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.


 [hide*1 Background and education

Background and education[edit]Edit

Eric was born on May 10, 1910 as Eric Lennard Bernstein in MontrealQuebec, Canada to a Jewish family.[1] 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.[1] David Bernstein died in 1921, and the children were raised by their mother.[2]

Bernstein attended Montreal's McGill University, graduating in 1931 and earning his M.D.C.M. in 1935.[3] While at McGill he wrote for several student newspapers usingpseudonyms. 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 pseudonyms, such as Cyprian St. Cyr ("Cyprian Sincere"), for whimsical articles in theTransactional Analysis Bulletin.

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

Clinical work[edit]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]Edit

Main article: 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. 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]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".

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

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

Personal life[edit]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.[5] 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.[6]


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