Couples Counseling in 3 Sessions-Hit the Reset Button

Couples counseling is serious business. People are often in crisis. Many times someone has engaged in bad behavior. It will require time, commitment, and the right tools to sort things out. I require 3 sessions to hit the Reset Button.

Over three weeks, we begin to re-build a healthy relationship foundation. Clients learn new ways to understand themselves and their partner/families. They learn to communicate effectively. They learn the importance of positive strokes & make good contracts.

1. Couples Counseling and Introduction to Transactional Analysis

• What brings you to counseling? Autopsy or Resuscitate? 3 Styles of Marriage

• TA Introduction PAC-PAC Critical Parent & Rebel Child ‘Activate’ Adult Positive Strokes Contracts Stroke & Stand Time Structure Price & Prize

2. Understand Your Personality Types

Most couples have different personality types! You will learn to understand similarities and differences in personality preferences using the book “Please Understand Me.” This session will help you understand people in many areas-at home, at work, and with friends.

3. Make and Keep Your Agreements using Relationship Contract

Good relationships are built by making and keeping your agreements. It gives each person a sense of stability and safety when they know what to expect. We negotiate 4 key areas in order to build that sense of stability. We use a Relationship Contract:
• each person complete worksheet for Time, Space Money and Play
• think about the price tags for breaking agreements (affairs, overspending, etc)

The couple may schedule another appointment to renegotiate their Relationship Contract. When the contract is done, they may want to continue working to strengthen their relationship.

“You know you love yourself or anyone else by the contracts you are willing to make and keep.”


How to Use TA When Your Client is Stuck

A long-term client came back to see me after many months. She had been doing very well in counseling, and I was glad to get an update from her.  When she arrived, she plopped down in the chair, she said loudly “What is WRONG with me???  Why do I keep repeating the same stupid mistakes with my BFF???  Have I learned NOTHING in all these months of work??”

This kind of opening statement isn’t unusual.   I took a breath and replied “I understand your frustration.  You have learned and applied many TA tools in the past several months.  But in the situation with your BFF (best friend forever), you feel stuck.  Am I right?”  She nodded.  “Do you want to use TA to figure it out?”   She nodded again.   

In my practice, I use TA throughout the session.  TA definitions give me and my clients a common language to talk about their issues. The TA diagrams can help people ‘visualize’ and analyze their problems. 

In my office, I have 4 posters on display.  I created these posters to help clients remember TA tools and concepts. My clients find these posters very helpful in focusing in on their specific issue.

I use the metaphor of a growing tree as a metaphor for a flourishing life. “The Seven Principles Tree” (left) shows seven positive Beliefs and Behaviors for Authentic Living.  The TA Tree shows the corresponding TA Tool or concept used for each one. 

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When a client is stuck, confused, or ask “What’s WRONG with Me??” I use different posters.  “The Seven Beliefs & Behaviors That Keep People Stuck in Life”(left)  depicts an ailing tree. It has brief statements with beliefs and behaviors that don’t serve authentic living.  The ‘STUCK’ TA Tree shows the corresponding TA tools or concepts to analyze and resolve issues and problems.

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I said to my client (I’ll call her Sue) “I know you understand the Seven Principles well.  Today let’s start by talking about beliefs and behaviors that keep people stuck in negative beliefs or poor behaviors.  We will briefly review each statement, and then ‘rule out’ the ones that don’t fit the situation with your BFF.”  Sue agreed.

We talked about each statement.  Sue quickly focused on ‘Poor Communication and Negative Strokes’. She said “For years, I knew my relationship with my best friend needed work.  She’s very bossy with me. When I do everything her way, she’s happy. When I don’t, she is really critical with me. I’ve come to realize I’m getting almost all negative strokes from her.  That hurts.”

I said “Let’s look at this situation from a TA perspective. “We turned our attention to ‘The Stuck TA Tree,’ and looked at Crossed Transactions and Negative Strokes. We decided to analyze her pattern of Transactions and Strokes with her best friend.

Analyzing the Transactions: In TA, we analyze communication, or transactions, using the PAC diagram.  We drew the PAC-PAC diagrams on the dry erase board.  We reviewed the three types of transactions: Complementary, Crossed, and Ulterior.

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Sue said “My best friend always talks down to me like I am a child.  She is critical most of the time”  I feel like I am always doing something wrong”  Then she said “I act like a Child around her. I do everything she tells me to do. I let her call the shots just so she won’t get angry with me.” She drew the arrows from P to C and reverse—a Critical Parent to an Adapted Child transaction.

For months, Sue had been practicing complementary, Adult to Adult transactions.  She was getting good results at work and with her family. But not her BFF. She said “When I talk Adult to Adult to her, she gets angry!  She ignores me or ridicules me. She doesn’t want to hear my thoughts or opinions.” 

Analyzing Strokes: We reviewed the definition of strokes. Strokes are ‘units of recognition one person gives another’. They can be positive strokes (smiles, compliments, and hugs) or negative strokes (frown, rejection, and slaps).  Eric Berne said we need positive strokes—but we will settle for negative ones if that is all we can get.

We analyzed the strokes Sue received from her best friend.  Sue observed that when she was a compliant Adapted Child (“Of course we can do it your way”),  Sue received positive strokes. The BF was agreeable, smiled at her, and complimented her.

However, when Sue expressed her own thoughts and opinions(from her Adult ego state), she was quickly discounted, rebuffed, criticized, or ignored by her best friend. This pattern had gone on for many many years.

Sue said “I don’t want to lose her friendship. Even though I’m getting only getting negative strokes from her now, it’s sad to think how long I tolerated negative strokes.  And I don’t think she will ever change. It may be over.”  Together we sat with the sadness awhile.

When Sue was ready, we began to assess the pros and cons of keeping the relationship. Sue realized that she could keep the relationship with her friend —and accept negative strokes. She could look for other sources for positive strokes.  Then we assessed the pros and cons of letting it go. She would accept the risk that new friendships were unknown.

At the end of the session, my clients’ mood had improved somewhat.   While she was sad about the situation, she was pleased to successfully use TA to analyze her communication and stroke patterns. She accepted that she had a choice to make. She left the session appearing more confident. She had used her TA to ‘analyze’ her problem and used TA to come up with a few possible solutions.   

Sue has not returned since this session—but I know she is using TA Tools to create a more authentic life.  Well done!

What IS Transactional Analysis???

What IS Transactional Analysis?

When I recently updated my LinkedIn page to reflect I was a TA Practitioner, I got a lot of congratulations….and usually the questions “What is TA, anyway??” I usually tell people:

“Transactional Analysis is an easy-to understand theory of personality, communication, and path to personal change. TA uses simple diagrams and plain language to make the abstract world of psychology understandable. It really works.”

TA principles work in many settings and situations.  When asked ‘What is TA?” I tailor the answer to best address the person.

Parents and Teacher: I tell them TA diagrams and vocabulary helps children understand and express their feelings in a healthy way. It also helps young kids and teens learn the basics of good communication and making agreements.

Counselor or Therapist: I explain that TA is a theory of positive psychology created by Dr. Eric Berne. TA is educational and solution-focused.  It uses simple diagrams to teach clients self-awareness and good communication techniques. TA is effective for individual, couples, or groups.

Organizational trainer: I tell them TA provides tools for conflict management; for improving communication skills between supervisors and employees; improving management skills in employee discipline and writing performance appraisals; and team-building in organizations.

Health Care professional: I tell them TA provides tools to use with people who are in physical and emotional pain. It helps them talk to patients about tough life/death decisions. It helps them understand the importance of self-care.

Why study TA? The principles of TA works in all relationships: Parents and kids; supervisors and employees, husbands and wives; brothers and sisters. TA provides a system for positive communication and change.

Where’s MY Permission Slip?

We all want someone to write us a “Permission slip” when we have not given ourselves permission to have what we want, or to say NO to what we don’t want.  We often become stuck in patterns of thinking, behaving, and believing that reflect our childhood decisions.  These decisions created your “Lifescript”, our blueprint for living.   Eric Berne, founder of TA, stated every person is born with basic Permissions:

  • Be-the permission to exist on this planet
  • Feel-the permission to feel my feelings
  • Think-the permission to think for myself
  • Share–  the permission to share who I am with others

As you reflect on your life, did you have permission to be you?  To feel your feelings?  To live your life the way YOU want?  If not, your “Lifescript”, the story of your life, may include several unspoken decisions and rules that keep you from living the life you really want to live.


Key Concepts of Transactional Analysis

A Summary of Transactional Analysis Key Ideas from ITAA

Transactional Analysis theory was created by Eric Berne MD.  It is a theory of positive psychology.  Here are some key concepts from TA:

I’m OK – You’re OK

“I’m OK – You’re OK” expresses an important purpose of transactional analysis: to recognize the value and worth of every person. Transactional analysts regard people as basically “OK” and capable of change, growth, and healthy interactions.


Berne observed that people need strokes, the units of interpersonal recognition, to survive and thrive. Understanding how people give and receive positive strokes, and changing unhealthy stroke are powerful aspects of work in transactional analysis.

Ego States

Eric Berne made complex interpersonal transactions understandable when he recognized that the human personality is made up of three “ego states”. Each ego state is an entire system of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors from which we interact with one another. The Parent, Adult and Child ego states and the interaction between them form the foundation of transactional analysis theory.


Transactions refer to the communication exchanges between people. Transactional analysts are trained to recognize which ego states people are transacting from and to follow the transactional sequences so they can intervene and improve the quality and effectiveness of communication.

Games People Play

Berne defined certain socially dysfunctional behavioral patterns as “games.” These repetitive transactions are principally intended to obtain strokes, but instead reinforce negative feelings and self-concepts, and mask the direct expression of thoughts and emotions. Berne tagged these games with recognizable names as “Why Don’t You, Yes But,” “Now I’ve Got You, You SOB,” and “I’m Only Trying to Help You.”

Life Script

Eric Berne proposed that dysfunctional behavior is the result of self-limiting decisions made in childhood in the interest of survival. Such decisions result in the “life script,” the pre-conscious life plan that governs the way life is lived out. Changing the life script is the aim of transactional analysis psychotherapy.


Transactional analysis practice is based upon mutual contracting for change. Transactional analysts view people as capable of deciding what they want for their lives. Accordingly, transactional analysis does its work on a contractual basis between the client and the therapist, educator, or consultant.  Adapted from

Upcoming: TA Basics

This group will meet for 2 weeks in September.  It is a preview of the TAP Program offered this Fall in mid-September. Cost is $30.

  • Learn about The TA Tree and the Seven Principles
  • receive tools for remembering TA Definitions
  • network with others interested in TA

Learn more by sending an email to

The Top 7 Reasons Why Women Don’t Play Golf….(and they should!!)

Five years ago, I took group golf lessons from the local recreation department.  I had always wanted to try golf.  It looked like fun.  After 6 lessons was told to “get out there and play”.  I didn’t pick up a club again for two years.  Why? 

Several reasons! I was intimidated.  I lacked the confidence.  I almost NEVER saw any women on the course, and  I didn’t have any women friends that played.  I didn’t feel like I was good enough.   And I thought it was too late for me to learn.

Luckily, I reconnected with a friend who wanted to play golf, so now I play every week.  I LOVE golf.  When I am on the golf course, I forget about all problems, worries, and concerns.  It is like taking a 2-hour vacation.  Now I think back and wonder–what was I so afraid of?  I thought other women felt the same way I did.  Maybe playing golf could help them, too.

In the last couple of years I started a second career as a counselor.  Women come in for depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and stress.  One of the strategies I use to help them is….golf.  I teach basic golf routine and etiquette.  Hitting a bucket of golf balls is excellent for stress and exercise!  When you learn how to play golf, it increases your confidence and self-esteem.  And it is FUN.  Here are seven reasons why women may demur from playing golf:

  1. Women learn differently from men.  Their brains are different–men are dominantly left brain, logical thinkers, and women often favor their right brain, experiential side.  Women learn best when their instructors understand that women need to “Feel good to DO good”, and have fun while they learn.
  2. Women don’t like to feel stupid while they are learning to play. Remember the I Love Lucy episode where Ricky and Fred teach Lucy and Ethel how to play golf—the wrong way??  Making mistakes is part of the game.
  3. Women first learned how to play golf from their husband or boyfriend.  This can really jeopardize a relationship.  I recall that my brother wanted to teach his wife to golf.  After giving her plenty of “instruction” and “direction” and “tips” and “reminders” on her swing, by the second tee his wife threw her club on the ground and announced “Golf is a dumb game” and hasn’t played since.
  4. Women don’t have other women to play with.  Notice the next time you drive by a golf course, and see how many players are women.  Not many!!
  5. Women don’t realize that women’s golf clothes have gotten really stylish and cute in the last few years!!  My motto is… if we have to feel uncoordinated and clumsy while we are learning the game, at least we can look cute!!
  6. Women don’t want to spend all day playing golf (the only activity that is that much fun for women is shopping).  Women need to know that they can play 9 holes in two hours.  And afterward there are cocktails!
  7. Finally, women think they have to be good before they start playing on the course.  Men don’t think that way! There are more men who are hackers out there than women think! 

So women….don’t worry about being good at the beginning.  Just learn the basics of play and etiquette and get out there!!  Practice between rounds and you will get better! Play golf and have fun!

Catherine O’Brien worked for 20+ years as an instructor and specialist in personality types and learning styles.  She started Golf Coaching for Women to help get women started and continue playing golf.  And she has hit a hole in one.