Grove Press Edition
Copyright @ 1974 by:
Claude M. Steiner
The Basic Assumptions of
Eric Berne, known to millions for having written the book Games People Play, is nevertheless not commonly known for what I consider the very most important fact of his existence. Namely, that he wa s a far-reaching pioneer, a radical scientist in the field of psychiatry.
What I mean when I assert that Eric Berne was a radical is that he re-examined the basic assumptions held by psychiatry, and the investigations that he posed to what was accepted as fact, in his day.
Trained professionals, especially psychoanalytically trained ones, cannot accept his concepts without having to change, at the root—-which. is to say radically— what they have learned about what makes people tick, what makes them unhappy or causes dysfunction, and what it is that can bring about a change for them.
Before I go into details I want to briefly state the three concepts which together set transactional analysis apart from the mainstream of psychiatry today:
1. People are born O.K. Taking the position “I’m O.K., You’re O.K.” is the minimum requirement for good psychiatry and lasting emotional and social well-being..
2. People in emotional difficulties are nevertheless full, intelligent human beings. They are capable of understanding their troubles and the process which liberates people from them. They must be involved in the healing process if they are to solve their difficulties.
3. All emotional difficulties are curable, given adequate knowledge and the proper approach. The difficulty psychiatrists are having with so-called schizophrenia, alcoholism, depressive psychosis, and so on is the result of psychiatric ineptness or ignorance rather than incurability.
PEOPLE ARE O.K.
The first and most important concept, in my belief, which Berne introduced to psychiatry is embodied in his aphorism: “People are born princes and princesses, until their parents turn them into frogs.” Eric Berne presented many of his most radical ideas in the form of aphorisms which were veiled statements that disguised the implications of his thoughts from the minds of those who heard them in order to soften the blow of their meaning. Stated in this oblique way, the notion that people are born O.K. and that the seeds of emotional disturbance, unhappiness, and sheer madness are not in them but in their parents who pass it on to them is made palatable to those who, faced with the full meaning of that assertion, would almost surely reject it.
Stemming from “faith in human nature,” the conviclion that people are at birth and by nature O.K., Berne developed the existential positions which have been recently popularized by the writings of Amy and Thomas Harris. Existential positions are feelings about oneself and others. The first position is: “I’m O.K., You’re O.K.” When people, due to circumstances of their lives, shift from the central position to the other three positions—namely, “I’m O.K., You’re not O.K.,” or “I’m not O.K., You’re O.K.,” and “I’m not O.K., You’re not O.K.”—they also become very increasingly dysfunctional, disturbed, unhappy, and less able to function adequately in a social grouping.
The “I’m O.K., You’re O.K.” life position is the position people need to have in order to achieve their fullest potential. It is not intended to promote the notion that all of people’s actions are acceptable . The existential position “I’m O.K., You’re O.K.” is a point of view about people apart from their actions and power, a point of view required in intimate, close relationships in order for emotional and social well- being to be possible. Berne implies that this attitude is not only a good point of view to hold but a true one as well.
When a psychiatrist regards people from that position (I’m O.K., You’re O.K.—and so are your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, and your neighbor), he immediately places himself completely apart from most other psychiatrists and from his training. He no longer looks within the “patient” for a neurotic conflict, a psychosis, a character disorder, or some other diagnostic category of psychopathology, all of which were considered to be insulting by Berne; but he looks instead for what it is that this person is exposed to in the way of social interaction and pressures which make his behavior and feelings quite adequately explainable. Instead of seeing people seeking psychiatric help, no matter how disturbed, as not O.K. he thinks, “there but for the grace of God go I,” which implies a belief that it is just external circumstances and not internal weakness that makes people into psychiatric “patients.” This approach is not new in psychiatry, since it was anticipated by Wilhelm Reich and Carl Rogers, and is the approach of Ronald Laing. It is, however, simply very much in disrepute and without support in psychiatric circles. The stance “I’m O.K., You’re O.K.” in psychiatry is quite extraordinary since most psychiatrists follow the medical model of illness in which the very first thing the physician does when confronted with a patient is to arrive at a diagnosis by looking at, speaking with, and examining exclusively the person to find what is wrong with him or her (“You’re not O.K., we need only figure out how”).
The consequence of his belief in the basic soundness of people, is that transactional analysis shifts attention away from what goes on inside of people and instead devotes its attention to what goes on between people which is very often not O.K., that is, destructive and oppressive.
Let me restate, in my own words, this first of the three basic assumptions of transactional analysis as follows:
1. Human beings are , by nature , inclined to and capable of living in harmony with themselves, each other, and nature.
If left alone (given adequate nurturing), people have a natural tendency to live, to take care of themselves, to be healthy and happy, to learn to get along with each other, and to respect other forms of life.
If people are unhealthy, unhappy, uninterested in learning, uncooperative, selfish, or disrespectful of life, it is the result of external oppressive influences, which overpower the more basic positive life tendency that is built-in to them . Even when overpowered, this tendency remains dormant, so that it is always ready to express itself when oppression lifts. Even if it is not given a chance to he expressed in a person’s lifetime this human life tendency is passed on to each succeeding generation of newborns.
COMMUNICATION AND CONTRACTS
The second radical point of view advanced by Berne has to do with the way he related to the people he worked for. His views in that area were not veiled by aphorisms and jokes. Berne was vigorous in pursuing relationships with his clients in which he treated them as equals with equal responsibility (though, at times, different tasks) toward the common goal of psychotherapy and with equal intelligence and potential to contribute to the process.
The language and mode of communication which he began to use when he introduced his methods was so unusual and unorthodox that it brought him into almost immediate conllict with other practitioners in the field. Specifically, he assumed that his patients could understand what he was thinking about them and that he could speak to them without speaking down to them. He rejected the usual psychiatric practice of using one language in speaking with people and another in speaking with psychiatric colleagues. As he developed the new concepts of his theory, he used, in every instance, words which were immediately understandable to most people . For example, when he observed that people act in three very distinct ways, he called those three modes the Parent, the Adult, and the Child, instead of calling them some other, more “scientific” name such as the exteropsyche, neopsyche, and archaeopsyche. When he began to speak about human communication and recognition he did not name the unit of interaction an “interpersonal communication unit,” but he called it a stroke. He did not call the troubles that people repeatedly have with each other “social dysfunction patterns,” but he called them games. He did not call the way in which people live out their lives based on early decisions a “lifetime repetition compulsion,” but he called it a script.
In doing this he made a very clear-cut choice to appeal not to his fellow professionals, who were in fact almost universally repelled by his new terminology and concepts, but to appeal to the people he worked with by providing them with a channel of communication in which he and they could all work together. This point of view was based on the belief that everyone, including people called “patients,” has at her or his disposal a functioning Adult ego state which only needs to be activated, and encouraged.
The logical consequence of this point of view was that, for instance, he was willing to invite his clients to any discussion or conference that he had with another professional about them. He instituted the stunning practice of having inmates in a mental hospital observe the staff and trainees as they discussed their group therapy sessions These discussions, in which the staff was under the close scrutiny of the patients just as the patients had been under close scrutiny by the staff, was based on another aphorism of Berne’s: “Anything that’s not worth saying in front of a patient is not worth saying at all.”
It’s not surprising that many professionals who were subjected to this “fish bowl” approach to psychiatry found themselves extraordinarily uncomfortable. It forced them to face how much of what they said at staff conferences was mystified and glibly one-up to the people they were supposedly serving.
A further extension of this approach was the all-important therapeutic contract... The therapeutic contract is simply an agreement between a person and her or his therapist which places responsibility on both parties involved. The client asks for help and gives full consent and cooperation to the process of psychotherapy, and the therapist accepts the responsibility for helping to effect the desired changes and for staying within the bounds of the contract. Without this agreement, according to transactional analysis, psychotherapy cannot properly occur. This excludes from the realm of psychotherapy those activities which are basically policing operations in which psychiatrists or mental health workers force people, whom they call “patients,” into weekly or daily brainwashing or sensory deprivation sessions without their approval or participation.
It also excludes the many vague forms of “therapeutic” activities in which nothing in particular is offered and nothing in particular is expected—least of all an actual cure or remedy to the clients’ difficulties. Further, this approach implies that unlike medical knowledge, which is (correctly and incorrectly) seen as so complex that it cannot be understood by laymen, psychiatric knowledge can and should be made available and comprehensible to all parties involved.
Berne believed that people with psychiatric difficulties can be cured. This means that not just the mildly neurotic, but the drug abuser, the severely depressed, the “schizophrenic,” everyone with a functional psychiatric disorder (that is, a disorder which is not based on an identifiable physical disease or gross, detectable chemical imbalance) was seen as curable. By curing patients Berne did not mean, as he often remarked, “turning schizophrenics into brave schizophrenics” or changing alcoholics into arrested alcoholics, but to help them, as he also often said, “to get back their membership in the human race.”
The notion that psychiatrists could in fact “cure” the severe emotional disturbances of the people they work with was as radical and stunning a notion as has ever been introduced recently into psychiatry. Nevertheless, Eric Berne was adamant on this point. For transactional analysts whom he trained he gave the following rule: “A transactional analyst will try to cure his patient in the first session. If he does not succeed he will spend the next week thinking about it and then will try to cure him in the second session, and so on until he succeeds or admits failure.” The fact that psychiatrists have had no success with alcoholism, schizophrenia, and depression did not mean to Berne that those disturbances were incurable, as had been the psychiatric profession’s inclination to think; it simply meant that psychiatrists had not yet developed an approach which was effective with them. The usual cop-out of. psychiatric professionals with respect to people that they cannot help (which is to ascribe them incurable or unmotivated status) was unacceptable to Eric Berne.
I quote Berne from his last public address: Another way that we (psychotherapists) get out of doing anything is the fallacy of the whole personality. ‘Since the whole personality is involved,’ (we ask) ‘how can you expect to cure anybody, particularly in less than five years?’ O.K. Here’s how. If a man gets an infected toe from a splinter, he starts to limp a little, and his leg muscles tighten up. In order to compensate for his tight leg muscles his back muscles have to tighten up. And then his neck muscles tighten up; then his skull muscles; and pretty soon he’s got a headache. He gets a fever from the infection; his pulse goes up. In other words, everything is involved—his whole personality, including his head that’s hurting, and he’s even mad at the splinter or whoever put the splinter there, so he may spend a lot of time going to a lawyer. It involves his whole personality. So he calls up this surgeon. He comes in and looks at the guy and says: ‘Well, this is a very serious thing. It involves the whole personality as you can see. Your whole body’s involved. You’ve got a fever; you’re breathing fast; your pulse is up; and all these muscles are tight. I think about three or four years—but I can’t guarantee results—in our profession we don’t make any guarantees about doing anything—but 1 think in about three or four years—of course a lot of it is going to be up to you—we’ll be able to cure this condition.’ The patient says. ‘Well, uh, O.K. I’ll let you know tomorrow.’ And he goes to see another surgeon. And the other surgeon says, ‘Oh, you’ve got an infected toe from this splinter.’ And the other surgeon says, ‘Oh, you’ve got an infected toe from this splinter.’ And he takes a pair of tweezers and pulls out the splinter, and the fever goes down, the pulse goes down, then the head muscles relax, and then the back muscles relax, and then the feet muscles relax. And the guy’s back to normal within forty-eight hours, maybe less. So that’s the way to practice psychotherapy. Like you find a splinter and you pull it out. That’s going to make a lot of people mad, and they’ll prove that the patient was not completely analyzed. And it’s not cricket to say, ‘Okay doctor, how many patients have you completely analyzed?’ Because the answer to that is: ‘ Are you aware how hostile you are? So, everybody’s writing papers. And there’s only one paper to write, which is called How to Cure Patients—that’s the only paper that’s really worth writing if you’re really going to do your job.
In this statement Berne, again in his usual veiled manner, makes a most startling analogy. Does he mean that psychiatry could be as simple a matter as pulling a splinter, given that we understood emotional disturbance as well as we under-stand infections? Did he mean that speedy cures can be effected of disturbances that involve the “whole personality”? Did he imply that psychiatrists are just mystifying their patients and evading their responsibilities?
I believe tha t he did, and his faith in this point of view
has spurred me on to write this book.
The above three basic principles are deeply imbedded in the fiber of tran-sactional analysis. I have highlighted them because they are, to me, the most fundamental aspects of the theory. Of course, transactional analysis includes a great deal more than what I have said above, much~ of which I will discuss in the pages of this book. But the above three points are, to me, principles of transactional analysis that cannot be dispensed with without uprooting and disemboweling it.
Tm O.K. You’re O.K. what’s your game
give me a stroke Cha Cha Cha
I am fearful that transactional analysis, which was originally created as a psychiatric theory and practice, will become, because of its popular appeal and features, a consumer item, sold at every counter, plasticized, merchandized, and made more and more palatable to larger and larger crowds of consumers. It is in danger of slowly losing its fundamental distinguishmg features and reverting to the more easily acceptable notions in which people are assumed to be born with defective personalities, in which psychiatrists treat people as if they were invalids, and in which people with emotional difficulties are seen as ill and often incurable.
I observe that transactional analysis is in the process of being homogenized, reinterpreted, and thus destroyed by the mass market which is using it so as to make the largest amount of profit without regard for its scientific integrity. I expect, a bit facetiously perhaps, that soon there will be, across the country, transactional analysis gymnasia, churches, and hamburger stands, just as there are already transactional analysis do-it-yourself home therapy kits, record sets, Hawaii tours, and quickie workshops to improve business productivity. Not that gymnasia, hamburger stands, or do-it-yourself kits are to be disapproved of in themselves; but the ones I see so far have more to do with how to make a quick buck and add to the gross national product, than with Eric Berne’s transactional analysis.
An example (of the changes being made in transactional analysis) appears in I’m OK—You’r e OK, where Amy and Tom Harris introduce a subtle but fundamental shift. They list the unhealthy position “I’m not O.K., You’re O.K.” as being the first and “universal position” from which all people need to extricate themselves. With calm disregard for Berne’s firm stance on this point, the Harrises reverse one of Eric Beme’s fundamental points about people and re-establish the notion that people begin life not O.K., needing to rid themselves of their original sin.
In an interview in The New York Times Magazine, November 22, 1972, this point of view is made clear. The interviewer writes: “The first position (I’m Not O.K., You’re O.K.) Harris maintains, in the face of much criticism, is the universal position occupied by the child, who is small, dirty, and clumsy in a world controlled by tall, clean, and deft adults. (Or so it seems to the child.) Here lies a critical theoretical difference between Harris and Eric Berne; for as Harris described it to me, Berne believed that we are born princes and the civilizing process turns us into frogs, while he himself believes that we are all born frogs.”
Harris, whether he means to or not, retreats to the commonplace and demeaning notion that people are by nature tainted and therefore incapable of living life adequately without a large measure of authoritative, civilizing “help.”
Transactional analysis is being used by banks and airlines and race tracks as a device taught to their employees to better deal with their customers. There might be nothing wrong with this if what was taught was, in fact, transactional analysis. But the fact is that transactional analysis is being corrupted and transformed to serve the needs of the banks, airlines, and race tracks, not only in subtle ways which strip it of its basic principles, but even in the very crudest ways.
For example, in an article called “OTB Placating Losers with an EGO Triple,” again in The New York Times (March 21, 1973), we read:
The T.A.G.T. system (Transactional Analysis for
Customer Treatment) teas purchased by OTB (Off-
Track Betting) from American Airlines, which de-
veloped it from the theories found in I’m OK—
You’re OK. According to the author, Dr. Thomas A.
Harris, everyone’s personality is divided into three
ego states: parent, adult and child.
In the OTB training course, sellers and cashiers are taught to recognize which state a horse player may be im—and to react with the proper ego state of their own.
For example, a customer who yells and threatens to punch the employee or stick a hand through the window would be in a child ego state. A customer behaving like a “parent” would be authoritative and demanding, likely to make sweeping statements. In the adult ego state, the decision-making part of the triad, the person would be calm and rational.
“We try to swing the behavior on to an adult level,” said Erika Van Acker, director of training at OTB. “But sometimes you have to play a different role. if an angry customer is coming from a heavy child ego state, the clerk might want to go into a heavy parent ego state.
“He might say something like, ‘This kind of behavior isn’t tolerated here.”’
The terms “stroke” and “stroking” are very big in T.A.C.T. “Usually,” says Miss Van Acker, “all an irate customer needs is a stroke . Just be nice to them, and they calm down.”
The reader might ask what is wrong with the above use of transactional analysis. Briefly, transactional analysis was invented for use as a contractual therapeutic technique. Berne was very suspicious and antagonistic to one-sided situations where one person held all the cards. Perhaps it was because of this that he enjoyed the game of poker where everyone starts with an even chance. In any case, transact-ional analysis was designed as a two-way, cooperative, contractual process; its one-sided use as a tool for behavior control is an abuse of its potency, similar to slipping a customer a sedative in a coke so that he’ll buy a used car.
I am afraid that within five years transactional analysis is going to be completely discredited because of such misuse and that its value will be discarded by any serious-minded person. It is one of my purposes to present a clear, sober, under-standable exposition of transactional analysis which is true to the principles that Eric Berne postulated. The profound and radical are being taken out of transactional analysis . In this book I want to put them back in.
Eric Berne was forty-six years old, a physician and a psychiatrist when he abandoned his training as a psychoanalyst after fifteen years of pursuing the title of
He believe that the International TA Association is failing to protect the educational and scientific status of TA by taking a completely laissez-faire stance with respect to its members’ exploitation-for-gain of the system.
He parted, as he said, “on good terms” when his 1956 application for membership as a psychoanalyst was rejected by the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute. The rejection was probably quite painful to him but it spurred him to intensify his long- standing ambition to add something new to psychoanalytic theory.
He never spoke about why he was rejected, probably because he was angry about it. I suspect that he was not submissive enough to psychoanalytic concepts (he certainly wasn’t when I met him two years later). His main bone of contention with psychoanalysis at that time was that he felt that an effective therapist had to be more active in his pursuit of his patients’ cures than psychoanalysts were allowed to be.
For about ten years, he had been doing research on intuition. His interest in the subject started when, as an army psychiatrist, as he processed thousands of army discharges daily, he began to play a little game to entertain himself. The game consisted of an attempt to guess the profession of a dischargee after hearing the answer to these two questions: “Are you nervous?” and “Have you ever been to see a psychiatrist?”
He found that he was able to guess the profession of the men, especially if they were mechanics or farmers, with remarkable accuracy.
These findings led to the writing of a series of articles on intuition review of these which culminated in the development of transactional analysis.
As a physician he had been trained to diagnose “psychopathology” and to apply to his patients psychiatric views of what they were and to feel free to impose upon them what they “ought” to be. Thus, it was unusual for him to be “open-minded” to informalion detected by his intuition and to use it without prejudgment.
This is when, as he often said, he put aside all the “jazz” he had learned and “began to listen to what the patients were saying.”
Thus, Berne began to use his findings about intuition in his therapeutic work. Instead of using the nolions and categories learned by him as a psychiatrist, instead of deciding that a person was, for instance, a severe latent homosexual” or a “paranoid schizophrenic,” he “tuned in” to the person and gathered information by using his intuition.
For instance, a man whom he would have diagnosed as a “severe latent homo-sexual” was seen by Berne’s intuition as a man who felt “as though he were a very young child standing naked and sexually excited before a group of his elders, blushing furiously and writhing with almost unbearable embarrassment He called this latter description of the man an “ego image”; that is, the therapist’s intuitive image of the person which in some way describes his ego.’ It is important to note here that the crucial difference be tween the ego image and the “severe latent homosexual” diagnosis is that the information about the ego image came mostly from his client, whereas the information about the “latent homosexual” diagnosis would have come mostly from Eric Berne and his psychoanalytic teachers.
Berne continued to use ego images in his therapeutic hour, and found that relating to a person in terms of what he intuited about their feelings and experiences was much more effective in helping them than was relating to them in terms of the diagnosis that he would have made as a psychiatrist.
He began to see in every patient an ego image which related to the person’s childhood, so that he gradually incorporated in every one of his psychiatric cases an understanding of the person’s childhood feelings as manifested throughout the interviews. One woman s childhood ego image was “a little blond girl standing in a fenced garden full of daisies”; another ego image was “a boy scared riding in the passenger seat of a car while his angry father drives at top speed.”
Eventually he saw that childhood ego images existed in every person, and he named them ego states. He saw then that the Child ego state was distinct from another “grownup” ego state which was the one that the person presented to the world and which was most obvious to everyone . Later he saw that there were two “grownup” ego states, one rational which he called the Adult and the other not necessarily rational, which he called the Parent, because it seemed to be copied from the person’s parents.
He continued to observe his patients, and to disregard information learned in his training. He discovered the importance of strokes, and time structuring. He observed transactions, games, pastimes, and eventually scripts. By the end of the sixties his theory was almost completely developed.
He eventually abandoned the use of psychiatric diagnoses. He often told a joke about the way that people are diagnosed: the person who has less initiative than the therapist is called passive-dependent and the person who has more is called a sociopath.
He always maintained theoretical ties with psychoanalysis but these became increasingly less important in his thinking over the years and almost completely absent from his group work.
At first he postulated that transactional analysis was useful in bringing about “social control,” that is, control over “acting out” while psychoanalysis did the real therapeutic job. Slowly he began to see transactional analysis doing the main job of “curing” the patients and psychoanalytic technique being used in the very obscure work of script analysis. Later, even script analysis became non-psycho-analytic, and then psychoanalytic thinking only became manifest in an occasional case presentation.
In the early years of transactional analysis Eric Berne was still a psychoanalyst by method; that is to say, he still practiced one-to-one, on-the-couch psychotherapy with intensive personal analysis and scrutiny. The work he did during these individual sessions included script analysis. The theory of scripts was part of the transactional analysis theory from the very beginning. In his very first book on transactional analysis1 he said,
Games appear to be segments of larger, more complex sets of transactions called scripts. . . A script is a complex set o f transactions, by nature recurrent, but not necessarily recurring since a complete performance may require a whole lifetime. .. The object of script analysis is to ‘close the show and put a better one on the road.’
Berne thought scripts were the result of the repetition compulsion, a psychoanalytic concept which postulates that people have a tendency to repeat unhappy childhood events, and he felt that the task of.script analysis is to free people from their compulsion.to relive the situation, and start them on some other.path. Berne was of the opinion that group. therapy was.quite useful in providing information about the script.so that a few weeks in the group may have yielded.more information than many months on the couch....Yet he felt that “since scripts are so complex and full of idiosyncracies, however, it is not possible to do adequate script analysis in group therapy alone.”. and.it remained to find an opportunity in individual sessions to elucidate what was learned in group...
Thus Eric Berne practiced script analysis from the.very beginning of his discovery of transactional analysis, but he practiced it largely in individual sessions . Over the years he gradually abandoned the practice of psychoanalysis while retaining the formal, namely weekly or biweekly, individual sessions on the couch, during which he did script analysis.
Occasionally Eric would present a segment of an ongoing script analysis; and these presentations tended to be about people who repeated certain long-term patterns over and over again on one hand, or people who seemed to have a script in which life had been programmed to last a limited number of years.
Eric Berne’s Script
I met Eric Berne one Tuesday evening in 1958 at his Washington Street office and home in San Francisco. I don’t recall the subject matter of that evening’s discussion, but I do recall very clearly that at some time after the meeting while I was having what was to become the usual 7-Up he came to me and said, “You talk well. I hope you’ll come back.”
I did. And over the next years I became intimately acquainted with him. It was a slow, building relationship that took many years to warm up. There were some bad spots in it when I thought I would quit him, and many fine moments. During the last year of his life our relationship was solid, and I’m thankful that when he died it was clear to both of us that we had a deep, mutual love.
Starting sometime in 1967 Eric Berne met with a group of interested persons, mostly mental health professionals, every Tuesday evening from 8:30 to 10:00 with refreshments afterwards. If you rang the bell earlier than 8:20 he would not answer it; the evening ended when everyone (except for Eric Berne, of course) went home sometimes as late as one or two iin the morning.
He was always there, except when he went on lecture tours he was sick. The seminars were led by him and many were tape-recorded. Every week’s topic was prearranged and whoever presented was expected to ask a question of the group. Eric Berne would fill in when there was no one to present and sometimes he cut presentations short if they weren’t going well. Sometimes he would read from forthcoming books, taking and using our feedback, sometimes he presented a meeting of one of his groups or one of the “cases” he was working with.
During meetings and in general he allowed no mystifications, no hierarchical or professional pomposity—or jazz as he was apt to call it. When in the presence of such mystifying behavior he would listen patiently; then, biting on his pipe and arching his eyebrows, say something like, “This is very well and good; all I know is that the patient is not getting cured.”
He cut through professional mystifications by insisting on short words, short sentences, short papers, short meetings, short presentations. He discouraged adjectives like “passive,” “hostile,” “dependent,” and encouraged the use of verbs in descriptions of human beings. He found words ending in “ic” (alcoholic, schizophrenic, manic) to be especially insulting.
He did everything he could to insure that during working hours of scientific meetings his and others’ Adults were fully alert and maximally capable of performing their task. He discouraged physical stroking by therapists in groups, drinking coffee or alcoholic beverages during meetings, or allowing “bright ideas” (devious bids for attention) to intrude themselves into the proceedings. From scientific meetings he banned cop-outs (through excuses), glossing over (with big words), distractions (bright ideas and hypothetical examples), or slurping (of drinks).
He spent every Tuesday and Wednesday in San Francisco where he had a private practice and a couple of consulting jobs and then he flew back to Carmel where he wrote and had a second practice. He spent his weekends in Carmel and went to the beach as often as he could.
His main task seemed to be writing. I believe he put that ahead of all other things in life.
He was a man of strong principles; in his book Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy the dedicalion reads:
Patris Mei David
Medicinae Doctor Et Chirurgia~ Magister
atque Pauperibus Medicus.
This description of his father signifies to me what Eric’s life principles were.
His ever-present goal was: “To cure patients.” Tied to this goal was his aversion of staff conferences and certain types of writing, the purpose of which, he felt, was to develop post hoc excuses or explanations for not doing the job.
He was proud of his father’s dignified poverty as a country physician. He suspected persons whose eye was more than casually trained on making a dollar, and when he felt that making money was a primary reason m a person’s pursuit of transactional analysis he did not hesitate to chide and criticize them. He often tested us in San Francisco by openly announcing requests for TA speakers which carried no honoraria, and took arch notice of who accepted such engagements and who didn’t He was self-conscious about his own earnings and became unconcerned with small expenses (such as the extra 25% required at Carmel’s Highland Inn for Roquefort dressing or the cost of an extra fancy shirt) only after his accountant convinced him that unless he spent his money on himself it would be spent by Uncle Sam. He seemed to want to be poor and dignified . Dignity was of the utmost importance, so that while he was parsimonious with his money he was not interested in cheap, bargain basement merchandise or “getting it wholesale.”
He had a strong allegiance to the brotherhood of physicians, and always wanted to maintain ties with traditional modes. This prevented him from making Parental criticism of the medical or psychiatric professions as a whole, although his Child felt quite free to deride and make fun of the practices of individual members of it.
On the other hand, he was devilish, witty, naughty. This had its most concrete but veiled expression in the irrepressible humor found throughout his writings, of which the article, “Who was Condom?” (yes, condom as in contraceptive) was a prime example.
He was shy and he had a great interest in the fun-loving childlike part (the Child) of other persons. His theory came largely from his intuitive, Child ego state He loved and admired children and the Child in others, but his shyness did not allow him to express or expose his own unless things were very safe. He loved to set up occasions for himself to get strokes and this is why we always had a “party” after seminars. He loved “jumping up-and-down” parties and was very nasty to people who got in the way of the fun by being stuffy or “grownup.”
But, in my estimation, occasions where he got strokes and had fun happened very seldom for him and his life was work-oriented and driven by his main purpose: writing books about curing people.
One of the brilliant ideas that Berne introduced is that people’s lives are preordained from early in life by a script which they then follow faithfully. I believe that Eric was himself under the influence of a life script that called for an early death of a broken heart. This tragic ending was the result of very strong injunctions against loving others and accepting others’ love on the one hand, and equally strong attributions to be an independent and detached individual on the other.
I know that even he would argue with me and remind me that coronary heart disease is hereditary and that he did everything he could to take care of his heart; he watched his diet, exercised, and had frequent checkups. Medically, he covered all bases. But, still, I feel otherwise. When I think of his death it has an eerie quality of having been a shocking surprise and yet no surprise at all . Some part of him and me knew it was going to happen and when. Another part of him pretended that it wouldn’t, and I went right along with the pretense.
Berne was very interested in the phenomenon of life spans of predetermined length. On several occasions he presented cases in which a person expected to live only to his fortieth or sixtieth year, and, as can be readily checked in his last book, What Do You Say After You Say Hello?,’ he was especially fascinated by people who had a history of heart disease. In fact, he mentions almost no cause of death other than coronary disease. The meaning of this became completely clear to me only after he died; I knew that Berne’s father had died when he was eleven years old, and that his mother died when she was sixty years old of a coronary. Berne’s life span turned out to be a few days longer than his mother’s, and he died for the same reason. I believe that he had a limited life-expectancy script which he lived out just as planned. He never clearly stated his very conscious understanding of the possibility that he would die at age sixty, but in retrospect everything he said about coronary disease and limited life scripts points to the fact that he himself was under the sway of a limited life-span script and that he knew it. On his sixtieth birthday, at his birthday party, he told a group of us how he had finished the last two books that he wanted to write, and he was now ready to enjoy life. Yet, a couple of weeks later he announced that he was starting a new book; a psychiatry textbook for just medical students. In my opinion, he gave himself no quarter right up to the last day of his life, and then, just as planned, his heart gave way.
It is true that Berne took care of his heart in some ways, but in others he was unable to take care of it at all. I am filled with sadness when I think of how much he was loved and yet how little of this love benefited him; how little reached his heart to soothe it . Berne’s loving relationships were short-lived and did not give him the comfort which he needed and desired. He defended his detached and lonely stance and pursued his work alone. Thinking about it I can get quite angry just as one might get angry at someone who clearly neglects their physical health by eating too much or smoking . The fact is that Berne may have taken care of his heart medically (though he never stopped smoking his pipe, from which he inhaled the first puff whenever he lit it), but he failed to do so emotionally.
He was not receptive to caring concern; he listened politely when someone criticized his stroking situation or his individualism and competitiveness, but he followed his own counsel to the end. When he required psychotherapy he did not work in a group or consult a transactional analyst, but worked with a psychoanalyst in individual psychotherapy.
He was by no means completely passive with respect to his needs for love and human contact . He developed important concepts related to love. His theory was concerned with transactions between people, loving among them . He was interested in relationships . He developed the concept of strokes which publicly was the word for the “unit of human recognition,” but which we understand as the unit of human love. During the last years of his life he wrote the books Sex in Human Loving and What Do You Say After You Say Hello? Both of these were, in my opinion, partial attempts to break through his own personal script limitations. Unfortunately, his and my in-sights about strokes and scripts came too late to be of any advantage to him personally.
In fact, in the early period of transactional analysis (1955-1965), Berne subtly and unwittingly discouraged us from studying strokes, intimacy and scripts. Intimacy, which is one of the ways in which human beings can structure time according to Berne, was defined by him as a situation that develops when there is no withdrawal, no rituals, no games, no pastimes, and no work. Intimacy was defined by Berne by exclusion. That is to say, it was not defined. Further, Berne believed that intimacy was a generally unattainable state, and that a person could consider themselves lucky if they experienced 15 minutes of intimacy in their lifetime. At a certain point at which the Carmel Transactional Analysis Seminar was investigating strokes and began to use techniques involving physical stroking, Eric Berne got quite alarmed and made the public pronouncement at one of the yearly conferences that “anyone who touches their patients is not doing transactional analysis..”
Berne’s injunction against touching in groups had a measure of reason . He worried that Transactional Analysis would become, as Gestalt seemed to be rapidly becom-ing, a therapy in which therapists felt free to involve themselves sexually with the people in their groups . He was a highly conscientious therapist and felt that this kind of activity would interfere with the success of therapy and give transactional analysis’ a bad name . It was because of this that he did not allow his followers to touch the people they worked for and with. The injunction was not really meant to prevent stroking among people, but it did tend to have that effect. He himself was not effective in obtaining for himself the strokes that he needed. It is also most interesting to note that in all of his transactional analysis writings (about 2000 pages’ worth) he devoted less than twenty-five pages to the topic of strokes.
With respect to scripts, he had a similar veiled attitude. Those of us who heard his presentations about his script analysis work were quite mystified by it. It seemed a complicated, in-depth, almost magical process which only Eric Berne really knew; and one that we, the younger, more practical, less individual therapy inclined colleagues either did not find really interesting or thought to be too advanced and complicated. His discussions about scripts remained couched in psychoanalytic jargon and technique unlike all the other work. Scripts were unconscious, repetition compulsion phenomena, their therapy to be pursued in one-to-one therapy.
It is my opinion that, as is the case with every great innovator, Eric Bernes personal life script set a limitation to his life and to the full exploration of the phenomena that ho was interested in. In his case, the fact that he had a life-limited script, based on injunctions that stood in the way of obtaining strokes, prevented him from fully exploring scripts and strokes theoretically and caused him to throw up subtle barriers for his followers. These barriers had eventual consequences for him; his own script was unclear to him and hence unavailable for change. The injunctions concerning strokes which kept his script operative and his heart aching went quite unchallenged. The distance he kept from those who loved hint and whom he loved, including myself, prevented us from comforting him; he slipped out of our lives . I still feel the gap he left—he could have lived to be nincty-nine years old on the sunny beaches of Carmel.
Bane’s death came suddenly. On Tuesday, June 23, 1970, we had a lively debate at the weekly San Francisco Transactional Analysis Seminar. I had arranged to present a new paper called “The Stroke Economy” at the next meeting. Eilc Benie looked healthy and happy.
On Tuesday, June 30, when I arrived at the seminar I learned that ho had been struck down by a heart attack. I visited him once at the hospital; he seemed much improved. A second heart attack killed him on Wednesday, July 15. 1970.
I cannot say that I am objective about Eric Berne’s death; when I think of him today, three years after he died, tears still well up in my eyes. Yet, I wished to record my thoughts on the subject.
Eerne’s brilliant insights into the fact that most people live out preordained lives, and the importance that strokes have in human behavior, are insights without which script analysis and stroke theory would have never had a beginning. I feel that my contribution to script analysis and work on the Stroke Economy would not have occurred without Eric Berne’s initial thoughts on scripts and strokes and, most importantly, without his constant, positive encouragement of me.
I see my work with scripts and strokes as being a continuation of Berne’s work where he, due to his own scripted limitations, could not use his Adult freely. My own limitations would have prevented me from going much further than tragic script theory, due especially to my own script limitations relating to the male sex roles that I was bound to. I believe that without the input of Hogie Wyckoff in relation to the Pig Parent, the Nurturing Parent, and sex role scripting, my own work would have stopped with the Stroke Economy.
I am most fortunate in that I have come to see how I, too, had plans to die in my early sixties. I have changed this plan and plan instead to live to be ninety-nine years old. I personally profit from my teachings by asking those I teach for feedback, criticism, and, when needed, therapy.
My own work with scripts started in 1965 while I was working at the Center for Special Problems in San Francisco with alcoholics. I began to see that at least the scripts of alcoholics were neither unconscious nor difficult to detect. The result of my work with alcoholics was the development of the script matrix And, following the script matrix, the development of a coherent system for the analysis of scripts. Eric Berne was enthusiastic about my work and encouraged me throughout . I later felt that the study of strokes was extraordinarily important, and while I was quite willing to follow Berne’s injunction not to “touch patients” in therapy groups, I decided that strokes, especially physical strokes, needed to be studied anyway. I carried on my work on strokes outside of therapy groups and the result was the theory of the Stroke Economy.
From 1965 to 1970 Berne enthusiastically pursued the development of script analysis based on the ideas of the script matrix and injunctions, and in that period of time he wrote What Do You Say After You Say Hello? (1972) in which he presents his own views. Unfortunately, I was not able, due to his death, to share with him the thoughts on strokes, banal scripts, and cooperation which are the main points of this book.
The Significance of Script Analysis in Psychiatry
When people find that their lives have become unmanageable, filled with mostly unhappiness and emotional pain, they have been known to turn to psychiatry for an answer. Psychiatry, however, is not the principal form of counsel that is sought by most people—who generally tend to go to ministers, physicians, and friends before they resort to the use of psychiatric help. Most Americans distrust psychiatry and resort to psychiatric counsel only when too desperate to be able to avoid it any longer or when they encounter a psychiatric approach which they can relate to and appreciate.
Mental health associations around the country are busy convincing people that they should make use of psychiatric services. Yet, most people avoid them, and when in emotional difficulty make do without any help, letting nature takes its curative course. The fact that people in emotional difficulties do not consult psychiatrists is seen by psychiatrists to be due to lack of judgment and is even interpreted by some to be the result of their will to “fall (and remain) ilL” In my mind, people have, so far, shown good judgment in their rejection of the psychiatric help that is available to most.
Of the few who do consult psychiatrists, most (in my opinion) are not harmed. On the other hand, U.S. Senator Tom Eagleton’s short-lived bid for the Vice-Presidential office of the United States in the 1972 elections illustrates how harmful psychiatry can be.
As Ronald Laing has pointed out, Eagleton committed the error of consulting a psychiatrist who with his diagnosis and treatment (electro-shock therapy) marked him and defeated him for any major future political aspirations . He could have chosen a psychiatrist like Eric Berne, who didn’t use shock therapy and who would have helped him over his depression with other means.
Most persons who consult psychiatrists are basically “cooled out,” pacified, brought back into temporary functioning; and a few are genuinely helped. I believe that psychiatrists who succeed in helping their clients do so because they reject the bulk of their psychiatric training and adopt a stance which comes out of their very own experiences, personal wisdom, and humanistic convictions which overpower the oppressive and harmful teachings of psychiatric training.
Psychiatry is taught in what appears to be several different “schools of thought” with different points of view. But in my mind the minor disagreements between the different schools of psychiatric thought are negligible; actually these very minor differences only serve to obscure the fact that, fundamentally, psychiatric theories agree on three main points:
1. Some people are normal, and some people are abnormal. The line of demarcation is sharp, and psychiatrists act as if they can distinguish between thosewho are not disturbed and those who are disturbed or “mentally ill.”
2. The reason for “mental illness” and emotional disturbance is to be found within people, and psychiatric practice consists of diagnosing the illness and working with the individual to cure it. Some of the disturbances are incurable, such as alcoholism, schizophrenia or manic-depressive psychosis. Psychiatry’s job is to make the “victims” of such “illness” comfortable in their misery, teaching them to adapt and cope, often with the use of drugs.
3. Persons who are mentally ill have no understanding of their illness, and very little if any control over it, just as is supposedly the case with physical diseases.
These three assumptions permeate psychiatric training and are deeply imbedded in the minds of the majority (more than 50%) of those who practice psychotherapy whether they be (in descending order of prestige) physicians, psychologists, social workers, nurses, probation officers’ or any other trained psychotherapist.
It is little wonder that most people who get into emotional difficulties are loath to consult a psychotherapist. We do not want to hear that the trouble is to be found entirely within us and that, at the same time, we have no control or understanding of our difficulties. We do not want to hear these things about ourselves not because we are “resistant to change or “unmotivated” for psychotherapy, but because they are not true, because they insult our intelligence, and because they rob us of our power to control our lives and destinies.
Script theoiy offers an alternative to this thinldng. First of all, we believe that people are born O.K., that when they get into emotional difficulties they still remain O.K., and that their difficulties can be understood and solved by examining their interactions with the other human beings, and by understanding the oppressive injunctions and attributions laid on them in childhood and maintained throughout life. Transactional script analysis offers an approach, not in the form of mystified theories understandable only to psychotherapists, but in the form of explanations which are commonsensical and understandable to the person who needs them, namely, the person in emotional difficulties.
Script analysis can be called a decision theory rather than a disease theory of emotional disturbance. Script theory is based on the belief that people make many conscious life plans in childhood or early adolescence which influence and make predictable the rest of their lives. Persons whose lives are based on such decisions are said to have scripts . Like diseases, scripts have an onset, a course, and an outcome. Because of this similarity, life scripts are easily mistaken for diseases. However, because scripts are based on consciously willed decisions rather than on morbid tissue changes, they can be revoked or undecided by similarly willed decisions. Tragic life scripts such as suicide, drug addiction, or “incurable mental illnesses” such as “schizophrenia” or “manic-depressive psychosis,” are the result of scripting rather than disease. Because these disturbances are scripts rather than incurable diseases it is possible to develop an understanding and approach which enables competent therapists to help their clients to, as Beme said, “dose down the show and put a new one on the road.”
Questioning the negative assumptions of psychiatry also generates many positive expectance and hope whose importance Frank and Goldstein have amply documented. From their studies it is clear that the assumptions of mental health workers about their clients have an extremely strong influence on the outcome of their work. Their research shows that when there exists an assumption of illness and chronicity on the part of the workers the effect is that of producing chronicity and illness in the clients, while an assumption of curability on the part of the worker will be associated with an improvement on the part of the client. Thus, considering emotional disturbance as some form of illness, as many who work with people do, is potentially harmful and may in fact be promoting illness in people who seek help from psychiatrists . On the other hand, the assumption that psychiatric disturbances are curable since they are based on reversible decisions frees in people their potent, innate tendencies to recover and overthrow their unhappiness. Workers who offer positive expectancy, coupled with problem-solving expertise, make it possible for people in emotional difficulties to take power over their lives and produce their own new, satisfying life plans.
SCRIPTS PEOPLE LIVE.
Copyright @ 1974. By: Claude M. Steiner
Grove Press Edition published September 1974
Church of the Science of God
La Jolla, California 92038-3131
© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993