Beating Addiction: Working through underlying issues with Transactional Analysis

The article below is a version of the video interview I gave above.


I’m Alison, a trained psychotherapist. I run Formby Counselling near Liverpool in the UK. I have my therapy rooms there which are also available to rent by other counsellors. I also cover Southport, Ormskirk, Skelmersdale, Wigan, Warrington, St Helens, Prescot. Being close to the beach and a beautiful nature reserve I also offer “Walk and talk” eco-therapy.

Could you tell us your experience helping people with addiction?

I’ve found that using Transactional Analysis (TA) has been particularly effective in helping people overcome their addiction.

Could you explain what Transactional Analysis is and how it can help with addiction?

Transactional Analysis is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on our relationships and interactions with others, based on the idea that the personality is made up of three parts or ego-states called the Parent, Adult and Child. TA helps us understand the underlying beliefs and injunctions or messages we learned as children from our parents or significant people that drive our behaviour as adults. In the case of addiction, we use TA to help identify the underlying issues that may be contributing to the addiction.

What kind of underlying issues are you talking about?

Eric Berne, the founder of TA in the 1960’s, often said, “Drugs are instead of people.” TA therapists view addictions as solutions or coping mechanisms to ‘people problems’ or problems with our daily interactions or relationships with other people.

Through TA, we can help clients identify what their ‘people problems’ are that lead to addictions, and work through them in a healthier way. In TA, examples of the most common ‘people problems’ that clients are using addictions to attempt to solve are:

  1. How to get positive strokes or recognition from other people – the part of the client’s personality called the Child uses addictions to feel accepted and a sense of belonging in a group of other addicts. This is a way of coping with injunctions or messages clients are given by their parents and other significant figures in childhood, for example “Don’t be yourself” and “Don’t think”.
  2. How to avoid getting positive strokes – the client’s Child part of their personality uses addictions to soothe and calm themselves as a way of coping with childhood messages such as “Don’t be close”, “Don’t trust” and “Don’t be around (get lost)”.
  3. How to avoid feelings – the client’s Child part of their personality uses addictions to feel ‘something’ as a way of coping with childhood messages such as “Don’t feel emotions”. This message often causes an inability to feel emotions or body sensations.
  4. How to get love and protection from Mum – the client’s Child uses addictions to practically live out their life plan or script that their parents taught them to live as children – to be self-destructive.
  5. How to remain dependent – the client’s Child uses addictions to stay in a ‘one-down’ or ‘less than’ position often in response to the childhood message of “Don’t grow up”.

Could you walk us through what a typical TA session for addiction might look like?

In a TA session, we would first establish a safe and comfortable environment for the client to talk about their addiction. We would then use a variety of techniques, such as active listening, to help the person identify their underlying issues. For example, we might ask questions like, “When did you first start using drugs or alcohol? What was going on in your life at that time?”

We will also talk about the TA concepts of ego states, transactions, and life scripts to help the client understand their patterns of behaviour and communication. For example, someone who is using drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with stressful relationships or life circumstances, will be operating primarily from their “Child” ego state, which is impulsive, emotional, and seeks love and acceptance from other people.

Through TA, we can help them develop their “Adult” ego state, which is rational and logical, and learn new coping skills that are more effective in the present, instead of outdated ones from childhood.

How does TA help individuals develop healthier coping mechanisms?

Through TA, we can help clients identify their negative patterns of behaviour and communication, and work to change those patterns. For example, someone who is using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism may learn new Adult coping skills, such as mindfulness, living in the present moment, and becoming more self-aware of how the messages learned unconsciously in childhood no longer serve the same purposes in their adult lives now.

We also work on developing positive communication skills so that clients can express their emotions in a healthy way.

In addition, TA can help clients develop a more positive sense of self and identity. Many people who struggle with addiction have a negative self-image and feel powerless to change. Through TA, we can help them develop a more positive and empowered sense of self, which can make it easier to overcome their addiction.

Have you seen success with this method?

I’ve seen many people overcome their addictions and go on to live healthy, fulfilling lives. Of course, it’s not a quick fix, and it requires a lot of commitment and dedication from both the client and the therapist. But the results can be life-changing.

One of the reasons that TA can be so effective for addiction is that it focuses on the whole person, not just the addiction itself. By addressing the underlying issues and helping the person develop healthier coping mechanisms and communication skills, we can help them create a more fulfilling and satisfying life overall.

Are there any particular challenges that you’ve encountered in using TA for addiction?

One challenge is that addiction can be a very powerful force, and it can be difficult for clients to overcome on their own. It can also be difficult for clients to confront their underlying issues and the emotions that may be driving their addiction.

However, within the context of a safe, confidential, empathic, healing, equal, I’m OK/you’re OK therapeutic relationship, it’s possible to overcome these challenges and make real progress.

What advice would you give to someone struggling with addiction and considering help?

I would encourage them to reach out for help as soon as possible. Addiction is a complex issue, and it can be difficult to overcome on your own. Seeking the help of a qualified therapist who is trained in TA can provide the support and guidance needed to make real progress.

I would also encourage clients to be patient with themselves and the process. Recovery takes time and dedication, and it’s important to celebrate small victories along the way.