personality and that is related to total being (structural
analysis). Therefore, physical activities incorporated
into role-playing are a good way of determining which
ego state subjects mobilize. For example, in the Child
ego state, they may like to touch or be touched and easily
accept an outburst of happiness. In the Parent ego state,
they may touch what is strictly necessary in order to
conform to social rules or to protect the other and avoid
sensual (sensitive) content. Finally, in the Adult ego
state subjects might touch with a well defined purpose;
for example, touching someone on the shoulders to show
solidarity or understanding.
In the practice that we are developing as transactional
action counselors, teacher trainers and youth educators,
or those in the field of group psychotherapy, we have
at times observed how participants in our therapy and
training settings quickly perceive some surprising behaviors
and ways of being of which they initially were unaware.
When a teacher whose self-image is democratic and non-directive
is suddenly asked to create a teacher-student relationship
image, he or she ends up becoming self-critical, pointing
the finger at his/her own intrinsic authoritarianism,
mobilizing for its effect his or her own ego state as
a Critical Parent. Once back in the real world after he
or she has uncovered what was hidden in his/her consciousness,
he or she is likely to change behavior as a teacher towards
his/her real-life students. The same happens in situations
where we are called to create an image of Parent-Child
relationship. Our later work with teachers in training
further confirms that new ego awareness can be achieved
using methodologies that require kinesthetic actions such
as those found in group work and dynamic acting scenes.
Aguilar and Rodrigues use a tableau variant of word
association in teaching TA concepts to teachers. With
the “students” standing in a group, the leader
calls out an emotionally-laden term and orders the group
arrangement. An example would be “Teacher”
and “Threes.” The students then quickly arrange
themselves into triads to adopt interactive positions
so that the term “teacher” evokes a particular
grouping. The students freeze in their position, which
then leads to discussion about how they spontaneously
arranged themselves and explored certain options and alternatives.
(Gaft & Moore, 2004).
It was our understanding of Berne's work to release the
kinetic forces locked away in the static environment in
only talking. That's when we established our Transactional
Action Laboratory. We tried out our revision of the practice
at the San Francisco Conference in 1999 at a session chaired
by Felipe Garcia, Sam Gaft, and Mary Westphal. It was
there that we confirmed we could identify ego states and
release the inhibited forces of personality locked in
the rigidity of a compressed ego.
The second part of the work is related to the exchange
of strokes. According to Steiner, the first experiments
on strokes were conducted in Berkeley and initially entailed
transforming people’s negative strokes into positive
ones. The desire for strokes is so great that, if people
cannot get them in a positive and natural way, they will
seek them in negative and fake ways since it is better
to have negative strokes than none at all. According to
Steiner, the need for physical strokes is greatly compensated
by symbolic and recognition strokes.
Seen from the outside, putting a number of people in a
room may seem quite artificial; so does asking them to
give strokes to each other following a set of clearly
defined rules that ban, for instance, negative and exaggerated
criticism of others, comparisons or lying directed by
order of the Critical Parent in the pig parent
version. However, those who do participate, especially
if accompanied by a therapist or instructor who knows
what he/she is doing, will witness outbursts of joy, laughter,
crying, openness to feelings, etc. Thus we can ask: What
is artificial? We have people freely and creatively expressing
to one another what they spontaneously feel. How different
is it from the mayhem of everyday life, in which we see
people do just about anything to get the psychological
calories they would otherwise not have, even if it means
remaining inside a vicious circle that turns people off,
and allows obsessive circulation in the dramatic triangle.
In these, destructive games they sometimes persecute others,
play the traveling savior, or complain or portray themselves
as the victim (Karpman, 1973).
Analyzing Games and Scripts
Eric Berne’s theory of games (1964) assumes that
there are certain needs: for strokes, structure, excitement,
recognition and leadership. Analyzing a game is a very
complicated matter that can only be done in a psychotherapeutic
framework. All the clues protagonists give usually prove
insufficient to sense what game is in play. Berne put
it so well when he suggested that an individual does not
look for a given therapy or session to learn how to live
in a healthy, intimate, spontaneous and creative way,
but rather does so to learn how to better play the game.
Psychotherapy and training in this field are not only
about bringing games to an end, but are also used to move
out of them, even if it is by creating new ones. Suppose
we change the negative strokes for positive ones! Will
people behave artificially and cease to play? At least
for a few moments, they stop playing, abandon the script,
and leave behind the distress that their life position
might have thrown at them. In a simulated situation, which
sometimes can be more real than the real thing, people
express real feelings because they don’t have to
disguise what they feel in order to get strokes.
From our point of view, this process can begin from any
angle as long as it leads to autonomy, spontaneity and
intimacy, which are the only ways one can first change
and then develop as a creative person instead of remaining
what Berne calls a plastic person, i.e. someone who switches
on the mechanisms of games that are related to one’s
own life scripts. Since life does not allow experimenting
or rehearsing these changes, it becomes necessary to create
settings like the ones we propose and which serve as a
break or time-out from the reality. Role-playing allows
us to collect additional information to identify the games
people play or those to which they are invited.
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