Eric Berne and Transactional Analysis

The psychological theories used in Harris’s I’m OK – You’re OK originate with Dr. Eric Berne MD and his analytic framework Transactional Analysis.

Photograph of Dr. Eric Berne, creator of Transactional Analysis and Games People Play Author

Dr. Eric Berne MD, Creator of Transactional Analysis.

Just like Thomas A. Harris, Berne served as a psychiatrist in the Armed Services in World War II.  After completion of the war, Berne moved to Carmel California.  Berne saw patients in his private practices in both Carmel and San Francisco and furthered his training at the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute with Erik Erikson.  In the 1950s, as Berne was still perfecting his psychoanalytical skills, he began developing a theory on his own. This culminated in the publication of his groundbreaking paper “Transactional Analysis: A New and Effective Method of Group Therapy.”  This paper was presented at a conference in 1957 and officially published in 1958 in the American Journal of Psychotherapy.

In Transactional Analysis, the interactions between individuals are studied and analyzed.  Berne summarized it in Games People Play by stating:

If two or more people encounter each other… sooner or later one of them will speak, or give some other indication of acknowledging the presence of the others.

Upon learning of this theory through Berne’s paper, Harris then wrote:

I was convinced that this was not “just another paper,” but indeed a blueprint of the mind, which no one had constructed before, along with a precision vocabulary, which anybody could understand, to identify parts of the blueprint. This vocabulary has made it possible for two people to talk about behavior and know what it meant.

In addition to defining transactions as the fundamental unit of social intercourse, Berne also went on to define 3 ego states: Parent, Adult, and Child.  But unlike Freud’s ego states, which were more “concepts”, Berne’s ego states could be seen with observable behaviors.

Harris summarized the three ego states in I’m OK – You’re OK as:

Parent – taught concept
Child – felt concept
Adult – learned concept