Jan-Mar 2010


Vol. 1 No. 1

This issue is dedicated to Eric Berne on his birth centenary.

Eric Berne (May 10, 1910 – July 15, 1970) was a Canadian-born psychiatrist best known as the creator of transactional analysis and the author of Games People Play.

Background and education
Eric was born on May 10, 1910 as Eric Lennard Bernstein in Montreal, Canada. He and his sister Grace, who was five years younger than Eric, were the children of a physician and a writer, David and Sara Gordon Bernstein. David Bernstein died in 1921, and the children were raised by their mother.

Bernstein attended McGill University, graduating in 1931 and earning an M.D. in 1935. While at McGill he wrote for several student newspapers using pseudonyms. He followed graduation with a residency in psychiatry at Yale, where he studied psychoanalysis under Dr. Paul Federn. He completed his training in 1938 and became an American citizen in 1939.

In 1943 he changed his legal name to Eric Berne. He continued to use pseudonyms, such as Cyprian St. Cyr ("Cyprian Sincere"), for whimsical articles in the Transactional Analysis Bulletin.

Berne's training was interrupted by World War II and his service in the Army Medical Corps. After working at Bushnell Army Hospital in Ogden, Utah, he was discharged in 1945.

Clinical work
After the war, Berne resumed his studies under Erik Erikson at the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute and practiced at Mt. Zion Hospital.

In addition to technical papers on psychoanalysis, he published The Mind in Action in 1947. He became a group therapist attached to several hospitals in San Francisco. He also began to further extend of the Ego State Model of Dr. Federn.

Berne's work began to diverge from the mainstream of psychoanalytic thought. He published his work in several technical journals, but met with largely negative reactions. His break became formal in 1949 when he was rejected for membership in the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute.

Berne wrote a series of papers and articles on intuition, describing in one popular exposition his apparently uncanny ability to guess the civilian occupation of soldiers from just a few moments conversation with them. His musings on the faculty of intuition led to his groundbreaking work on transactional analysis.

Transactional analysis
Berne mapped interpersonal relationships to three ego-states of the individuals involved: the Parent, Adult, and Child state. He then investigated communications between individuals based on the current state of each. These interpersonal interactions he called transactions; certain patterns of transactions which popped up repeatedly in everyday life he called games.

His seminar group from the 1950s developed the term transactional analysis (TA) to describe therapies based on his work. By 1964, this expanded into the International Transactional Analysis Association. While still largely ignored by the psychoanalytic community, many therapists have put his ideas in practice.

In the early 1960s he published both technical and popular accounts of his conclusions. His Structures and Dynamics of Organizations and Groups in 1963 examined the same analysis in a broader context than one-on-one interaction.

Games People Play
In 1964 Berne published Games People Play which became an enormous bestseller and made Berne famous. The book presented clear, everyday examples of the way in which human beings get caught up in the games they play. Berne gave these games memorable titles such as "Now I've got you, you son of a bitch," "Wooden leg," "Yes, but...," and "Let's you and him fight."

In Berne's explanation of transaction as games, when the transaction is a zero-sum game, e.g. one must win at the other's expense, the person who benefits from a transaction (wins the game) is referred to as White, and the victim is referred to as Black.

Some of this terminology became a part of popular American vocabulary.

Personal life
Berne was married three times. His first wife was Elinor McRae. They married in 1942, had two children, and divorced in 1945. In 1949 he married Dorothy DeMass Way, by whom he also had two children before their divorce in 1964. After his popular success, Eric married a third time, to Torre Peterson in 1967. The couple took up residence in Carmel, California, where he wrote, but he continued some clinical work in San Francisco. This marriage also ended in divorce, in early 1970.

Berne died suddenly of a heart attack on July 15, 1970.


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