Tuesday, May 17, 2011

“Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy” and “Games People Play” by Eric BERNE

Anne BURNIAUX, HR Consultant and Owner of Sensink, advised me to read “Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy”.

As you may have guessed by reading its title, this book does not exactly focus on management or human resources. And let's admit it: maybe it's not the book you want to read on the beach next summer! Nevertheless, it is so insightful that every manager should read it, even if it requires a certain amount of effort and concentration. 

Eric BERNE, an American psychiatrist (1910-1970), tells us some clinical cases and explains his theory, called structural analysis and transactional analysis.

To state it very simply (my apologies to any rigorous specialist who might read this), BERNE thinks that the way we think and act depends on which “ego state” we find ourselves currently in:

  • The Child reproduces emotions and behaviors that we really experienced during our childhood. It makes us act “instinctively” and with charm, be creative, and seek pleasure.
  • The Parent focuses on morality, telling us whats is good or wrong like our father and mother did.
  • The Adult is rational and exerts social control.

So for example, if you see an enormous cake, your Child might tell you to eat it all, your Parent might make you feel ashamed and your Adult might tell you to eat just one piece so you don't get sick.

BERNE thinks that in our relationships, we spend most of the time using “Pastimes” and playing “Games”. A typical Pastime is talking about the weather: it's a way to avoid entering a meaningful relationship with someone. A Pastime becomes a Game when the transactions cease to be straightforward, when there is dissimulation. A Script is a little bit like a Game, but it is more complex and influences the way we live our life on the long term.
BERNE used to teach these basic concepts to his patients. Using individual interviews but also therapeutic groups, he tried to help their Adult understand their pathology and take control of the situation.

I found it so interesting that I decided to read another famous book by the same author: “Games People Play – The Psychology of Human Relationships”. The two are quite complementary, as the first draws the general theory and the second illustrates it, by offering a thesaurus a common “games”.

BERNE describes various types of games: life games, marital games, party games, sexual games, underworld games, consulting room games and good games.

How Are These Books Useful to an HR Professional?

Such books should definitely be used with caution. Reading a few hundred pages about psychotherapy won't make you a psychiatrist. Mastering transactional analysis theories and techniques requires proper education and experience.

Nevertheless, as an HR professional I am glad to have become familiar with Berne’s concepts, mainly for two reasons:

  1. Transactional Analysis is used by many coaches and HR consultants. If I get to work with one of them, I want to know what they are talking about.
  2. It provides a conceptual framework that helps me understand some situations. A colleague of mine has been adopting a behavior that made me feel bad and seemed irrational. I have now understood that when she does that, it is her Child that is in control and that she is playing a game. It has helped me handle the situation and avoid being manipulated.

More generally, BERNE provides us a framework to understand human relationships, which are the fundamental elements of our discipline.


To learn more about Eric BERNE and watch two nice videos in which he talks about games and transactional analysis, you can visit http://www.ericberne.com/

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