Return to TA HOME page?

Dear Eric:

  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 “Classic TA.”

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 our views.

  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

Return to TA HOME page