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It has been seven years since 1998, when your tribe met in large numbers in
Zurich and I was moved to write you an open letter bemoaning the fact that so
very few presentations seemed to have a transactional analysis focus and asked:
“Where is the TA?”
Again we have met in large numbers, almost 700, this time in Edinburgh. I think
you would be proud of what you started. While TA is seriously struggling in the
US, it is blossoming in the rest of the world. In then last 12 months alone I
have attended conferences with more than 500 delegates in India, Japan, and the
UK—and it even looks as if a US revival is in the making. I have been in awe
of the numbers of people at all levels of training and competence in England,
Germany, India and Japan who are interested in TA. I attended an examiners
training meting in Scotland and was surprised to find 100 TSTAs from five
continents willing to lend their efforts to examine scores of candidates.
I believe that you would also be pleased to see that we are a truly
global, Internet capable organization riding the wave of information technology.
The ITAA which we gave birth to in your living room on Collins street and saw
growing to 10,000 members, and which a few years ago was being considered dead
or dying as it lost 90% of its members and as its fund hemorrhaged, is now
gaining members, operating on a balanced budget and attracting new, youthful,
hard working volunteers. New centers of interest are sprouting all over the world;
Romania, Russia, Turkey, South Africa, Cuba and yes, maybe the US. The feeling
is one of explosive growth.
I am thankful to those who share my concern and move TA forward keeping in mind
our fundamental principles. There is a small but wide spread, committed core of
transactional analysts, I among them, who still believe that the analysis of
transactions between ego states, game and script analysis, contracts, crisp
language, Occam’s razor and evidence (rather than fantasy) based theory and
practice are TA’s bread and butter. We are committed to keep those core ideas
alive, and while ambivalently regarded by some as the “priesthood of the
faith”, we also enjoy many others’ respect and warm support.
On the other hand we are seeing theories of ego states which, to the best of my
ability to understand, depart radically from yours. Some therapists appear to
disdain contracts as you conceived of them. Proponents of “relational TA”,
some of whom also call themselves “transactional psychoanalysts” or
“psychoanalytic transactional analysts” (two very different propositions in
my opinion,) are bringing back psychoanalytic language which I believe you
wished to abandon as you developed TA. I maintain an open theoretical dialogue
with this emerging current, and firmly state my disagreement.
Perhaps for stating these views openly, I am appreciated as one who loves you
and will come to your defense when I imagine you are under attack, a champion of
On the other hand, I fear that this role
type casts me as old fashioned and fundamentalist and ignores my current
contributions; one great sadness for me is that I can’t share and get your
opinion on my more recent work.
In any case, since 1997, I have answered for myself the question: “Where is
the TA?” What I see emerging is a world-wide movement not just of
psychotherapists but of counselors, educators and organizational consultants who
have a philosophy in common: That people are OK, that they have a tendency to
health, and that they can learn and change in an autonomous and self directed
manner. This wholesome view, while not exactly what I remember you to have in
mind, is nevertheless built on a number of ideas that you introduced. You
claimed that every one is born a princess or a prince and some are turned into
frogs and that the initial universal existential position of the human being is
“I am OK you are OK.” You suggested that if a person deviates from an OK/OK
to a not OK script position she or he can, with the help of a transactional
analyst (or any “real doctor” as you called them) re-decide and become
princes and princesses again. When you insisted that we speak and write crisply
and let go of the “jazz” that characterized the psychotherapy of the times
and when you said that “anything your patient can’t understand is not worth
saying” you pointed out the need to respect the individual capacity to
understand anything that makes sense and to stop talking over people’s heads.
Another important and allied locus of agreement has to do with strokes. “If
you don’t get strokes your spinal cord will shrivel up” you said, and I
remember the human pile ups that you encouraged at parties for the alleged
purpose of stopping the war in Vietnam. My focus on strokes, the stroke economy,
warm fuzzies, cooperation and on communication free of power plays, figure
heavily in this aspect of the TA world. But it is fundamentally your idea,
modified and amplified, that binds people in the TA movement together. They are
a strokey, positive bunch, aspiring to learn, to be of service, to be OK/OK.
Regardless of the level of awareness about the complexity at which we operate in
our work we do have our values, theory, and you as our founder, in common.
You might ask what distinguishes 21st century transactional analysts
from others in humanistic psychology movement such as Gestalt, or NLP or any
number of human potential movements where these views are also generally agreed
upon. I believe that what distinguishes us is that we belong to a global
movement with tens of thousands of adherents—we have the capacity to promote
these principles, worldwide. The only other such global, albeit much larger,
human potential organization is the twelve step movement, which shares many of
In the past few years I have been scanning the literature for research in the
behavioral sciences that supports our ideas. The significance of the OK/OK
attitude and the importance of strokes are being validated by extensive studies
in positive psychology and well proven findings about the importance of contact,
support, connection, and attachment in human mental and physical health.
Ego states have turned out to be a brilliant and useful tool in our work of
understanding relationships and facilitating positive interactions, but have not
been equally picked up and thoroughly researched in the broader behavioral
sciences. I for one remain
convinced that, as you anticipated, brain imaging research techniques will show
that there are brain structures which closely correlate to the behavior which
you identified as Parent, Adult and Child.
Meanwhile, pending biological research that provides further
validation, ego states are here to stay. Most of us have decided that
they remain powerful metaphors and effective clinical instruments, and use them
in our daily practice to the benefit of our clients, and our lives.
All in all, your baby is alive and well. Half a
century, and thousands more people later, perhaps unsurprisingly it is a pretty
chaotic scene; in turn alarming, exciting, sublime and ridiculous, brilliant and
banal. When everything is said and done, I feel privileged and excited to be
involved in it.
I love you and I miss you
Ukiah, California. August 2005
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