As an approach to counselling and psychotherapy Transactional Analysis (TA) has many tools and models that can be used to empower clients to grow, develop and achieve what they want (e.g. TA Steps to Success). It should be mentioned that this can make TA look as if it is just a set of tools and models. However, nothing could be further from the truth, the relationship is key to all Transactional Analysts.
The reason that there is so much in TA is that the founder, Eric Berne was keen on people developing their own ideas, which has meant that TA has a tradition of continually evolving and integrating new models, ideas and research. At its core TA has a clear philosophy, approach, and way of understanding people’s issues that helps it remain an effective and flexible form of counselling and psychotherapy today.
One model that is particularly useful is known as the “TA Steps to Success” and was originally developed by Julie Hay (1992) based on the TA idea of discounting. Discounting is where we play down or ignore information regarding ourselves, other people or the situation at hand. We discount so that we can keep our world familiar and predictable – if I know, how I am and how you are and how the world is then I am able to maintain a perceived sense of safety. We all discount to keep things familiar and because we cannot account for everything – there is too much information. For example, if a person believes themselves to be a perfectionist and they make a mistake that is pointed out to them, they will find a way of discounting. This could range from ignoring the comment entirely through to questioning the motivation or credentials of the person making the observation. Much of the time discounting may not cause us a problem, however when people come to counselling or psychotherapy it is usually because their discounting is getting in the way in some way or another.
The TA Steps to Success is a really useful model to help us identify where they might be discounting and to consider appropriate interventions that will facilitate clients in moving up the steps. The diagram is shown below:-
Situation is where we discount that a problem even exists. For instance, a client who is having relationship difficulties may be entirely unaware that their aggressive behaviour is creating the problem.
Significance is where there is some acknowledgement of the issue, but it is not seen as important. So, the client might say “Everyone loses their temper at times.”
Solutions is the person recognising a problem but believing nothing can be done about it. For instance, seeing it as “a genetic thing”.
Skills recognises that there are solutions but either not having the necessary skills for implementing a solution or not believing that they can change. For instance, “I just can’t control my temper, it’s a red mist.”
Strategies involves the situation where they have or know where to get the skills to change but have no plan for doing it. “I haven’t got around to booking that anger management course.”
Success is discounting what we have achieved, by minimising it or moving on to the next goal before acknowledging our achievements. “It was all common sense really.”
The last step of Support (an addition to the original model by L Mitchell), is not a step in discounting but rather to acknowledge that any change that is going to be sustained needs a level of support. For instance, having an ongoing dialogue in their relationship about what is and isn’t working for both parties.
Because we see other people’s discounts much more clearly than our own we can often have a tendency to facilitate them at a higher step then they are on and so miss our clients in the therapeutic work. Counsellors and psychotherapists need to work with a client at the step they are at, helping to move them to the next step. If you are trying to get your client to work on strategies before they believe there is a solution to the problem, then the work is unlikely to be effective.
Also, as a final thought, if we find that a client gets stuck on a particular step, this is usually a sign that something else is being discounted on an earlier step. Sometimes this can be identified by the question “What will you need to give up in order to move forward?