I wrote this letter immediately after attending the ITAA, EATA conference in Zurich August 1998.
The letter created quite a stir:
August 27 1998
I know that there is no hope that you are in a place somewhere up there or even down below from which you would be listening about what I am about to say.
But I have a great urge to speak to you and I will pretend that you can hear me, for I am very concerned and my mind is overflowing with thoughts.
I have just attended the 1998 Zurich TA conference. I attended this conference as a stop in a European workshop tour and for a stay with my brother, glad and excited to have the opportunity to revisit the tradition that started years ago with our summer conferences in Carmel. During the five days in Zurich I thought of you often; of how you would react if you could attend the meetings and lectures and walk the halls of Irchel University. I remembered how important it was to you that there be an international organization and how, when years ago Leonard Ghan a social worker from Canada came to visit the seminar you gave him, sight unseen the first international, Canadian franchise.
Well dear Eric, TA is a truly international organization today. More than eight hundred people attended and filled the great lecture halls and the many classrooms of a famous European university. The organization by the local group was flawlessly, tirelessly and cheerfully executed by an unusually large number of volunteers. Twenty large lectures and 120 workshops were offered, two awards in your name were presented and a jumping up-and-down party was duly held. You would have been proud and happy.
But I in spite of all of these accomplishments I am deeply troubled. My concerns began some months go at a TA conference in Mexico and so to further inform myself I decided to attend as many Zurich happenings as possible, starting with the examinations and ending with the closing plenary sessions.
I sat at sidewalk tables and in hotel rooms, approached people and was approached by them in the halls and meeting places, examined, listened and spoke, debated, disagreed, was disagreed with, praised and offered criticism, exulted and despaired at what I saw and heard.
Two trends caught my attention. On the positive side a large mass of bright-eyed people, enthusiastic, open hearted, eager to learn and experience and make the most of these few days. On the other hand at examinations workshops and lectures I experienced a great cloud of fog, made up of marshmallows, and chicken soup; generic utterances, tautologies, preachments and overlong sentences which left me with an overpowering urge to shout : “Show me the TA!”
(As I write I am seeing you sitting across from me, lips pressed together around your pipe in a sardonic smile, your myopic eyes twinkling as I speak)
This endemic fog came from bright, concerned, profound, excellent people who had come from all corners of the world; people who call themselves (albeit some only privately)transactional analysts, and who for one reason or another, seem to have lost sight of your high standards of crispness and your loathing of marshmallows and chicken soup.
There were speeches given and statements made which I am certain you would have regarded with impatient exasperation. I can just imagine your pulling your pipe from your clenched teeth as you said: “That’s very interesting, Dr. Murgatroid. What I want to know is “Where is the TA?” I personally had to make repeated efforts to stay in my seat as I heard strings of homilies piled upon buckets of kind, attuned, love inspiring words which did not distinguish themselves from what might have been said by any kind, open hearted teacher, preacher or therapist at any humanistically oriented conference or church.
And all the time I asked myself: Where is the TA?
Where is the contractual work? Where is the painstaking analysis of transactions? Where is the group treatment? Where are the short sentences, the statements of the problem, and the search for the easily understood answers? Where is the potency?
Don’t get me wrong, the spirit of TA is alive and well in the ranks. When asking around here and at that other MEXAT conference in Mexico, the people are clearly eager to hear and speak about TA basics; egos states, transactions, games, strokes and scripts and to practice TA in groups with contracts.
But most people have not seen TA’s potency beyond the way in which it explains their own internal process and how ego states function to make things good or bad. They have not yet seen or been taught the way in which TA can explain and perfect human interactions. Beyond the most basic level of understanding teachers, supervisors and leaders are abandoning TA and are opting instead for regression to a murky pastiche of psychoanalysis and/or lofty preachments. Before TA has had a chance to show its stuff it’s being blended with every emerging fad and is being turned into tasteless, meaningless oatmeal.
It is true, let us admit it, that you and I and those cowboys who helped you invent and shape TA where on the whole not an open hearted bunch and that, as a consequence, TA emerged, after you died, as a somewhat heartless even soulless practice. We needed an empathic softening, an attention to the emotional side of human interaction to round out our discipline. And that attempt at softening came from many directions. Jackie tried but her work became, for some reason a failed, some even say toxic, enterprise. The Gouldings went a long way in introducing warmth and caring, free of Rescuing, Erskine and Trautman have developed a finely attuned therapeutic technique and my own developments in emotional literacy represent an effort in that direction as well.
But I don’t believe that we need to sacrifice TA on the altar of open heartedness. That would be, I am certain, exactly what you did not want, you made that sufficiently clear. True we needed to make room for emotions, kindness, attunement, nurturing. But the heart can be opened and empathy and emotional attunement can be pursued without losing sight of Transactional Analysis; a group centered, contract driven, Parent, Adult and Child inspired problem solving method based on the analysis of transactions. That is what I have tried to do with emotional literacy. We so long for bonding and connection that we allow ourselves to be flushed away in a flood of emotional catharsis. We so long for acceptance that we fail to allow TA to be TA some are even loath to call what they do by its name. Instead we blend unify integrate weave it with and give it a back seat to countless other points of view. We don’t allow it to find its own powerful legs, we turn it instead into chicken soup.
And no wonder; Chicken Soup is a very popular, best selling concept; millions of books dispensing it are being sold as we speak. But I am worried about what is happening to TA and I feel compelled to appoint myself as the keeper of the chicken soup free faith.
At this conference as at many others your picture was not exhibited as you recommended to us and to any one who wants to have a organization that survives powerfully in the footsteps of a dead primal leader. That of course is only a symptom of what I am speaking. When I bring this up there is talk of dogmatism and cult. But to my way of seeing things, your image and ideas are fading and are being replaced instead of being examined, tried and amplified. In many instances they are being substituted with generic homilies from other disciplines some of which are simple minded and obvious and some which are objectionable given TA stated aims; to work with groups, to analyze transactions, to make contracts to cure, stop playing games, give up scripts, solve problems in a verifiable manner. For doing things well instead of sounding good, for getting there instead of towarding, for talking plain simple Martian instead of producing clouds of verbal fog, for trying transactional analysis methods first instead of, as an after thought.
As a voiced these views, I found, among the ranks and the teachers, many who shared my concern and want to do something to “let TA be TA” and allow it to find what it can do. I believe that TA’s potential has been barely tapped or tested. I want it (and therefore your ideas) to have an opportunity for a place in the sun before it gets shredded into a faddish, obfuscating, pap-ridden, failed movement.
To that end I will endeavor to convince the TAJ editors, ITAA conference program chairpeople and Eric Berne award committee members to screen papers for their transactional analytic contribution to transactional analysis before we afford them the TAJ forum or conference platform. I want to hear about what people are doing with Transactional Analysis. If someone uses the ITAA venue to speak about Gestalt, Client Centered Counseling, IP, NLP or any other discipline I want to know how it can help me be a better transactional analyst not a five headed Gestalt/Rogerian/TA/IP/NLP mutant.
In addition I want to play an influential role in the coming public relations campaign to crisply convey to professionals in the fields of therapy, education and organizations as well as the general public what TA is and what it can do. I believe that transactional analysis’s potential is largely untapped; I want us to embrace, study and use it as it was intended: to analyze transactions in groups and social situations instead of burying it in cemetery of foggy homilies and psycho-analytic preachments.
I love you and miss you
SHOW ME THE TA
LET TRANSACTIONAL ANALYSIS BE TRANSACTIONAL ANALYSIS