At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a heavy-going psychological textbook. It's a bit of a beast, boasting 300+ pages of thorough text; and your first introduction to the field is the daunting title of 'Transactional Analysis'. And so it's easy to believe that this is more something that medical students should purchase, or at least those delving deep into the daemonic recesses of psychiatry... what place does it have on the shelves of those living, shall we say, 'normal' lives? Those that might, thankfully, not suffer from the various mental disorders - but instead just want a little direction to help enhance an already decent lifestyle.
Unusually, however, the book is incredibly approachable - much like the field itself. Its founder, Eric Berne, wasn't a fan of fields of psychology being only something that the experts knew of (hiding away with long, confusing terms), and so set out to create something practical and hands-on... thus TA was born. And we are given a superbly thorough introduction to this from our 2 authors.
The book pretty much covers all of the core aspects of TA... which is a lot. You're hit with a lot of information - But it's presented so clearly, succinctly and thoroughly - that it's very difficult to get confused. You generally won't get a feeling of being overwhelmed by information or that your head is going to explode if you cram another theory in. Quite the contrary, the ideas are profound, yet novel, verging on simplistic. I daresay it's like a fun way of looking at the mind. It's easy to pick up the ideas and apply them, particularly as the authors also take the time to create exercises to help you to understand where and how the ideas apply in your own life. (Rather than just firing out abstract ideas in a vacuum, they try and help link it to our own experiences and life)
"So why isn't TA more popular?" You might ask. "If it's so practical, why don't I hear more about it?" - The problem is its nature. It's practical psychology. Thus, the 'mainstream' psychologists find it too 'simplistic' for their eyes. It's too abstract and 'pseudo' to be considered a 'real' psychology... yet it's too scientific for the 'self-help' world to quickly pick up. Thus, it sits in an uneasy mid-level where many people glance over it, sadly.
So the main question now is probably: What does TA have to offer? It's all well the book being thorough, but are the ideas any good? Well... lemme briefly explain a few of my favourite elements:
- The belief is we create a 'script' for our lives at an early age. Based upon our experiences, we designate how we expect and believe our lives to turn out. Whether for better or worse, we unwittingly act out this script. Whilst the notion of 'look back at your childhood' seems tedious - the ideas of scripts is profound. It's quite often you see many people act out what they believe their life should be (Like those who say they don't deserve happiness)... and if reading this you exclaim "That's a self-fulfilling prophecy!" then well done - You win a cookie
- We also have the notion of a 'Stroke Economy'. 'Strokes' are a form of mental currency - and are basically 'acts of recognition'. A hug is a warm, affectionate stroke. An insult is a negative, verbal one. The theory is that we need strokes, just like we need food or sleep. And so the book covers the sorts of strokes we might look for, as well as explaining why people settle for negative ones, or reject positive ones (ever seen someone who never accepts compliments?)
- The above 2 combine to the theory of 'games'. In short, little scenarios people set up with others, that allows them to follow their scripts and get a supply of strokes. These range from those who like to play the hard-done-by victim, or those who like to sabotage their own successes by triggering arguments so that they can feel the misery they believe to deserve.
There's more goodies to be had - but these are all the ones I believe to be the most profound. Essentially, you could say that TA creates the theoretical foundation to Self-Help. A lot of what self-help tries to resolve, TA pretty much explains the working behind it.
So if you enjoy psychological ideas and the dynamics of interactions, then this is certainly worth a shot. No Medical Degree necessary