We humans, the games we play:Transactional Analysis

Transactional Analysis is built on the theory that there are three areas or states of the human personality and these are represented in diagrams and text books by three vertical circles. The top circle is the parent, the middle the adult and the bottom one is the child. A Transaction is an exchange between people – a person says or does something and the other person says or does something back. A simple Transaction between adults might be:

First person `Good morning, it’s a lovely day`

Second person` Yes, they say it will be nice all week`.

It is said that all of us are three persons in one. Sometimes we are the child that we once were. Other times the parent with attitudes and influences absorbed from our own parents and then another time we are the adult that navigates their way through this busy and ever changing world.

So far this may sound simple but where it begins to get complicated is when we realise that transactions can come from any one of the three states in ourselves and get a response in another person from any of their three states and vice versa. For example I may make an observation from my Adult state to my neighbour and get a reply from his Child state. This is likely to feel unsatisfactory.

So simply put, Transactional Analysis is the study of people’s interactions together, the states they come from and where they are directed to in the other person.

All of us at one time or another play games with each other, not so much physical games like cricket or football but mind games. An expert in this field was Eric Berne (1910–1970) who wrote `Games People Play – The Psychology of Human Relationships`. In this brilliant book Berne explains Transactional Analysis, the definition of `Games ‘and the `payoff` that always goes with them. Although written for professionals the book took off and became a bestseller. The book clearly presents common examples of the ways in which humans are caught up in the games they play. Berne gave these games superb titles such as `Now I've got you, you son of a bitch` and `Let's you and him fight. `

In my work as a counsellor I have experienced many mind games and relate a generalised version of one of them below. I call it `Look how busy I am`

Therapist. Shall I book you in for next week?

Client. Thursday again?

Therapist. Yes.

Client. Good, I’m glad it’s Thursday again because I’m seeing my Mother on Friday.

Therapist. So Thursday’s ok?

Client. Had you said Wednesday, I would have to have said no because it’s my Yoga class.

Therapist. I’ll put you down for Thursday then?

Client. Tuesday’s no better either because I help in the charity shop and always go shopping afterwards and I can’t change that.

Therapist. So, it’s Thursday then?

Client. I can never do Monday, so don’t ask me, clearing up after the weekend, washing and ironing.

Therapist. I wasn’t going to offer you Monday.

Client. Do you see clients on Saturday?

Therapist. No.

Client. Good, because that’s the weekend and I’m always busy then.

`Look how busy I am` is a game of power which is designed to show how busy the client is. She wants to see the therapist but only on her terms. It assumes the therapist is less busy than her.

The games must include all the activities the client does and all the days she is busy. The game wouldn’t work if she accepted the Thursday appointment straight away, although that is all that is required in an adult to adult exchange.

A useful prop in this game is a diary or a phone with an organiser on it. The process of consulting this is often slow and reinforces how much the client is in demand and how she is squeezing the other person into her busy agenda.

The payoff could be two fold – firstly the client will enjoy displaying her busy life and how much she is in demand. Secondly the payoff could be seeing the therapist squeezed into a tight time slot and unable to move. The game could only be improved if the therapist was unable to do Thursday for some reason, then another game, probably called `The end of the world` or `Disaster` would be played out.

Another popular game `Now I suppose you want some money – the horror of it`.

The subject of our second example of a game has a service done for them, maybe a washing machine repair, car service or a delivery of shopping from the supermarket. Our subject knows very well that this must be paid for, however when the point of payment arrives he makes no attempt to pay. Instead, time wasting delaying tactics are used like idle conversation or questions about further services that may be available. When it’s clear our subject cannot put off paying any longer he will say `Now I suppose you want some money?`

The poor tradesman is forced to agree and show some appreciation for the long awaited money he is owed. A look of horror may appear on our subject’s face at this time, maybe because he believes the honour of serving him should be enough and he is mortified this upstart wants money as well. The next tactic our subject uses is to look for his wallet/purse/cheque book. Much delving and searching eventually produces the necessary and if its cash, long methodical counting follows or if a cheque slow meticulous writing and scrutiny will ensue.

Our subject may pretend to not want to let go of the payment, holding on to it with a tight thumb and finger hold. Doubtless Freud would say that this apparent bit of fun subconsciously is no joke but a real desire to keep it. He believed our subconscious reveals itself in many ways including through our jokes and humour. This teasing may show a need by our subject to make our tradesman almost beg like a dog for a biscuit.

The payoff for this game is partly about control, he who pays the piper calls the tune and in this case our subject holds the purse strings. It’s clear our subject does not want to pay for the service that has been provided but tries to cover this up with the long drawn out conversation, the difficulty in finding his wallet and the attempt at a joke. In here somewhere are status issues also, calling the tune, being in charge, expecting gratitude, the threat of the working classes rising above their station by being paid and the knowledge that the head of our nation does not actually carry money herself.

So in it’s simplest form Transactional Analysis is a study of the interactions between two people. In it’s more complex structure it’s intriguing mind games on a par with world class chess. If you found this piece interesting I would recommend you look at the actual work of Eric Berne, the flavour of which we have briefly touched on here.

© David Trott 2013

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Somerset Counselling: What’s it all about, Sigmund?

While Psychotherapy has had a relatively short history of a hundred years or so, the role of the psychotherapist reaches back through the murky mists of time to the earliest days of human existence, where we picture early man engaged in that age old endeavour of attempting to make whole the soul or inner being. Villagers who felt confused or worried about something would make the short journey through the mud and smoke to visit the wise-woman of the village to seek counsel and be helped to make a sensible decision based on the personal knowledge and life experience of the elder.

This situation remained largely unchained through the centuries until Sigmund Freud (1856 -1939) arrived on the scene. Freud was born into a Jewish family, firstly becoming a medical doctor but then quickly moving into Psychology. For most of his life he lived and worked in Vienna, Austria where he founded a system of Psychology which he called Psychoanalysis in 1896.

Psychology, Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis words all share the same link to the Greek word Psyche which means breath, soul or life. However Psychoanalysis was not yet for the masses and Freud’s patients were mostly from Viennese bourgeois society, which was very middle class, conservative and materialistic in it’s attitudes. Freud’s work largely centered on a person’s unconscious and he decided that there are three states of Consciousness. These being the `Conscious`– our awareness of all that is happening around us at any one time. The `Pre-conscious` – things like telephone numbers, addresses and car numbers, which are not present in our thoughts all the time but can be easily recalled when required. And lastly the `Unconscious`– information that is repressed and cannot easily be accessed.

Included here could be memories so terrible that they are pushed down and buried. Freud believed that the unconscious reveals itself in other ways and so he used therapy methods such as Dream Interpretation, Hypnosis, Free Association and the study of Parapraxes (Freudian slips) & jokes to unlock his patient’s innermost thoughts. His work remains the basis of various approaches used today by modern therapists and much of it has permeated into everyday language such as Freudian slip, Ego, Anal retentive & Oedipus complex amongst many others. Much of Freud’s early work was treating the ladies of Viennese society for `Hysteria` by way of hypnosis.

In modern times we think of hysteria as huge emotional trauma. Back in Freud’s time it meant a medical condition where a specific part of the body was targeted by very strong emotions. This could result in sleepwalking, paralysis, fits, memory loss, hallucinations, fainting and numbness in different parts of the body. His view was that neurotic symptoms were caused by repressed sexual experiences. Freud found Hysteria most interesting because the symptoms were so varied but oddly these symptoms would sometimes disappear altogether for no reason only then to return later. It was thought in those days that only women suffered from Hysteria, in fact in 1886 when Freud gave a lecture on Male Hysteria to the Vienna Society of Physicians he caused uproar. His lecture contained examples of Male Hysteria and this caused one surgeon to remark that because the word Hysteria referred to the uterus, it was not possible for a man to suffer in this way.

Unlike today’s modern counselling rooms which tend towards being rather neutral and bland, Freud’s room was said to be more like belonging to an archaeologist. There were ancient artifacts everywhere and the walls were covered with stone plaques showing scenes from ancient history. It makes perfect sense when we hear that Freud likened his love of archaeology with his work as a psychoanalyst. It’s easy to understand how he saw the uncovering of a person’s psyche, layer upon layer with the uncovering of ancient treasure. Today, most counsellors will use the onion analogy (stripping away layers of the psyche like layers of an onion) or a Russian Doll to demonstrate a person’s personality. As well as ancient artifacts in his room, Freud had fitted heavy curtains and thick warm carpets complemented by a number of large potted plants, maybe aspidistras in ornate jardinières. French windows led out to a small private courtyard.

It’s been said that Freud’s room was like a sanctuary for some people, where one could retreat from the hustle and bustle of modern life – a place where one could shelter from day to day problems, if only for a short time. This view of the counselling room can still apply today with the therapist who has taken the trouble to think out the interior of their therapy room. Today we see counsellors facing their clients; Freud on the other hand preferred to sit behind his patients, out of sight, to be less of a distraction. No doubt the patients sat or lay on a couch or chaise longue and it’s easy to picture the stereotypical view of a Victorian psychiatrist and patient.

Freud’s work included his study of a child’s development through biologically determined stages and their links to sexual pleasure. He described the Oral stage which focuses on the mother’s breast and the Anal stage which centers on the anus and defecation. The Phallic stage is all about the genitals and the Oedipus Complex develops when the child falls in love with the opposite sex parent. At the Latency stage, the sexual drive becomes dormant until puberty. The sex drive finally becomes focused on sexual intercourse with an opposite sex partner at the Genital stage.

Freud believed that these theories regarding how a child’s sexuality developed is indicative of the way a person’s whole personality develops but it’s worth remembering that Freud’s definition of `sexual` was much wider than just sex itself.

In January 1933, the Nazis took control of Germany and Freud’s books were high on the list of those being burnt and destroyed. Undaunted, Freud quipped “What progress we are making. In the middle ages they would have burned me. Now, they are content with burning my books.” All through this time Freud continued to underestimate the Nazi threat and stayed determined to remain in Vienna, even after Austria was annexed.

However as events unfolded it became clear that he and his family had to leave and so on 4 June 1938 Freud caught the Orient Express from his beloved Vienna, fleeing the Nazis and the horrors of the Holocaust for the comparative safety of London. Sigmund Freud died on 23 September 1939 after a long battle with cancer. Although Freud’s work has evolved and has been adapted by present day Psychodynamic and Integrative therapists, it still remains the basis of Counselling and Psychotherapy in the modern day and its value cannot be overstated. Freud remains the Father of Psychotherapy and the reason you are reading this piece today.

David Trott Copyright 2012

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Somerset Counselling: Counselling in Somerset (what’s on offer?)

When I started to research the question of what’s on offer in the field of counselling in and around Somerset, I was surprised and heartened by my findings. For it seems that anyone looking for a counsellor in Somerset and surrounding areas will find a rich selection of counsellors and psychotherapists offering a wide range of approaches and therapies. We are fortunate indeed to have on our doorstep many historically important, economically expanding and very pleasant towns.

These include Axbridge, Bridgwater, Burnham on Sea, Chard, Cheddar, Crewkerne, Frome, Glastonbury, Ilminster, Langport, Midsomer Norton, Minehead, Shepton Mallet, Somerton, Taunton, Watchet, Wellington, Wincanton, Winsford, Wiveliscombe and Yeovil and not forgetting the beautiful cities of Bath and Wells. Each one of these areas will have various therapists.

More good fortune lies in the fact that this green and pleasant part of the country is well served by some remarkable Colleges, who in turn provide some remarkable counselling courses for anyone looking for counselling training. The counselling courses can range from an introduction to counselling skills or concepts, through Intermediate and Advanced stages to Diploma levels which equips the recipient with the necessary qualification to practice. The titles and levels of these counselling courses may vary according to the college and awarding body. As part of counselling training on the Diploma level, the student will have to find themselves a `placement ` to hone their skills.

This may be situated with a counselling practice, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, college or school, in fact anywhere that counselling takes place and where it’s suitable for a student counsellor to work. A three way contract is then drawn up between the college, the student and the placement organisation. The student then works part time at the placement to complete the required number of hours for the course. Therefore as we examine what counselling is available in Somerset, it’s worth remembering that quite a few of the counsellors we see operating will be students working voluntarily to gain experience and to complete their `hours`.

A clue to this is sometimes in the low cost of the counselling. There has always been some debate as to the impact of the voluntary sector on professional counselling practices who strive to maintain a viable business. It’s fairly safe to say that Somerset with it’s mix of impressive busy bustling towns, villages and lovely countryside will be able to offer the counselling client a good choice of counselling methods.

It’s likely that therapists working in many of the major approaches will be able to be found locally without much difficultly. These will probably include Psychodynamic, Person Centred, Integrative, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) Psychosynthesis and Existential, among many others. It’s said that the fasted growing approach over the last few years has been Integrative.

The benefits of the Integrative approach include the fact that it draws from the major orientations previously mentioned. It does this not in an eclectic way like pulling a tool from a toolbox but instead Integrative stands as a approach in it’s own right. While clients may be looking for support in stress & anger, low self esteem, low confidence & feelings of failure, anxiety, depression, feeling isolated lonely, suicidal, bereavement, addictions and obsessions, couples might be looking for help in their relationship.

This would require a specialist counsellor, trained in relationship and couples counselling. A good place to start when looking for a counsellor or psychotherapist is to visit the BACP website and click on `seeking a therapist`. By simply entering one’s postcode, a list of counsellors who are BACP members and who work within the BACP ethical framework will appear.

Somerset Counselling: Counselling in Somerset (what’s on offer?) 

https://www.somersetcounselling.org/index.php/taunton-somerset-integrative-counselling-counselor-blog/5-somerset-counselling-counselling-in-somerset-what-s-on-offer

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