Eric Berne

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Eric Berne
Born Eric Bernstein
(1910-05-10)May 10, 1910
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Died July 15, 1970(1970-07-15) (aged 60)
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, U.S.
Nationality Canadian
Fields Psychology
Transactional analysis
Known for Transactional analysis
Influences Erik Erikson, Wilder Penfield, Sigmund Freud, René Spitz
Influenced Thomas Anthony Harris, Albert Mehrabian, Claude Steiner

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[edit]

Berne was born May 10, 1910 as Eric Lennard Bernstein in Montreal, Quebec, Canada to a Jewish family.[1] He and his sister Grace, five years younger, were the children of a physician, David, and a writer, Sara Gordon Bernstein.[1] David Bernstein died in 1921. Thenceforth the mother raised her two children alone.[2]

Bernstein received his baccalaureate degree from McGill University in 1931, and his doctorate degree in medicine and surgery in 1935.[3] While at McGill he wrote for several student newspapers using pseudonyms. He followed graduation with a residency in psychiatry at Yale University, where he studied psychoanalysis under Paul Federn.[1] He completed his training in 1938 and became an American citizen in 1939.[1]

In 1943 he changed his legal name to Eric Berne.[1] He continued to use such pseudonyms as Cyprian St. Cyr ("Cyprian Sincere") in whimsical articles in the Transactional Analysis Bulletin.

Berne's training was interrupted by World War II and his service in the United States Army Medical Corps, where he reached the rank of Major.[3] After serving at Bushnell Army Hospital in Ogden, Utah, he was discharged in 1945.

Clinical work[edit]

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 develop the Ego-State Model introduced by 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[edit]

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. He called these interpersonal interactions transactions and used the label games to refer to certain patterns of transactions which popped up repeatedly in everyday life.

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 first full-length book on TA was published in 1961, titled Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy.[3] Structures and Dynamics of Organizations and Groups (1963) examined the same analysis in a broader context than one-on-one interaction.

Games People Play[edit]

In 1964 Berne published Games People Play which, despite having been written for professional therapists, became an enormous bestseller and made Berne famous.[4] The book clearly presented everyday examples of the ways in which human beings are 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", "Why Don't You... / Yes, But...", and "Let's You and Him Fight".

The essence of games described by Berne is that they are not zero-sum games, (i.e. one must win at the other's expense), where the person who benefits from a transaction wins the game. On the contrary, the "games people play" usually pay all of the players off, even the ostensibly losers, since they are about psychic equilibrium or promoting adopted self-damaging social roles instead of rational benefits. These payoffs are not conscioulsy sought by the players but they are leading to the ultimate unconscious life script of each as set by their parental family interactions and favored emotions.

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

Berne said that ‘any social intercourse (…) has a biological advantage over no intercourse at all’, so, people need any form of ‘stroking’ (a physical contact, e.g., exchange) to live.[5]

Personal life[edit]

Berne was married three times. His first wife was Elinor McRae. They married in 1942, had two children, and divorced acrimoniously in 1945.[1] In 1949 he married Dorothy DeMass Way, with whom he also had two children before their divorce in 1964.[6] 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 of a heart attack in Carmel on July 15, 1970.[7]


See also[edit]


  • Rosner, Rachael (2005), "Eric Berne", in Carnes, Mark Christopher; Betz, Paul R., American National Biography: Supplement, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-522202-4 
  • Stewart, Ian (1992), Eric Berne: Volume 2 of Key Figures in Counselling and Psychotherapy, London: SAGE, ISBN 0-8039-8466-9 

Further reading[edit]

  • Jorgensen, Elizabeth Watkins; Jorgensen, Henry Irvin (1984), Eric Berne, Master Gamesman: A Transactional Biography, New York: Grove Press, ISBN 0-394-53846-3 
  • Stewart, Ian; Joines, Vann (1987), TA Today : A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis, Nottingham: Lifespan Publishing, ISBN 1-870244-00-1 

External links[edit]