About Counselling and Transactional Analysis
Talking therapies are used to help people make sense of problems they are facing with the aim of overcoming them.
Sometimes people can feel isolated in their issues which can compound their difficulties. Therapy can initially help to normalise feelings creating a springboard towards acceptance and finding a way through. Therapy doesn't have to stop at lessening suffering and coping, it can lead to a rich and fulfilling life.
Some issues require long term work and some short time work so how do you know what you need?
If you are generally fine yet something external has happened that you are temporarily struggling with (such as a death, the end of a relationship or an unforeseen chance in circumstances), you may require short term therapy.
If you are caught in a pattern of re-experiencing difficulties, or you find yourself running from one difficulty to another, you may require longer term work to resolve the issues-beneath-the-issue so that you can address the cause and not just the symptom.
Many people come to therapy because of the symptom, for example 'to break an addiction'. 'Breaking the addiction' is one part of the work, addressing the cause so that the addiction isn't replaced by something else, is another part of the work and can be longer term.
People can sometimes have a sense that they just do not feel right but cannot put their finger on what it is. That is OK, please still seek help! You do not not need to have all the answers and therapy may well help you make sense of feelings that currently aren't adding up to you and are stunting your life in someway.
The rest of this content pertains mainly to longer term work....
We are complex beings and we see life through the lens of our past experiences, both remembered and the unconscious somatic.
We can develop beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world around us at a young age then put a lid on it, never to be questioned again. We can then proceed through life limited and bound by decisions we didn’t even know we had made.
E.g, ‘I’m not good enough.’ ‘Everyone leaves me’ ‘You can’t trust anyone.’ 'I only have worth if I...'
What is more, we tend to discard any evidence that contradicts our unconscious beliefs and seek out evidence that supports it, which only goes to strengthen the message we are carrying around. How many times have you batted away a compliment that doesn't fit your perception of yourself?
Somebody who believes they aren’t good enough may never go for what they want because they do not believe they can get it.
Those who learned they 'are only OK if...' may spend countless hours trying to be perfect and achieve, just to feel ‘OK’ enough to be, but it's never quite enough.
Someone who believes everyone leaves them may unconsciously and repeatedly set up relationships that bring this very scenario about and become caught in a cycle of difficult relationships that end exactly how they believe they will. Or they may deeply crave a relationship yet feel it either can't happen for them, or it is too emotionally unsafe to be in one.
Issues around attachments and abandonment from primary care givers in infancy can also affect us as adults in ways that may not seem obvious at first. Underlying feelings of shame and fear and not feeling worthy that are too painful to feel can get buried and covered up with depression, anxiety, addiction, and a whole array of behaviours we do not feel in control of and are not adding to the quality of our lives.
We can also cover up one feeling, a true and authentic feeling, with a different one, such as reacting habitually with anger when actually we are masking sadness. Or, being aware we feel sad when we are actually covering up an anger that we are not aware of. We do this because we learn as children what feelings are acceptable and gain attention, and which are not.
An example here would be a boy who feels sad but is told to ‘man up’. and 'stop being a baby'. He may grow up covering up sadness with anger or attempting to feel nothing at all and bottle everything up. This is a stereo-typical example, it is also a myth we as a culture are becoming more aware of and attempting to change, evidence of this can be seen in media campaigns.
Another example, also stereo-typical, is a girl who expresses anger in her household and is told this is bad, but gets the attention she needs when she cries. The message here is that it is not OK to feel anger but you are allowed to feel sad. She may learn to mask anger from herself and feel inauthentic sadness in place of what is actually a perfectly natural and normal feeling to feel at times.
Coming back to our authentic feelings and away from the cover-ups can help us to break out of patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that are causing us difficulties, and bring us closer to our real selves. Here, we can potentially learn to just be, be content, be OK, be at peace, be with others.
Sometimes people experience feelings of unimaginable pain and emptiness. They are doing all they can to survive this or avoid it which can take great amounts of energy and make it hard to function. This can lead to unhealthy habits and health problems. Just coping with these feelings on a daily basis, or attempting to not have to feel them can be all consuming.
We are all so different and unique yet we all have something in common, we all have fears and dreams and we all want to avoid suffering. The irony is, the way we try to avoid suffering can lead us into more of it, just a different kind. In attempting to avoid feeling emotions we do not want to feel, we can fall into even more difficulties. This where talking therapies can be so helpful. I chose Transactional Analysis as a model of study because it pulls all these threads of you together yet the work is in the moment rather than in the past. It provides an observable framework in which to understand the issues we face and empowers the individual to journey towards their true self.
Eric Berne stated that the aim of Transaction Analysis is AUTONOMY. To me this means freedom, conscious choice over impulsive reactions, having access to all our here-and-now options as adults, and perceiving the here-and-now with less of a distortion in our lens.
To Erin Berne, autonomy meant…
‘AWARENESS, SPONTANIETY and the CAPACITY for INTIMACY.’
-Eric Berne, 1972
By increasing your awareness, you can know how you authentically feel and know it is a feeling not a fact. You can assess a situation for what it is and make decisions from an adult place without letting the lens become the truth.
When you are able to be spontaneous, you are really present in the moment, not ruminating over the past or worrying about the future, you are unbound by past constraints and can experience excitement, passion and joy!
Spontaneity is the…
‘Delight, satisfaction and renewed energy from the expression and use of your own uniqueness as an individual.’
Susannah Temple, Functional Fluency
I find this so refreshing, to see one of the aims of therapy is to move towards these moments instead of concentrating solely on the lessening or absence of suffering.
And finally Berne mentions the capacity for intimacy. Humans are wired to need intimacy. Intimacy is about having a true or deep moment of connection with another. This can be through an open conversation, eye contact, or touch. Of course, you can have conversations, eye contact and touch without the presence of intimacy, in fact many of our day-to-day exchanges are often lacking.
To experience intimacy we need to feel safe with the other person we are connecting with and make ourselves vulnerable. For some, being vulnerable is too risky and unsafe yet they still crave to have it. There is a whole plethora of unhealthy ways people unconsciously seek to meet or replace their need for intimacy. This is the unconscious playing of ‘Games’ (Games People Play, Eric Berne, 1964 ) with others and can be high drama and usually has an unhappy pay-off for one or both parties involved. Playing Games can limit and shape how you go through life and keep you stuck in unhappy repeating patterns.
Increasing the capacity for intimacy can help people meet their needs and lesson or eradicate the need to find unhealthy ways to replace intimacy.
'Transactional Analysis' can sound as though it puts the therapist in a one-up position to the client. I can assure you the reverse is true. Eric Berne purposely moved away from the 'one-upness' movement at the time when he developed the model. I myself both live and work by the philosophy that we are all equals at all times. It is of great importance to me, that we are equals in the room; I know about Transactional Analysis and you know about you. Let’s work together to help you get to where you want to be and overcome the struggle you are experiencing, whatever your issues may be.