Transactional Analysis in Experiential Training

By Daniel Spinelli and Eneida Ludgero

New approaches are being sought and used to enhance the results of learning in organizational training. In this search, there are two established concepts (Transactional Analysis and Experiential Education) that have been found by professionals in training and development as good choices of reasoning or method of work.

Once I have dedicated myself to studies of the two approaches as well as I use them in organizational training, I began to find great similarities between both starting by its philosophical principles.

The purpose of this paper is to present the main common points found during a series of investigations and trials, and from there to propose a new learning cycle for training so that the two methodologies can be used together.

1 – Learning Theories:

1.1 – About Transactional Analysis:

Transactional Analysis is a theory which studies the structure of the human personality from transactions that an individual makes to himself and others. It was developed in 1958 by Eric Berne, a Canadian psychiatrist.

1.2 – About the Experiential Training

The experiential training proposes, in the point of view of its creator the educator and philosopher Kurt Hahn, that the outdoor trainings, using challenging situations, develop the human potential through the influence to a positive change.

2 – Getting to know the Authors

In order to understand their essences, let´s first meet some of their creators

2.1 – Eric Berne (1910-1970)

Great leader and originator of many studies by which the Transactional Analysis was developed and implemented. He wrote eight books and published numerous articles. “He studied psychiatry and psychoanalysis but never became a professional analyst” (WOOLAMS & BROWN. 1979). Early theories of Berne on AT appeared in 1949 and in 1958 Berne opened the first seminar of AT. In 1962 he started the Transactional Analiys Bulletin which in 1971 became the Transactional Analysis Journal. Eric Berne’s contributions are mainly in the area of theory and philosophy; his books are until today a reference for practitioners and scholars of the theories of human behavior.

Some of his beliefs give us an idea of the fundamental bases of AT.

“Saying hello properly is to see the other person, being conscious of his/her as a phenomenon, happening to the other and being ready for the other to happen to you”
“The fate of every human being is decided by what goes on inside his head when confronted with what happens outside. Each person draws his own life. Freedom gives you the power to make your own designer … “
“We are all born princes and princesses, but life makes us frogs croaking and accommodated at the edge of the pond.”


2.2 – Kurt Hahn (1886 – 1974)   

Kurt Hahn, German, founded Atlantic College, Gordonstoun School and the Salem School. With basic training in philosophy he began an educational movement with more emphasis on forming good people than people with academic achievement only. During World War II he led a campaign for peace and with it came close to influential people in England where he had been exiled because he was from a Jewish family and because of his educational ideas that nurtured a belief in young people based on personal responsibility, equality and justice (key themes of the educational line used by Hahn during a lifetime).
He was hired in England to study and develop a method that would increase the chances of survival of the sailors in the war shipwrecks. The Outward Bound was born there, a kind of experiential training which aimed to develop the individual (physical, emotional and technical) through outdoor activities involving challenges. For Hahn, “more than a training program at the sea, a training for the sea.” Which became the essence of the Outward Bound trainings.

Hahn ´s Concepts and Ideas

Kurt Hahn wrote very little in his life, he believed that his ideas were not original and were taken from many other thinkers. He thought that his role was to apply his ideas in himself, share and multiply through people; many of his pupils brought his ideas forward. Other important schools were founded with his concepts, such as the Atlantic Challenge, the Kurt Hahn Trust and the Round Square.

The base of Hahn’s training brought the concept that the goal of education is urging people to experiences that form values, to ensure the survival of the following qualities:
– An enterprising curiosity, an indefatigable spirit, tenacity in pursuit and Solidarity

To Hahn:

“Each person has more courage, strength and compassion than he/she has ever measured.”

“The experience of helping a colleague in distress, or even the realistic training to be prepared to give such assistance tends to change the balance of power within the life of a human being with the result that compassion can become an intrinsic value. “


“The experiential learning is a kind of educational program and / or therapy in which physical and psychological demands of the adventure are used (within a framework of security) to promote inter-and intrapersonal growth.” (Bagby & Chavarria, 1980)

3 – Similarities:

Knowing a little more of the ideas and work of both founders, it is possible to perceive that they have a lot in common, especially their belief in human potential. Some more similarities stand out as:
·         Both studied a military environment on embryo development of their studies to the concepts studied here. The articles and studies by Berne in its early American army as a psychiatrist resulted in the book “Intuition and Ego States” and the studies by Hahn with the British navy in World War II led to the establishment of experiential training.

·         Group works – Berne, in 1963, early development of TA, writes the book “Structure and Dynamics of Organizations and Groups.” The experiential training uses as an environment the outdoors journeys in groups.

But beyond any recorded heritage of these similarities, I can contribute to the construction of this idea with my perceptions generated by the observations of the works using the two theories together. In these studies we have found a great synergy, noting especially how AT has helped the participant to better perceive the group and themselves, using the easy “transactional” terms and concepts to improve the quality of discussions in the processing of the experiences.

4 – Proposition

Many authors have presented models of experiential learning, but most of them in general agree that there are four distinct phases that comprise the Learning Cycle. I present here the cycle as a basis so that we can, from it, bring forward our proposal:Figure 01
Figure 01

We have used when working with organizational groups two possibilities to approach clippings theory of transactional analysis during training:

– Before the Experience (figure 2)

ps-treinamento-artigo.Transactional Analysis in Experiential Training (2)

(figure 2)

– After reflection, this way the experiment would also serve as a stimulus for a better assimilation of the concept. (Figure 3)
ps-treinamento-artigo.Transactional Analysis in Experiential Training (3)
(Figure 3)

In both cases, after the presentation of concepts relevant to the themes of the training focus, in the next cycles (concerning the forthcoming activities) the AT Concept works as a backdrop that helps mapping the entire training.

5- Conclusion:

Following on the ideological principles of the authors studied here, Kurt Hahn and Eric Berne, we show that the responsible use and complementary concepts of Transactional Analysis with the methodology of experiential learning can enhance outcomes in organizational training. Greater understanding of the participants in relation to their development process, more possibilities of instruments of self-awareness and self-monitoring, and more data for the planning of the works are some of the benefits we have seen in our observations.

With this text we hope to have contributed to increase the reflection and studies on the use of the concepts presented here.


BERNE, Eric. O que você diz depois de dizer ola?. Nobel, 1988.
NADLER, Reldan e Luckner, John. Processing The Adventure Experience. Kendal/Hunt, 1992.
Krausz, Rosa. Trabalhabilidade. Nobel, 1999
DINSMORE, Paul. Treinamento Experiencial ao Ar Livre, Uma Revolução em Educação Empresarial. Senac Rio, 2004
JAMES e JONGEWARD. Nascido para Vencer. Brasiliense. 1975
Kurt-Hahn-Archive is a central archive for those interested in the work of Kurt Hahn. It is located at Schule Schloss Salem in southern Germany.

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