Institute for Integrative Psychotherapy

Integrative Psychotherapy Books

English language books by Richard Erskine may be ordered from Karnac Books at


Life Scripts: A Transactional Analysis of Unconscious Relational Patterns
Edited by Richard G. Erskine Karnac Books, 2010

Review by Richard Ireland

THERE CAN BE no doubt that this is an important book, dedicated to one of the core concepts of Transactional Analysis. It is edited by Richard Erskine and consists of thirteen chapters, each contributed by a different author and each offering a different view of script. The editor describes the book as an ‘exciting collection of contemporary writings on life script theory and psychotherapeutic method … bringing together a stimulating range of international perspectives, theoretical positions, clinical experiences and psychotherapy practices’. Indeed, one of the strengths of the book is its diversity, with contributors from five
different nations, spanning several generations of TA history. A wide range of positions is presented, from traditional TA to contemporary integrative models, and the concept of script is discussed in varied and sometimes unexpected ways. There is also a great diversity of academic backgrounds represented, with authors drawing on expertise in other forms of psychotherapy, philosophy, medicine and developmental psychology. This impressive breadth of knowledge gives the book a truly integrative feel.

The potential confusion arising from such a wide range of approaches is offset by the decision to include a case study in every chapter. This provides editorial consistency in a book which presents a diverse range of voices and writing styles. The case studies also provide an opportunity for the authors to give a clinical account of their theoretical position. Over the course of thirteen chapters this emphasis on the integration of theory and practice emerges as a key strength of the book, and it is interesting to consider and compare the various ways in which the authors incorporate the case study into their writing. It is a challenging task to summarise a book which encompasses such a wide range of thinking.
Nevertheless, there are several conceptual themes which run throughout the thirteen chapters, on and off. Possibly the most urgent is the shift from a deterministic to a social constructionist/constructivist formulation of script theory. This is clearly demonstrated in the focus on the relational aspect of script formation and treatment (note that the term is included in the title of the book).

Jo Stuthridge gives a synopsis of this development in her excellent chapter in which she integrates script theory with the findings of developmental research. She writes: “Script theories based on a Cartesian view of the mind have focused on cognitive and internal processes. This thinking led to the premise that ‘if the child decides her script she can re-decide’ and methods of change focused on intrapsychic processes such as decontamination or redecision.
A contemporary view of the mind gives rise to a new premise that ‘if relationships form script they can also transform script’. Accordingly, we need therapeutic relationships focused on interpersonal processes to bring about healing.”
Various models are given in the different chapters as to the clinical practice of relational TA. After a comprehensive literature review, in his first article, Richard Erskine discusses the role of cumulative trauma, the body and self-regulating introjects in the development and maintenance of script and outlines the process of ‘relational psychotherapy necessary for script cure’. In
the book’s concluding chapter (co-authored with Marye O’Reilly-Knapp), the authors present the model of the script system, followed by a detailed case study demonstrating its clinical application.
Also demonstrating a relational orientation, in a case study rich in personal detail, Helena Hargaden provides a two person account of script analysis and treatment. Referencing Freud’s concept of melancholia, she reflects on her intense engagement with her client’s process around the experience of object loss. She reports the intensity of her experience and the developments she and the client make through the understanding and management of projective identification.
Narrative is a key concept in constructivist psychology and it emerges as an important theme throughout the book. In her contribution, Maria Theresa Tosi discusses the idea of script as the ongoing process of identity definition through the construction of autobiographical stories. She writes about the construction of a narrative as a way to integrate new experience. It is interesting to compare this perspective with what Fanita English writes in her chapter about the importance of stories as
‘imaginative organising structure’ for the developing child. Rosemary Napper goes further into constructionist territory, drawing on her expertise in organisational TA to discuss the idea of ‘the individual in context’ and challenge the notion of the monadic script.
Another of the book’s important themes is the rejection of the notion of script as pathology. Bill Cornell writes about the sub-symbolic, somatic dimension of script formation and the role of script protocol as a nonpathological experiential template. Interestingly, he rejects a fully relational conceptualization, writing: ‘not all sub-symbolic or implicit knowing is relational and relationally based. The sub-symbolic also includes vast arenas of somatic and self-learning, organization, and expression that are not interpersonal, but fundamentally intrapsychic and sensorimotoric’.
This rejection of script as pathology is echoed by Fanita English who asserts that script formation is a ‘normal process’. She offers a critique of Berne, claiming he ‘tried too hard to turn script analysis into a science’.
James Allen echoes Stuthridge’s integration of clinical theory and empirical research, offering an integration of Greenspan’s model of child development with neurological findings and the classical TA concept of permission.
Claude Steiner presents a more traditional view. Better placed than most to describe the historical development of the concept of script theory, he gives an historical overview, including an account of his own important contribution. Also in support of an established perspective, Ian Stewart tackles the thorny subject of escape hatch closure, providing a thorough review of the
literature and arguing for the continuing importance of the concept in clinical practice.
The mechanisms by which script patterns are transmitted are addressed by Gloria Noriega in her chapter on transgenerational scripts. She focuses on ulterior transactions, games and projective identification as vehicles of unconscious script transmission between generations. This chapter contrasts well with the contribution from Birgitta Heiller and Charlotte Sills, who present script theory in the context of existential philosophy. They propose that an individual’s script represents an attempt to come to terms with certain existential realities. They write that ‘games are the manifestation of an inner flirtation with a core life
question’, and that ‘children of each generation are asked to struggle with the existential questions that their
parents could not accept or tolerate’.
When reflecting on the whole, I feel that the diversity of the book can sometimes result in a sense of incoherence. Script is a notoriously elusive concept and the simultaneous clamour of thirteen writers, each striving to establish their separate view, can leave the reader feeling overwhelmed. This is compounded by the wide range of writing styles and academic registers employed between authors. As a result, on occasion I found myself thinking more of disparity of the TA community than its diversity.
On the whole, this book feels modern and there is much here for the reader in search of the latest thinking. But the writers of these contemporary articles have not turned their backs on the past. It is for this reason the book feels as something of a rite of passage. Script theory is a central idea in TA and one of Eric Berne’s most significant contributions to the field of psychotherapy.
The fact that we have here an important book which evaluates Berne’s seminal contribution alongside the many unexpected and exciting ways in which his ideas have been developed by others, without mention of either betrayal or dogma, speaks volumes for a maturing and sophisticated Transactional Analysis.

Richard Ireland CTA(P) works in private practice in Stockport and Manchester. In addition to his qualification in transactional analysis, he recently obtained a masters degree in integrative psychotherapy. His original training as a professional musician has left him with curiosity about the role of performance in the roles of therapist, supervisor and trainer and an interest in integration of art theory and psychotherapy.


The Institute for Integrative Psychotherapy is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists, by the National Board of Certified Counselors for counselors and by the American Board of Examiners in Pastoral Counseling for pastoral counselors. The Institute for Integrative Psychotherapy maintains responsibility for this program and its content.