Dr. Eric Berne, the founder of the psychological school of Transactional Analysis (abbreviated TA) coined the terms “OK” and “Not OK” to describe two essential types of people. The “OK” types are secure and confident in who they are and carry little emotional “baggage” whereas the “Not OK” types are insecure about themselves and often feel inferior. Dr. Berne also helped to define certain terms that were important in studying social interaction. When two people meet eventually one of the persons will acknowledge the presence of the other person. He called this the “transactional stimulus” where a “transaction” refers to a conversation between people. When people interact to each other, they talk or express nonverbal body communication, they issue a “transactional response”. Those that are (obsessively) interested in social dynamics often begin to think of interactions down to the unit. These definitions, however, are merely presented for interest sake, since for our purpose they aren’t terribly important.

Berne’s approach was much different from that of Freud who though perhaps too simplistically, that he could learn everything about someone just by asking them, and then listening to their response. Berne felt that therapists could learn more about people by watching their body language and facial expressions instead of words by themselves.

Eric Berne published a very popular and interesting book called Games People Play in 1964. To date it has sold over five million copies. The book describes the function and dysfunction that happens in human interactions. Without getting into too much detail, let’s look at one example of a game.

The example I wanted to bring forward makes light of how we control our interactions with people by the tone and words we choose. As a boss, if we attack an employee by taking up a controlling “parental” role we will normally elicit a childish tantrum in return. The real way to deal with adult situations is to attack them from a constructive integrity based position where we act like “adults”. Adult actions normally yield adult responses, but as we see in Berne’s book, not everyone uses the best framework to work through life. As he sees it, some people get stuck between three ego states, the “Parent”, “Child” and “Adult”. Berne outlines well over ninety games that people play, some good, but mostly bad. He defines games as social interactions that are counterproductive. Today, there are few ardent followers that use the TA approach in any rigid way, even the ego states have been scrutinized, however, the principles of the method do help us look at how we run our lives and the ways we hold ourselves back through games we play with ourselves and others. He also ran a results-based framework which was new to psychiatry at the time and says that if it’s not working for you and you aren’t getting the results you want, change it!