Claude Steiner, PhD
Abstract: Transactional Analysis as developed by Eric Berne was a visionary theory which, in addition to providing a highly effective approach to psychotherapy also anticipated the theoretical, psychological and psychotherapeutic issues that would be of importance in the Information Age.
It has been shown (Fowler) that human beings have an innate hunger for stimulation and information, which is at the root of, and drives our behavior. Practitioners are beginning to recognize that psychotherapy is more a matter of efficiently imparting information than of rearranging energies in mental structures as was previously believed. As practitioners we have the obligation of tending to that hunger by contributing substantiated, useful and nourishing information while contradicting toxic lies and misinformation. As transactional analysts we have been studying the details and power dynamics of information exchange–truthful and deceptive, nourishing and toxic–and are experts, therefore, in an area of information driven (rather than belief driven) knowledge which will be central in the psychologies of the future.
Part I. Pressures Upon the Brain.
Psychotherapy, it might seem, would necessarily have information and communication at its operating core. When, at the dawn of our century, Sigmund Freud invented psychoanalysis he was, by implication, asserting that certain maladies that had been thought to be medical in nature would respond to a “talking cure.” However, the notion that talking would have a therapeutic effect was unheard of. Disorders such as phobias, obsessions and hysterical conversions — synaesthesias and paralyses — believed by most authorities to be caused by anomalies of the brain and nervous system, and the notion of a talking cure was quite radical at the time.
The talking cure was the successor of “moral” treatment which in turn succeeded “heroic” medical treatment and both approaches tended to follow a the notion that mental disturbances were the consequence of anomalous pressures in the brain. Heroic treatment in psychiatry consisted of such tactics as forced inactivity through restraints, shocks and pain to jerk patients out of their state, and purges and bloodletting and even trepanation (drilling a hole in the skull) to relieve pressure in the brain.(Caplan)
The moral cure eschewed heroic methods but still held to the belief that mental disturbances were the consequence of diseases that to be treated required relief from pressures upon the brain. The pressures were now understood as having a social rather than physical origin but the concept of pressure remained. Relief now was best accomplished by offering the patient a soothing environment which included a pastoral setting away from urban bustle, the pursuit of the arts and very importantly, pleasant conversation at meal times with the hospital director, his family and staff.
When talking, however, no attempt was made to discuss the problems of the patient. Rather, following the customs of English drawing room and after-dinner conversation, interesting subjects in the letters or politics were artfully pursued. In fact, discussion of patient’s problems such as suicide, addiction or mental illness was avoided, for it threatened to create anxiety and thereby worsen rather than improve, the dread intracranial pressure.
The purpose of Freud’s “talking cure” was not to transmit information but, in keeping with historical precedent, to relieve pressures, this time the pressure of repressed psychic or psycho-sexual energies. The “talking” that Freud’s pursued with his patients did not, as did the moral cure, avoid the unpleasant subjects of the patient’s condition, nor on the other hand, did it advocate their discussion. The patient was encouraged to free associate; speak freely and utter whatever came to mind.
Yet, the psychoanalytic interchange fell short of what would today be considered communication. There was not to be a free exchange between physician and patient; in fact the psychoanalytic ideal was that the therapist would impart no worldly information but limit himself to analyzing the unconscious meanings of people’s dreams and free associations. This (psycho) analysis had the aim of rearranging the energies trapped in certain mental structures, like the id and the superego, as a result of childhood traumatic experiences. A very narrow segment of the person’s mental life and thoughts, and an even narrower aspect of the person’s current experiences, was to be discussed. The psychoanalyst’s response was to be even more constricted; any broadening of the information by the analyst was suspect and attributed to countertransference, an undue and harmful overinvolvement by the analyst. The patients would be helped, Freud believed, by the release of energies resulting from catharsis and by the rearrangement of awareness facilitated by the analyst’s interpretations. Communication, the transfer of information and feedback (the use of information to modify information) were not deemed a major part of the process. Certainly, information about the analyst’s emotional responses to the patient, be they positive or negative must not be conveyed as that would be the basic countertransference mistake.
Still, narrow as this approach was (from the communication point of view) it was the beginning of an information, and therefore, feedback-based (as opposed to drug or surgery based) healing science. This new approach to human suffering, not coincidentally, emerged at the same time that other information-driven developments began in telephone and radio communications. Talking, not just to one’s family confessor or doctor but to a strange physician, endlessly, about one’s most intimate thoughts was a shocking novelty. This loosening, as it were, of the tongue went along with all the other ways in which, as the Information Age gained momentum, talk loosened and information increasingly circulated in the culture by way of film, radio, telephone and newspapers, a process that has continued so that today people are willing, even eager, to reveal their innermost thoughts to scores of millions on television talk shows.
Part II. Enter Information.
Starting with the invention of the one-sided Freudian talking cure, talking in psychotherapy became a matter of increasing equality and two way communication and feedback. Harry Stack Sullivan set the stage with his emphasis on two-way communication in the psychiatric interview. Carl Rogers, in his non-directive, client centered method kept with the stringent restrictions upon the introduction of information into the therapeutic situation by taking pains to only reflect, without elaboration, what the client said. He did, however, loosen the communication reins by introducing and insisting on the communication of emotional information. He endeavored to communicate a statement of “unconditional positive regard” throughout the psychotherapy process by way of an empathic response of emotional attunement. While this was a big step it still fell short of a free, two-way flow of information.
Not until Albert Ellis developed rational-emotive therapy did a therapist introduce the notion of a problem-solving process that required an exchange of information and feedback and carried with it increasing equality in and democratization of the relationship.
At the same time that information-based problem-solving became a recognized therapeutic mode, useful information in scores of areas affecting physical as well as emotional health became more elaborate, available and reliable. The effects of nutrition and physical fitness, the effects and side effects of legal and illegal drugs, neuroscience, the consequences of power inequalities and power abuse; emotional physical and sexual abuse of children in particular, the natural history of emotions, the importance of gender, sexual identity and preference, culture and age and the significance of death and dying are some of the areas of knowledge that inform competent psychotherapy today. And yet many psychotherapists still disdain the use of this type of information, continuing to believe that people will benefit more from insight and catharsis than from the knowledge and application of such facts.
The 1960’s, a freeing decade which spawned liberation movements for women, gays, blacks, mental patients, the physically challenged and so on, liberated psychotherapy as well. Psychotherapists, like Fritz Perls, Abraham Maslow and Albert Ellis, radically broke through the barriers erected against equality and two-way communication in psychotherapy and Eric Berne was one of the leading radicals in that process. Both in his theory of transactional analysis and in his private and hospital practice, Berne insisted that the principal activity be two-way communication. He developed a psychology and psychotherapy dedicated to the contractual “curing” of his clients, that is to say, dedicated to causing previously communicated and agreed upon changes.
The establishment of a good therapeutic contract is completely dependent on a sophisticated exchange of information aided by feedback. Psychoanalysts also speak of a therapeutic contract, (Menninger) but this contract is one-sided and refers only to what the patients agrees to do; be on time, free associate, pay her bills and so on.
Following Berne’s lead in my work with alcoholics and suicidal clients I began to insist on finding out details about the extent of their drinking or what precise suicide plans they might have and eventually developed the “no drinking” and “no suicide” contracts, (Steiner, 1968, pg. 59) both of which were challenges to the continuing reticence to discuss disturbing subjects, because, it was believed, such discussion might stir up rather than help cure self-destructive behavior. Instead of fearing the exchange of information regarding drug abuse or suicide between the client and me I assumed that, on the contrary, the more accurate information that passed between us, the better the client would be served.
Berne abandoned psychoanalytic theory in favor of a theory centered on communication. He focused on the information that is exchanged between people and conceptualized and categorized it in terms of transactions. By isolating transactional stimuli and responses he provided us with a method with which to study how people influence each other, and made possible the fine-grained analysis of person-to-person communication. In addition, by laying down the premises of script analysis he anticipated the examination of the information passed down from parents to their children which determined people’s life-shaping childhood decisions.
Oddly, given the importance of the concept, Berne never defined the keystone of his theory, the transaction, except to say that it was made up of a stimulus and a response. The transaction is, in fact, simply an exchange of information. Information can be taken in, processed and put out, according to Berne, between three “ego states” – – The Child, the Adult or the Parent — which can be seen as three different information processing entities that operate with different rules (emotional, rational and pre-judged.)
Berne did not clearly detail a hypothesis of what, about Transactional Analysis, facilitated the all-important cure. Clearly, talking was the method. But what kind of talking? He favored “straight” rather than “crooked” transactions; “Martian” talk, that is, honesty. He used the blackboard and gave his patients information about ego states transactions, games and scripts. Unlike any psychiatrist until then, he actually taught his patients his theory during the therapy session. That caused him to want to keep it clear, in contrast with, in his opinion, psychoanalysis and other therapies, which were mystified and confusing. The approach was based on using the Adult to figure out what was wrong and using it to fix it, in contrast with other methods which relied in emotional catharsis or expression. “Feelings, schmeelings” was a favorite expression indicating that what was needed is thinking, instead. And when he was accused of oversimplifying he quipped, “I’d rather oversimplify than overcomplicate.” He chided professionals who spoke in the pompous psychiatric lingo claiming that “if your patient can’t understand what you are saying, its not worth saying.”
What was it about his talking cure that caused people to change? Berne never postulated a concise mechanism but it is clear from his statements and writings that the strengthening and decontamination of the Adult was considered to be a healing factor. As a state of mind “focused on data processing and probability estimating” (Berne, 1972, p443) and reality testing, the Adult will, if it is cathected, allow the person to understand his games and their illicit gratifications and thereby help him stop playing them when “he becomes convinced that there are better (transactional patterns) available.” (Berne, 1966, p303)
How “he becomes convinced” is not clear. Was it through insight or through feedback? In other words, was is through the rearrangement of ideas in the mind or through a process of taking in of information which affects behavior which then produces changes and new information which gets fed back to the client as new information which, in turn, produces new changes and so on. Obviously both processes are occurring but Berne’s emphasis was on information and feedback as his “splinter in the toe” metaphor clearly indicates. (1971)
Second to learning how to think with the Adult and using it, was the “deconfusion” and liberation of the Child and the development of the Parent also achieved through the exchange of therapeutic transactions. These latter processes were less information and feedback driven. They relied on release, and sudden rearrangement as in the case of “permission” (releasing childhood inhibitions) or “reparenting” (replacing one’s Parent ego state with a better one from the therapist.)
It seems that Berne’s theory was driven by three principles: 1. the transmission of information, 2. the liberation of individuals and 3. the democratization of their relationships. My own interpretation of these principles drove me to focus on the relationship between power and information. Information is kept away from people, used and distorted in order to deny them of their rights; power plays using information are extremely effective.
As a therapist in training with Berne I was influenced by my background as an automobile mechanic. I regarded the effective psychotherapy cure similarly to an expert-assisted (based on information) self-repair (based on personal power) of an automobile. To me, the process was one of:
Finding out what the client wants to fix (contract)
Figuring out what needs to be done to fix it (diagnosis)
Assisting the client to do what needs to be done to bring about the desired repair.
In other word “just look under the hood figure out what’s wrong and fix it.”
I had seen the many ways in which an incompetent and/or unscrupulous mechanic can abuse his power with a hapless automobile owner and it became very clear that all sorts of people with power over others, parents, teachers, politicians and yes, therapists, engaged in similar mystifying maneuvers. By contrast, empowering the client with useful, valid information was the basis of good transactional analysis treatment. This approach may seem a bit simplistic but it is in fact what Berne had in mind when he invented transactional analysis which he practiced in groups which were much more suited to efficiency, democratic communication and feedback.
Part III. Information as Prime Mover.
Any complete theory of behavior requires an explanation of the motivation, the moving force, the energy that causes behavior. When accounting, as any scientific psychologist must, for why people engaged in transactions at all, Berne framed his explanation in terms of the need for stimulation. It was here that he prefigured the issues that, in my opinion, will become central in XXI century psychology and psychiatry; information hunger.
A basic tenet of Berne’s early theory is that “the ability of the human psyche to maintain coherent ego states seems to depend upon a changing flow of sensory stimulation.” (Berne 1951, pg. 83). Based on this observation he coined the concept of “stimulus hunger” (pg. 85) and its “first order sublimation…recognition hunger.” (pg. 84) Stimulus hunger gets further elaborated into “structure hunger,” (pg. 85) the craving for social situations in which recognition and thereby varying stimulation can be obtained. Both stimulus and structure hunger find an even further elaboration in existential hunger, the craving for meaning. Thus every transactional sequence and game has three levels of payoff–motivation- -for its performance; the biological (stimulation) the social (structure) and the existential (meaning.)
In info-psychology terms, Berne is saying that the fundamental motivation for transactional behavior is the acquisition of “a changing flow of sensory stimulation.” Changing, because human tissue adapts and eventually atrophies when subjected to stimulation that does not change. Stimulation needs to change in order to maintain psychological life but even random change has the same deadening effect than steady stimulation. What organisms seek and are motivated by is stimulation imbued with meaning, that is information.
These statements are well supported by research: In the 1950’s, psychologists discovered that rats, monkeys and people find simple stimulation rewarding. Prior to that discovery only food and water were used by animal researchers as rewards in their experiments. Hungry and thirsty animals would eagerly learn complicated tasks to get food and water. In this manner psychologists investigated how animals learn. Thousands of such learning experiments were done with hungry and thirsty rats, cats, dogs and monkeys using food and drink as the motivating reward.
Somewhere along the line, however, psychologists noticed that animals that were neither hungry nor thirsty were motivated to solve the very same puzzles, seemingly for the simple privilege of receiving interesting stimulation such a simple show of flashing lights. This discovery lead to a novel hypothesis and extensive subsequent research, which Berne was well aware of: that in addition to the drives that animals have toward food and drink there was also a drive for stimulation and exploration, a drive which is aroused by lack of stimulation, or boredom. (Fowler)
Clearly, people had similar needs. Research psychologists Bexton et al paid their subjects an above average hourly wage and fed them to stay in a small room and do nothing, and see, hear and touch next to nothing, 24 hours a day, as long as they were willing to stay. Within eight hours most subjects become increasingly unhappy and developed what appeared to be a strong need for stimulation. The subjects, who were college level students, would as an example, request to repeatedly hear an anti-alcohol talk for grade school children or a recording of an old stock market report if that was all which was available to relieve their boredom. They reported that after some hours of sensory deprivation they could not follow a train of thought and that it took them a whole day to regain the motivation to study after the experiment was over.
Anecdotal evidence regarding people stranded on desert islands and other such isolated places is plentiful and will attest to the fact that the need for stimulation can become extraordinarily compelling. Later researchers took the matter further and developed isolation chambers in which people were floated in a dark, sound proofed, body temperature, water tank and discovered that sensory deprivation had dramatic, sometimes disturbing effects on the human psyche resulting in a “trip,” sometimes a “bad trip,” similar to those that can be the consequence of LSD usage. In other words, the mind craves stimulation and when radically deprived of it the mind manufactures it’s own, often dredging its darker recesses in the process. (Heron)
Finally, in the process of investigating the relationship of stimulation to information, psychologists D. E. Berlyne and A. Jones found, in a series of experiments, again with college students, that it was not stimulation alone but information–that is stimulation imbued with meaning– that their subjects sought. Its a subtle distinction but an important one. We seek stimulation but if the stimulation has no information content, it quickly loses its capacity to satisfy the need that drives us toward it and leaves us hungry. It becomes therefore appropriate, from this point of view, to speak of “information hunger” as well as stimulation hunger when describing the constant search for stimulation exhibited by people.
It is this search for stimulation as information that will, I predict, become more and more problematic in the coming years. A twenty first century psychotherapy will have to deal with two parallel processes. People will want to move away and find relief from from the cynicism, poverty, crowding, disease, pollution which are increasing in their environment while, on the other hand, seeking solace, entertainment and contact through electronic media (television, internet, cyber-sex, virtual reality, computers games) in the safety of their apartments and houses. The resulting increase of highly attractive synthetic, machine generated contact and information, and the simultaneous loss of direct “flesh-based” human connections will surely have major deranging effects on people. One such effect will be the loss of interpersonal communication skills; people will need guidance to restore human, humane contact in their lives.
According to Berne, stimulus hunger motivates and directs human activity just as surely as hunger, thirst and the need for oxygen (there is no name for oxygen hunger, yet) It is the need for stimulation that generates “social pathology” — covert transactions, games and scripts, all in an effort to obtain stimulation that we cannot easily get in its original, wholesome form, as intimacy.
From this line of thinking emerged the concept of strokes. In Games People Play, (1964) Berne named the human activity of exchanging recognition, “stroking”( pg. 15) and the unit of exchange, a “stroke,” and he summarized this assumption, as he did other important tenets of his theory, with an aphorism: “People need strokes, if they don’t get them, their spinal cords will shrivel up.” (pg. 14)
Strokes are a particularly powerful, information rich, source of stimulation; human stimulation. Strokes are procured through intimacy, work, pastimes or games. A stroke, positive or negative, is the unit of human stimulation (arguably, strokes can be exchanged between humans and higher animals) contrasted with the myriad of non-human ways in which we are stimulated. Strokes and stroking define, in one simple brilliant concept, the most basic human events, love and hate.
To these ideas I added the concept of the “stroke economy” which holds that due to a set of rules that limit people’s exchanges of positive strokes, people are chronically starved for them. The rules are:
- Don’t give strokes you want to give.
- Don’t ask for strokes you want.
- Don’t accept strokes you want.
- Don’t reject strokes you don’t want, and
- Don’t give yourself strokes.
These rules are enforced by the Critical Parent on a society-wide basis. The procurement of positive strokes is and will continue to be the central human pursuit; as transactional analysts it is our primary task to aid our clients in their quest. We have the information and training to perform that task. In Achieving Emotional Literacy (1997) I outline a program of training which includes Opening the Heart dealing with the stroke economy and the influence of the Critical Parent.
A decade ago in pursuit of an understanding of power plays I became interested in propaganda. At first it seemed that propaganda is simply a conspiracy by some to brainwash an innocent population. But it soon became clear that people weren’t passive victims of propaganda but actually sought out propaganda and welcomed it, and if it wasn’t available manufactured it themselves. Just as in the case of food, where people prefer junk food to the nutritious choice and in the case of strokes, where harmful games are played instead of obtaining positive strokes, people will accept and seek misinformation and disinformation– info-junk in other words–and come to prefer it to the truthful, valid alternative. In each one of these cases there is an abiding hunger, which will cause people to accept and eventually seek the toxic substitution for the real thing.
I am postulating that if the stimulation hunger urge is the precursor of recognition hunger and stroke hunger then the precursor of all three is information hunger. Information is the fundamental need that drives not only people but also all living organisms. Thus I am broadening Berne’s notion of stimulus hunger to include the notion of “information hunger.”
Most people think of information as 411 on the telephone dial but to clearly understand what information is we have to go to the field of cybernetics, where information has been defined by mathematicians (Shannon and Weaver, pg 12-13) as a means of reduction of uncertainty or in even more technical terms as a reduction of entropy; entropy being a measure of the level of disorganization in any part of the universe. In this sense, information or meaning serves to reverse the normal decay and disorganization, which is an inevitable process in nature. Information acts at all levels of life to counteract decay; at the human level, information is a gathering together, a process of concentration of the powers of the person; information works against the dissolution of mental capacities which occurs in its absence. The production and consumption of information is a fundamental function of human life, just like the production and consumption of oxygen is a fundamental function of plant life. Information fuels mental life; without it, psychological brain death is certain. Info-junk, (mis and disinformation) is the toxic version of information and (as in the case of negative strokes) while it quells the hunger and prevents brain death, it disrupts and disorganizes mental and emotional life.
Strokes and Information
In developing the theory of the Stroke Economy I proposed that most people are in a perpetual state of stroke hunger as a result of a restrictive economy of strokes. I noted that positive strokes, that is, loving transactions or in general love, are scarce due to an economy of strokes which prevents people from freely giving others or oneself, asking for and accepting strokes we want or even rejecting strokes we don’t want. We prefer positive strokes but will accept negative strokes, which are plentiful, in their place. On the other hand, strokes have become a commodity that can be bought, sold, traded, bartered, accumulated and monopolized. Interestingly, what can be said for strokes can also be said for information: we hunger for information, will accept and even seek toxic information in the absence of useful or constructive information and there is an Information Economy in which information has become a commodity. The result is that some people are info-rich and others are info-poor but most are chronically hungry for information while consuming large quantities of info-junk.
Strokes do not only fulfill the biological need for love but they also feed the need for information. They are in fact tightly packaged, powerful bundles of information about ourselves. Stimulation hunger, stroke hunger, structure hunger and the hunger for existential meaning are, in my opinion, all successively more complex forms of information. Thus, when we seek strokes, or structure or meaning we are seeking information in increasingly human, symbolic form.
Script messages as information
Clearly, information comes to us in a variety of ways; life is full of lessons. The flow of information is steady and we select and prioritize from among all the information presented to us, that which will serve as feedback and that which will be ignored. What messages are taken to heart and which are passed by, depends on a variety of factors.
Early in life, children’s predicaments frequently force them to make important decisions. These decisions, based on available information made in a context of powerlessness, can be the source of great trouble later in life when power relations change and the childhood decisions are no longer necessary for survival. That is the essence of scripts.
In developing the script matrix (Steiner, 1971) I attempted to illustrate in a diagram the messages that we take to heart in our childhood. Berne’s ego states gave me a number of informational levels to consider, just as in the case of transactions. A person’s script is based on messages in the form of injunctions and attributions which are underscored by a variety of factors; the importance of the source, (father, mother, significant others) the emphasis that is added to the message, punishment, rewards, repetition, powerlessness and susceptibility (ripe for imprinting, scared, tired, upset, drugged or in hypnagogic state) all have an effect on the attention that the child pays to the message.
The information impinging on the young person will come in to all three of the levels of meaning, Child, Adult, Parent. The child is going to learn and modify his behavior and sometimes the behavior will be discontinuous, a dramatic leap in behavior change. When there is an awareness of such a leap we speak of a “decision,” but much scripting occurs gradually without such a dramatic decision point which is why called “banal” scripting. Changing script decisions, whether dramatic or banal, is a complex process requiring accurate information, and effective action and feedback.
Lies and Information.
Script messages as opposed to valid, Adult information are in essence lies–disinformation and misinformation–designed to control and invalidate the child’s autonomy and to in some way undermine the child’s power. Politics has to do with power whether at the government level or the level of relations between people; men and women, parents and their children. Lies are power plays and the most significantly destructive political act in the Information Age is lying. Information has always been used as an avenue to power. Denial of information and deception are age-old forms of power abuse.
Lying is always engaged in order to stay in control and is part and parcel of the constant power behavior and abuse that our culture encourages and demands. In spite of the fact that every major religion proscribes lies, lying is an aspect of everyday life almost from the first day of our existence, even in the most devoutly moral and religious households. Certainly, by the time a child is able to speak, parents are lying to it routinely and, eventually, the child is expected, as an aspect of proper socialization, to learn to lie as well. We tell our children not to lie, yet we lie to them constantly. We tell them to be truthful as we continually do otherwise and we never tell them what a lie is, how it is different from the truth, and what we mean when we tell them that lying is wrong. To be sure we have all manner of rationalizations for lying to children and each other; we assume that children could not take the truth or don’t want to know it or would be harmed by it, we believe that little white lies are harmless and that we are, in fact, obligated to protect others from the truth. But the real reasons for lying are far more practical; the fact is that we lie to stay in control and that to be truthful means, at times, to give up power and comfort, to have to be responsible for our actions and feelings and to face truth and reality.
The capacity to perceive, to understand and effectively deal with the world is severely curtailed by the presence of constant lies in our lives. The process of sorting out what is true and what is false, when to lie and when to tell the truth, what to believe and what not to believe is an ongoing drain on our energies. Given all of these uncertainties, the mind is prevented from working at its optimal level. It is said that we use only a small fraction of our mental capacity. If this is so, it surely is because most of our mental capacity is squandered by confusing information; misinformation, disinformation, falsehoods and lies.
We are in a magical moment in history in which evolution has brought us to the point where we have developed the mental capacity and the technical knowledge to efficiently and powerfully satisfy the hunger for information that has fueled human evolution since the dawn of history. Given people’s info-hunger, information has become a hugely profitable commodity and our economy is totally dependent on it.
We are, for the first time in a position, world wide, to satisfy the most basic of human hungers, information hunger. We have the information terminals and processors, we have the networks and we have the information economy. Unfortunately, however, we have a great problem with information itself, which is badly polluted with a variety of lies. Lies without the amplifying power of technology are harmful but manageable, but the high-tech lies of today are overwhelming and we have to develop means to defend ourselves against them, for our bodies have no inborn protection against them. Like so many products designed and refined to attract our hungers (junk food, drinks, alcohol, drugs) information has been so elaborately refined (television, movies, advertisement, internet, best selling books, popular magazines) that it is irresistible to most.
The quality of information that we are exposed to and expose ourselves to has an extraordinarily important effect on our everyday lives. Unfortunately, in a manner similar to our environment’s degradation, in which the food, air and water that surrounds us is becoming increasingly toxic, the information which we are encouraging, permitting, asking for and consuming is, in large measure, equally toxic disinformation, misinformation and info-junk. In addition there is a problem with information overload, the facts that there is now so much information available, good and bad, that it great skill to find the valid information which is at times harder to find than a needle in a haystack. In short a most important aspect of our environment at this time is the information environment and its quality, especially the quality of information in our personal relationships.
There are several levels in which corrective measures need to be taken. One of these measures, for people to practice at the personal level, is “radical truth telling.” Clearly this is an extremist proposal, which, if taken seriously, has to be approached with care. Any person who insisted in being completely truthful would be so out of phase with the rest of the world that he might soon be jailed or hospitalized. If one considers that being radically truthful involves never lying about anything as well as saying everything of significance that one wants, feels or believes it can be seen that the project has its dangers. In fact, it only makes sense, initially, in the most intimate and close relationships and only by mutual agreement.
If we are to begin taking the information age seriously, we must learn everything we can about information, we must become info-literate, that is to say we must learn what information is and what noise is, what is a lie, what is truthful and what is true (and the difference between them) and we must begin this process close to home in the personal realm before we can expect advertisers, teachers and politicians to follow suit. Above all, in the information age, we must know when we lie and why and when we are being lied to and why.
Part IV. Transactional Analysis as an Information Psychology and Psychiatry
Seen in this light, the practice of psychotherapy is no longer a process in which we rearrange energies and release pressures (though we may do both at times) but a process in which valid, useful and constructive information, free of lies is exchanged, subjected to modification by feedback with a specific, integrating, counter-entropic purpose.
What can Transactional Analysis contributed to this process? The fact is that Transactional Analysis trained persons are optimally equipped:
* We are trained to observe the transactional process and analyze it as a medium of information exchange.
* We are trained to distinguish three different sources of information and the various combinations of information exchange that can occur; the ego states and the three different levels of meaning transacted between them. We are aware of the peculiar characteristics of Parent to Child transactions compared to Adult-to-Adult transactions, the covert and overt components of transactions and the effects of crossed and angular transactions.
* We understand the pathology of transactions. We know how attempts to communicate can turn into games and we know how to help people stop these harmful patterns of information and stroke exchange.
* We know the characteristics of healthy transactions and how to give people permission and protection to engage in them. We know how to respond to lies and how to help people stop lying and accepting other people’s lies.
* Finally we know the importance of the therapeutic contract and we are skilled at establishing such contracts. The contract advances the practice of Information Age soul-healing in two important ways:
1. It establishes that the activity of psychotherapy shall be based on a feedback loop that modifies behavior according to results. It forces both therapist and client into a result centered, productive, information based transactional pattern of interaction. It establishes the expectation that the psychotherapist be fully informed of the latest relevant facts about child development, aging, death and dying, facts about the harmful effects of power inequities, power abuse whether emotional, physical or sexual, facts about diet, exercise, health maintenance, exercise, drugs, addiction, the results of the latest psychological, psychiatric and neuroscience research, and facts about the latest techniques for bringing about desired change.
2. Given the kind of prediction and control that is necessary to achieve the completion of a contract, it encourages the use of valid information rather than opinion, prejudice, ad-hominem, or mis-information. Thus, it becomes clear that the change that is desired by the client is not going to happen magically through the extensive discussion of childhood memories, dream analysis or some other form of wishful thinking but because valid, effective, order-generating information (that may include childhood experiences and dreams) is applied to the process.
It seems that many in Transactional Analysis are impatient with the state of transactional analysis as a dynamic, developing theory. For myself, I have thought at times that Transactional Analysis has had its day. Many of its ideas have been silently incorporated into the psychiatric culture, but on the whole its point has been missed and it has not been given a place among the great psychiatric theories of the century and I was ready to put it to rest. Accordingly I followed my interest in power and its abuses away from Transactional Analysis into propaganda, journalism and Central American politics. From the distant perspective of an investigator into media and information, in a dawning Information Age I came to see Transactional Analysis in a brand new light; as a visionary theory of Information Age psychology and psychiatry. As the world peers into the twenty first century with every one wondering how they will be affected by the looming millennial changes, we, in Transactional Analysis, are in possession of a legacy which is only now becoming clear: we have the tools and the insights of an Information Age, communication-based psychology and psychiatry.
Berne, Eric Games People Play. New York, Grove Press, 1964.
Berne, Eric. What Do You Say After You Say Hello? New York, Grove Press, 1972.
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