Using Transactional Analysis in Coaching Methods

Dr. Paras  •  Jan 15, 2020  •  8 min read

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Using Transactional Analysis in Coaching Methods

One of the major areas of coaching and working with clients is the ability to bring a change by empowering clients to make life-changing decisions. One’s coaching practice may involve the use of many methodologies to enhance and initiate this change.

Transactional Analysis by Late Eric Berne is a theory of communication while working on one’s personality and systems to add immense value to the coaching practice. Earlier, this was an inherent part of psychotherapy. In the recent times, TA has become an essential practice for coaching. This globally recognized TA model gives an in-depth understanding of the way people are structured psychologically giving coaches multiple opportunities to understand the learning styles of clients, their thinking process, and partnering with them for change. A common point in TA and coaching practice is the philosophy of open communication and contracting. The clarity of the goal and communication work towards increasing the client’s potency towards the desired outcome.

A coach can bring rapid changes in the client with the use of the Transactional Analysis model to work on beliefs, behavior patterns, values, learning styles, and more. Here, I will outline 5 highlights of the TA model that is beneficial to your coaching practice.

1. The PAC Model

Transactional Analysis defines 3 Ego-states from where humans operate. Eric Berne had defined it as, “Ego-state is a consistent pattern of feeling and experience directly related to a corresponding consistent pattern of behavior.” We define our actions and feelings based on what we have experienced and often repeat the same patterns. Let’s understand the Parent-Adult-Child (PAC) further.

  • Parent Ego-state

One may emulate things as observed and absorbed from their parents or caregivers. The Parent ego-state is thus all about what one copies from them. A client may retain injunctions such as, “Don’t do this, it’s not good for you” or, “Always remember to do this.” These voices in the form of “Don’t”, “Always remember,” “Never forget” controls a person.

  • Child Ego-state

A client may replay behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that are connected with childhood behavior. A person who tends to sulk when things go difficult is said to be in the Child state. He/she may be replaying the same behavior as per habit of the earlier days.

  • Adult Ego-state

A person in this ego-state is said to act in the here and now. These are responses that are connected directly with the ability to make own decisions without being influenced by the Parent or Child ego-state. 

A coach with a firm grip over the PAC model understands how clients communicate from different ego-states. A coach also knows when ego-states are crossed and where conflicts can arise. Coaches are able to identify if the client is rooted in the past (Parent or Child) or has the ability to make decisions in the present (Adult). The coach can explore a client’s struggle by observing behavior patterns, culture and system, identity, and the client’s ability to take action. A coach uses effective listening skills to know how a client uses certain strategies to tackle problems. A coach develops the knowledge to use competencies such as powerful questioning to move the client forward and bring attention to the here and now. The coach thus evokes self-awareness in the client.  

2. Importance of building a Positive Stroke Economy

Eric Berne defined Strokes as the “fundamental unit of social action.” Strokes are something everybody needs. The internal hunger in all to connect and be stimulated (physically and mentally) is a part of humans from the time of birth. 

Strokes are classified as:

  1. Verbal or Non-Verbal
  2. Positive or Negative
  3. Conditional or Unconditional 

The understanding of strokes is important for coaches to be highly skillful at their practice. A coach having the awareness of strokes develops the knack of observing verbal and nonverbal communication while being alert to the text and subtext. A coach is attentive to observe what motivates the client, what are the needs, and what area of assistance is the client looking for in life. The use of positive stroking helps the coach to acknowledge the client space while taking permission prior to getting into a deeper level with the client’s issues. A coach is also aware of the client’s style of taking strokes and can work accordingly to cultivate trust and safety, one of the prime core competencies for the coaching practice. A coach facilitates client growth while offering greater confidentiality.

3. Transactions and the Communication Process

A transaction happens between two or more people when communication is offered between them. Eric Berne defined the opening as the ‘stimulus’ and the reply as the ‘response’. A conversation that happens between two or more people is defined as a transaction. TA gives coaches the power to observe the transaction along with the ego-state model to understand the process of communication (client-coach). Transactions that happen between two people can be between different ego-states. Transactions can also be crossed, ulterior, or complementary.  The knowledge of this allows coaches to deliver impactful coaching sessions. Coaches are enabled to read between the sentences and discover hidden meanings (ulterior transactions). A coach can reflect on communication style with knowledge of transactions, and use it to empower the client. Building rapport helps coaches create trust and safety with complete transparency with the client. Coaches become mindful about listening actively while evoking awareness and moving towards client growth. 

A coach can thus observe the transactions between coach-client, as well as the client’s journey to get a deeper understanding of the client’s situation. The coach can improve methods of communication by bringing a shift in ego-states and also unearth deeper messages by using the power of the TA model. 

4. Transference and Countertransference

Often, in the client-coaching journey, one may face hostile behavior (by the client). Or, the client may display reluctance towards certain things and this happens subtly, not in conscious awareness. Transference happens when a person relates the current behavior of the person to a person known from the past. Countertransference defines a counselor, therapist or a coach’s reaction to his or her own client’s transference. A coach may relate the situation to a person or a situation from his/her own memory. 

The TA model gives coaches the benefit of being able to retain middle ground while coaching without any bias. This is extremely beneficial for the coach supervision process. Any coaching practice that includes transference often obstructs the sessions as the relational space changes due to transference and countertransference. A coach thus learns to attend to the client’s transference patterns from the beginning of coaching practice to pick up cues and spot the feelings that lie beneath a client’s space. It makes the coach aware of one’s internal processes, the filters they hold, the biases they have, and how one can be alert to be client-centric in the coaching session. A coach can observe if the client is not working towards the goal and if transference is one of the issues here. A coach thus needs to explore this client-coaching relationship bearing this in mind. Coaches who are aware of countertransference will find the knowledge of TA beneficial to identify it while moving towards coach supervision after 10-15 hours of practice. This expands one’s own filters, prejudices, thinking, and actions.

5. Games

A client may create repeated results in life. These may create stress and unhappiness with a lack of focus on goals. Eric Berne defines psychological games as the one people play without being consciously aware of the process. A coach presented with this problem learns to identify the pattern of Games which are repetitive in nature. There are many things that happen at a psychological and social level. The understanding of Games gives a coach the opportunity to view the situation at hand and partner with the client to install new habits. The coach raises awareness of the client to observe his/her own patterns of behavior. A client who develops this awareness is able to rectify behavior patterns and stop the repeated results. A coach explores inner beliefs, values, and emotions and is alert to the sessions to observe client progress. A coach may also challenge the client by identifying the pattern emerging and moving the client towards the creation of new thought processes that are aligned with vision and goals. The coach demonstrates an ethical practice by being sensitive to the clients’ identity and beliefs.

There’s definitely more to TA than the highlights mentioned in this blog. Are you ready to embrace TA in your coaching journey?

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Dr. Paras

Dr. Paras

Dr. Paras combines 16+ years of experience in the areas of ‘People Transformation’ with his learnings acquired through prestigious international certifications. He is a Life Leadership Coach armed with the knowledge to help people find their potential. His passion for coaching helps his clients drive paradigm shifts in their organizational thinking.


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