September 24, 1998

I have read three article recommended by Richard Erskine to familiarize me with his and Rebecca Trautman"s thinking: "Transference and Transactions; Critique from an Intrapsychic and Integrative Perspective." TAJ. April 1991, V21#2, and "The Process of Integrative Psychotherapy" in Erskine, R. Theories and Methods of an Integrative Transactional Analysis. 1997. TA Press. San Francisco. After reading these articles plus a number of others I will make some comments regarding what I found.

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I pored over "Transference and Transactions," followed every carefully crafted and expertly argued point and as I went along I understood, agreed or disagreed (some points, like Erskine's opinion about Eric's main contribution to advancing knowledge of psychotherapy theory, pg 65, struck me as outlandish but I determined not to be distracted by them.) From this extensive. sometimes painstaking reading I extracted what I saw as the main points, and here is my reaction to them:

In the Transference article:

"In Berne's writings" Erskine begins by saying "there are two different explanations of psychological functioning:" "the ego, and ego state terminology." Erskine utters that theoretical premise to be accepted a priori. No explanations, no examples. In fact I was not sure what, exactly, he means by that distinction.

Having "established" that theoretical divide Erskine then fleshes out each side. On the "ego" side he put transference, intrapsychic phenomena and eventually attunement. On the "egos state terminology" side he puts transactions, behavioral therapy and by inference, the insensitive, arid replacement of one structure for another.

So now that we have this dichotomy, Erskine says: (top of pg. 67)

"By shifting to a more and descriptive and behavioral orientation it seems Berne greatly diminished his own creative extension of psychoanalytic theory."

In my opinion

1. There are in Berne not two but one explanation of psychological functioning; transactions between ego states.

2. Berne did not shift from the first to the second of these categories

3. Berne never intended to extend psychoanalytic theory.

Starting with Erskine's last point, far from being an extension of psychoanalytic theory Berne's theory was a bold departure from it. It was a quantum leap in theory following a storm of insights fundamentally disconnected from the discipline of psychoanalysis. It was a creative new theory and method.

Erskine seems to assume for some reason that after his break with psychoanalysis Berne continued to be, or yearned to be a psychoanalyst. He bases this assumption on the fact that he continues to use psychoanalytic terminology for a while. (as when he labels two of the four possible crossed transactions "transference" and "countertransference" transactions; the other two being "exasperation" and "impudence")

But his was a new theory, radically different from psychoanalysis, based on completely different frame of reference and premises. A new theory colored even "tainted," one could say, by his previous psychoanalytic thinking but one in which "transference" in its full throated meaning (as opposed to "transferential phenomena") did not exist. This phenomenon of the evolution of ideas is familiar to philosophers of science, Ptolomeian epicycles, for instance, did not exist in Copernicus' system but persisted in the post-Ptolomeian nomenclature.

If you look in the index of "Hello," written at the end of Berne's life, you will find a total of two references to transference. One, the label for a crossed transaction mentioned in the paragraph above which he takes verbatim from his earliest writings and two, a footnote discussion of "transference cure" (quotes, Berne's.) These two scant references certainly cannot be used as evidence of his interest in psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic transference.

Even in "TA in Psychotherapy" one of the earliest texts, the seven index references to transference are made regarding mostly to a psychoanalytic view of script analysis that he abandoned after my work on scripts. For some years Berne thought of script analysis as properly done on the couch. He saw patients on the couch to the end of his life but that work was very rarely discussed and not written about; being the last remnants of his psychoanalytic thinking. Already in "TA in Psychotherapy" transference shows up between quotes denoting clearly that it is not his concept, and that he wishes to distance himself from it.

Berne simply did not share Erskine's interest in transference. While it is Erskine's prerogative to bring transference back as an issue I consider it a theoretically regressive preoccupation with psychoanalytic thinking (a pejorative attitude I know, but no more so than the attitude Erskine expresses about behavioral therapy) which Berne self-consciously abandoned to the point of labeling it on occasions "all that jazz," when speaking of it.

Erskine mentions that Berne makes the point (a point he made over and over, every time he spoke) that ego states are not roles and then calls that a "theoretical inconsistency." He references Moiso to show that Berne was indeed theoretically inconsistent because Moiso, speaking on the now legendary "ego state" panel, is not clear when Berne is "giving a definition, a description or a metaphor".

The specific inconsistency about "roles" that Erskine alleges, seems to be based on his misreading of Berne's intention when he said ego states were not roles. What Berne meant by that statement was that when in their Child or Parent, people were not pretending to be a Child, like an actor would, when playing a role. In fact, Berne contended, that when in his Child or Parent ego state the person is a child or parent.   

To be sure Berne's model was not perfect, all the more because his intellectual style was provocative and desirous of being amusing, a Child contamination of the Adult we might say. This contamination is part of the appeal and charm of his theory. It paved the way for the great popular acceptance he got and incidentally eventually stood in the way of its acceptance by the professional community.

However no model is ever fully descriptive of the territory it describes, and if analyzed closely enough, every representation of reality breaks down into pixels. In my opinion Erskine finds a dubious inconsistency and drives a theoretical troika through it. Erskine can't get rid of one Eric's core concepts--ego states are not roles--by merely calling it an inconsistency and quoting Carlo Moiso to prove it.

In the conclusion Erskine says:

"Berne's application of the principle of "Occam's Razor" gave too close a shave to the theory of analysis of transactions. In his attempt at conceptual 'simplicity' and theoretical 'economy' Berne cut the theoretical concepts to their most simplified explanation and in so doing, I believe, lost the significance and profundity within his own theory. No longer is there either internal or external theoretical consistency."

That's a big charge, I expect the lines below are an attempt to support it:

"When Berne redirected the emphasis of ego sate theory from the original definitions to behavioral descriptions, he created a fundamental change in the analysis of transactions."

In these comments Erskine implies that Berne underwent changes in his theory in an effort to simplify his initial thinking. In fact simplicity and economy was a principle in his theoretical endeavors throughout his development. The changes that he made, changes which I witnessed over the years that I was present, were evolutionary changes made upon his original theory, based on the continual feedback and rethinking at the seminars, his practice and his fertile and pragmatic mind.

Berne was also a continual writer and at first felt compelled to justify his dramatic new ideas to a psychoanalytic audience reading over his shoulder, in his discussions, books and other writings. As time passed and he received extra-psychoanalytic approval his desire for psychoanalytic respect grew less and less compelling. In spite of his written statements about transference phenomena and regression analysis in the early days, transference and regression analysis were not part of his thinking and did not show up in his presentations comments or speeches after 1958 or so.

What Erskine sees as a reduction and simplification of the theory was, in fact, the final step of a bold evolution, completely away from psychoanalytic ideation.

Back to Erskine's text:

"With the shift in the theoretical metaphor of ego states, the focus of the psychotherapist moved to the effect of the communication (transaction) on the receiver and on the patient's options for changing behavior to produce more effective communication."

"The methodology stemming from this change of theoretical emphasis often resulted in the patient's improving social skills, but the inherent meaning of the transactions, particularly those which are transferential, was lost."

I would say not that it was lost but that it was intentionally ignored in favor of an analysis of the transactions witnessed, and the content of each ego state participating in those transactions; emotions and ideation no longer seen as transference phenomena but as visible phenomena.

"No longer" Erskine continues "was there a theoretical basis in the psychotherapist's mind for a sensitivity to the internal psychological message or the desperate communication in the unaware expression of the existential position or script beliefs."

On the contrary, we became aware of the fact that the psychological message or desperate communication, as Erskine so well puts it, was right there for all of us to see requiring of no hypothetical constructs like transference to be understood and to be sensitively responded to.

"Berne's original theoretical postulates, which led to an understanding of intra psychic functioning and psychological versus social levels of transacting, was (sic) diminished and a form of transactional analysis as a behavioral therapy emerged."

This speaks of the "behavioral" as a pejorative; to us at the time it was an improvement over anything psychoanalysis had to offer and to me it still is. In his overview of other schools of psychotherapy (TAJ 4/98) Erskine gives five lines to behavioral methods (eight lines to a very questionable overview of mine.) As described by Erskine, behavioral psychology is indeed a paltry discipline.

But that description fails to acknowledge that properly applied, behavioral psychotherapy doesn't just replace one structure with another; it encourages corrective behavior which, in combination with the regenerative powers of the human body breaks down internal, dysfunctional tendencies and allows the person to build up new, internally generated patterns which are positive and functional.

As an example: Jack plays "kick me." We teach him tow to stop playing with behavioral, transactional techniques. Now that he no longer gets strokes playing "kick me" his stroke hunger increases. With our help he discovers more intimate, spontaenous and aware methods of stroke procurement which he actually prefers. We help him recognize the nature of his script. He spontaneously redecides that he can get direct positive strokes and is cured. (Please don't read this for its stupidly naive plot but as an explanation of how we believe behavior therapy does not just "replace one structure with another," but produces deep intrapsychic changes by changing behavior)

Again Erskine: "This shift defined the task of the transactional analyst as improving communication and social effectiveness,"

Amen, I say (and thereby improving overall, psychic and physical health).

"rather than understanding and ameliorating the intrapsychic conflict that is communicated through transference."

CS: Understanding? Yes, but not in terms of transference. Ameliorating? Yes, but not by analyzing the transference but by helping change behavior. It was quite a conscious process to make that shift. Erskine may think that it was a step backward but we saw it as a giant step forward and I still do,

RE: "Berne developed two distinctively different theories of ego states and transactions. "

CS: The two theories: intrapsychic and behavioral are not "distinctively" different at all, not even different, they are one and the same.

RE: "Each has a specific and valuable clinical purpose, and Berne's descriptive theory has many applications in the social world of human behavior and communication. "

CS: It remains Erskine's task to show that his use intrapsychic theory, is valid beyond what we the "behaviorists" do with it.

Erskine ends with:

"It has been my goal in this article to show that the use of Berne's developmental, relational, and intra psychic theory of ego sates and the consistent use of that theory in understanding the internal dynamics of transactions can lead to a sensitive and effective response to transactions and transference and to a comprehensive psychotherapy that results in the integration of ego sate fragments."

It is clear that is his purpose and as I said before he is certainly in a position to try to make a convincing case in its favor.

However. it does not convince me. I find the concept of transference archaic and outmoded implying as it does a certain therapeutic relationships that Eric and his followers were trying to get away from. We preferred to see people's, as well as clients' and patients' responses as just that; responses which came from a specific ego state, some of which was appropriate to the situation and some of which were not and in need of modification.

Refusing to see our therapeutic interactions in the light of transference made them no different from our own or other people's in everyday non-therapy situations and that was what I believe Eric wanted to accomplish and what I still want to do.

Looking people in the light of Erskine's ideas is by no means the only way to be sensitive and attuned and certainly not a guarantee of it. I find the connection that Erskine makes between his interest in transference and his desire for an emotionally connected form of therapy neither necessary nor sufficient. I am for an hear centered, empathetic and sensitive form of TA therapy. I see no necessity to go along with Erskine's theoretical arguments to accomplish the desirable goal of open-hearted acceptance.

In the "Process" article there was much I found difficult to take. He discusses the concept of script almost as if to say that Berne was not the innovator in that area. (Perls, he says, mentions a self-fulfilling repetitive pattern in 1944 and then he says that he called it a "life script" twenty years, I might add, after Berne called it that) He mentiond the somatic component of script, contact, permission, protection and potency without referring to my previous writings about them and then redefines them erroneously in some cases. In fact, in an article that contains so many concepts in which I had an important innovative function he doesn't refer to me even once.

No matter, the article itself is a description of a method of psychotherapy, not transactional analysis as I know it, and refers to transactional analysis proper only insofar as he defines the ego states and describes a certain method of intrapsychic ego state work. In the conclusions transactional analysis concepts are completely absent except for ego state regression, hardly a central point to me.

In conclusion I have no problem with Integrative Psychotherapy, (IP) though it is not my cup of tea, and I am positive that it is a beneficial elaboration and approach. But I question that it can continue to be called transactional analysis. From my now extensive reading it fails in a number of ways:

TA is a radical departure from psychoanalysis. IP is a continuation of psychoanalytic thinking that incorporates TA concepts.

TA is an approach that thrives on simplicity, practicality and crispness. IP theory seems to thrive on hair splitting redefinitions of what TA is and ought to be, highly theoretical, and difficult to read and follow.

TA is a contractual problem solving technique focusing on ego states in exteropsychic transactions. IP seems to shun contracts, behavioral and cognitive approaches to definable problems, focusing instead on intrapsychic conversations and the attuned, involved relationship.

IP is in effect a separate school with its own leaders, canon, highly elaborated theory and approach.

The world is a better place because of Erskine's garden and the flowers growing in it. Is it still TA? That is the question that I am asking. The answer is uncertain, time will tell.

Claude Steiner

Berkeley, November 1998                                     Back to Home Page