The Story of The Discovery Of TA
by Dr. Carl Weisbrod
A WDS E-ZINE BEDTIME STORY
I first heard "The Three Minute Therapy Session" as the
birth of Transactional Analysis in 1976 but didn't put it in writing
until July 2000. Dr. Cottington Passed away in 1983. Reference:
[10-01R#12//P#11-X: ISSN: 1537-2820]
Dr. Carl Weisbrod
Here's the story, told from memory and second hand. I had
the privilege of working as a co-therapist with psychiatrist and
psychoanalyst, Fran Cottington, M.D.
Dr. Cottington often talked about having as a classmate, Dr. Eric Berne,
during her psychoanalytic training...which in the United States required a
candidate to be a physician with a specialty in psychiatry, and then several
years of additional training.
Eric Berne became known as the father of the pop-psychology books of the
1960s and 1970s, the best known is "Games People Play." The basis of his
work is called Transactional Analysis. In the 70s all therapists were
familiar with the following three vertical circles:
(P) refers to the Parent and relates to Freud's Superego...
(A) refers to the Adult and relates to Freud's Ego...
(C) refers to the Child and relates to Freud's Id.
With parallel groups of circles, it allows a shorthand showing a transaction
between the ego states of two people...hence the phrase Transaction
Analysis. It's a great system.
According to Fran Cottington, here's how this came about.
In the 1940s when the war broke out, Berne was drafted and forced to
function as a battlefield surgeon--he didn't like physical medicine that
much and longed to function as a psychoanalyst or psychiatrist.
At the end of the war a few congressmen decided that perhaps
battlefield soldiers, because of the violence they experienced, would be too
disturbed to safely re-enter society, so a statute was written that required
every soldier with battlefield experience to be psychologically evaluated
before mustering out (discharged).
The military officers, needless to say, were appalled that such an indignity
would be forced on the young men that had sacrificed so much. But they had
to follow orders, so they searched their ranks for doctors with
psychological training--and of course Dr. Berne was one of the many that
When told of his new assignment, Dr. Berne was overjoyed. Finally he would
be allowed to practice his chosen specialty. He was given an office, and he
arrived with an armload of books and note pads.
His upbeat mood was destroyed when the Sergeant informed the doctor that he
had five hours to see and evaluate 100 patients.
"100 patients!" Berne screamed, "In 5 hours I can see only 5
patients--I can't do an evaluation in 3 minutes!" The sergeant shrugged his
shoulders and smiled.
Well, that was the way it was going to be. Dr. Berne, and the other doctors,
were given a rubber-stamp that said something like "CLEARED," and some kind
of medical form with the soldiers name, rank and Dog-Tag numbers on it.
The other doctors barely looked up as the battle-weary soldiers passed
through, but Berne, being a perfectionist, did the best he could with the
time he had.
It was made clear to Dr. Berne that he was to approve every soldier's
discharge, but nevertheless he asked each soldier a few simple questions
designed to trigger one of three ego states. He made some quick notes, and
would make a discrete note when he felt the soldier was at risk for some
antisocial behavior--and what that behavior might possibly be.
After rubber-stamping thousands of soldiers, Berne, on his own, did some
follow up and even surprised himself at the accuracy of his evaluations. He
had made notes warning of such things as suicide risk, and violence
potential, and found a substantial number of these predictions turned out to
be correct--remember these evals were done in three minutes!
When he re-entered his psychoanalytic training, in New York City, he told
his professors of his discovery. A couple of points: these doctors were a
stuffy and elitist bunch, and they didn't appreciate this upstart trying to
tell his superiors about human behavior.
Berne, as you've noticed from the story, was a man who was not easily
dissuaded, and he submitted a paper to a psychiatric journal which was
accepted. It included the stats from his personal military study backing up
the idea that psychotherapy need not be such a lengthy process.
Berne's professors were enraged and promptly expelled him from the school.
Berne made the comment to my friend (remember Fran?) that he would get even
by writing books that would make Freud's psychoanalysis so clear that the
average person on the street could understand it.
If you've read "Games People Play," you know he accomplished just that... by
using simple, easy-to-understand terms such as Parent/Adult/Child rather
than Superego/Ego/Id)and all the games; names such as Kick-me, Harried,
Schlemiel, and the favorite of many: Now I've Got You, You Son-of-a-Bitch
(most use the acronym "NIGYsob").
The stuffy New York Freudian Analysts hated it, and Berne loved them hating
it--he had his revenge. He wrote about 6 more books before he passed away,
as I recall, in the mid-1970s.
Fran said Berne was such a prolific writer, and fast typist, that instead of
using sheets of paper he ran a roll of paper into his typewriter so he
wasn't interrupted by feeding in individual sheets.
Berne's contemporaries continued the Transaction Analysis trend by authoring
books such as "Scripts People Live" and "I'm Okay--You're Okay." At last
count I know of at least two dozen books written with a base of
So now you know the story of Transactional Analysis, and the Three-Minute
Carl Weisbrod July 2000
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