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Redecision Therapy

Theory: The Intellectual Heritage of Redecision Therapy

Pamela Rutledge, PhD  Director, Media Psychology Research Center


Redecision Therapy is the name that Bob and Mary Goulding gave to the therapeutic approach they developed in the 1960s.  Their work is based largely on that of Eric Berne’s theory of psychotherapy, Transactional Analysis.  Transactional Analysis is a direct and powerful psychotherapeutic approach that integrates elements from the rich history of psychoanalysis and behaviorism while maintaining firm moorings in humanistic and existential traditions.  This article will discuss the philosophical bases and contributions of theory that shaped the formation of Transactional Analysis, and the subsequent theoretical and philosophical contributions and modifications that influenced and continue to inform Redecision Therapy today.

  • Citation
  • Author
Rutledge, P. (1999/2019) The Intellectual Heritage of Redecision Theory. The Media Psychology Review. Vol. 13(2)
Pam-200w-72dpiPamela Rutledge, PhD, MBA, is the Director of the Media Psychology Research Center (MPRC), Faculty at Fielding Graduate University, and an advisory board member for UC Irvine Extension’s Social Media and Internet Marketing Certificate Program. A researcher, speaker, author, and consultant, Dr. Rutledge provides assessments and guidance to individuals and organizations drawing on a diverse background in media communications and design, business strategy, and psychology. Dr. Rutledge specializes in social media applications and transmedia narratives applied to brand development.  She has published both academic and popular work and is an expert source for understanding the human and social dimensions of media and technology. She can be reached through www.pamelarutledge.com.

Searching for Answers

Since the earliest recorded thought, humans have searched for an explanation of existence and the motivation and meaning of behavior.  As early as c. 500 BC, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus recognized introspection as a method of inquiry, postulated parallelism of structure between the operations of the mind expressed in thought and language and those of the reality which the mind grasps, and grappled with the concept of human self or ‘soul’ as self-discovering and self-extending.  In the same century, Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha, “sought answers to man’s identity and meaning through meditation and Four Noble Truths in which there is no self.” (Honderich, 1995; Kenny, 1994)

As studies of science, philosophy, art, literature, and history have evolved through the centuries, theorists continue to postulate many and varied explanations for human behavior, forever in search of the “truth.”  Time and technology have brought fewer answers and more possibilities.  The modern history of psychology displays a preponderance of divergent theoretical approaches to the understanding of human behavior.

Each school or system directs the psychologist’s study of behavior in a way that furthers knowledge consistent with its own goals and assumptions.  The six classic systems of psychology informed the directions taken in psychology at the turn of the century, laying the groundwork for the three major schools of thought that we acknowledge today, psychoanalytic, cognitive-behavioral, and humanistic-existential (Hunt, 1993; Marx & Cronan-Hillix, 1987).

Psychoanalytic Theory

Sigmund Freud is credited with making the first significant study of his own and others’ psychopathology to construct a model of general personality functioning.  His model, based on his knowledge of the natural sciences–neurology, physiology, philosophy, psychology, and evolution–views biological instincts called drives as the foundation of the human condition. (Freud, 1996; Gay, 1989; Miller, 1991).  The drive approach views people as being significantly influenced by unconscious motivation, conflicts between impulses and prohibitions, defense mechanisms and early childhood experiences (Corey, 1996).  The excavation of the unconscious, which Freud named “psychoanalysis” requires a lengthy process of analyzing inner conflicts that are rooted in the past.  Psychoanalytic therapy, as conceived by Freud, is the process of restructuring the personality (Gay, 1989; Mitchell & Black, 1995; Monte, 1994; Patterson & Watkins, 1996).

Freud’s thought was shaped by the 19th century German school of philosophy founded by Fichte and Schelling, and most notably represented by Schopenhauer and Hegel (Mitchell & Black, 1995; Rendon, 1996).  A fundamental inquiry of Hegel’s philosophical tradition was how the self gains possession of its knowledge; how the conscious self, as a subjective entity, can construct an objective world and endow it with the order of space, time and causality (Honderich, 1995; Kenny, 1994).  Fichte described self-knowledge as an “intuiting” of the self.  The self was not an object, but the act of knowing, which he called the principle of identity.  According to Fichte, the positing of the self is also the positing of the not-self, suggesting that to know what was is means to know what one is not (Bateman & Holmes, 1995; Honderich, 1995; Kenny, 1994; Miller, 1991).

Hegel’s book, Phenomenology of the Mind, sometimes referred to as the blueprint for modern psychoanalysis, asserts that the underlying reality of a person is the spirit, who embarks on a journey of self-discovery by means of dialectical steps toward the Absolute or knowledge of the self.  The dialectical journey of the subjective spirit is a journey outwards into the object and towards the other, a period of alienation, destroying and rebuilding until the spirit can return to itself in self-realized form. In Hegelian theory, self-determination comes in large part from resolving the struggle between the appetites and the self by investing meaning in external objects, and discriminating between those that are of benefit and those that are not.

Inspiration for many of Freud’s ideas exists in Hegelian thought.  Some of these ideas, while not incorporated by Freud, are revisited by later theorists in object relations, interpersonal, and existential theories. Freud also aspired, in the Hegelian tradition, to the creation of a macrosystemic theory in his development of psychoanalysis (Monte, 1994).  Consequently, the impact of psychoanalysis was profound.  It not only transformed the field of psychology and separated psychiatry from the strictly empirical sciences, but fostered optimism for the widespread availability of a cure for emotional and mental disease (Rendon, 1996).  Freud’s theories were stimulated by what he observed and tested in his clinical efforts, but his personal relationships and the historical, social, and intellectual context of the time also played a significant role on their formation (Atwood & Stolorow, 1993; Foster, Moskowitz, & Javier, 1996).

Implicit in psychoanalytic theory are assumptions about the workings of the human mind and behavior.  Freud was a strict determinist.  He believed that all behavior is biologically based, that feelings, actions, thoughts do not occur by accident or by chance.  Freud saw associations, memories, fantasies, and dreams as providing clues to unconscious conflict. Interpretations of the patient’s unconscious conflicts and resistances yield insights into the origin and nature of the conflicts and the anxieties associated with them.  The goal of psychoanalysis is the unlocking of the meaning of these clues to provide the insight that, through the repetitive experience of the psychoanalytic schedule and the affectively strong transference reaction, the patient gradually works through his or her difficulties and builds more adaptive emotional and behavioral patterns and a restructuring of the personality (Eagle, 1984; Patterson & Watkins, 1996).

Key to the psychoanalytic experience is nonjudgmental, empathic attention, which facilitates the patient’s desire to cooperate and the process of transference.  With transference gratifications unresolved, the patient is able to directly experience and understand the conflicts at the basis of his or her problems (Eagle, 1984).

For many years, the dominant influence in the field of psychotherapy was psychoanalysis, both in the United States and Europe, (Bergin & Garfield, 1994).  Freud remained a prominent figure in the field of psychoanalysis until his death in 1939, resisting significant modification to either his theory or technique. Freud had, and continues to have, many followers.  Some, such as Adler, Jung, Hartmann, Horney, Klein, and Sullivan, broke away from Freud and developed their own approaches to psychoanalytic theory (Nye, 1996; Patterson & Watkins, 1996).  While maintaining some central features of Freudian psychoanalysis, such as repressed conflicts, unconscious motivation and early life experiences, new emphases were incorporated and new procedures were developed (Bergin & Garfield, 1994).  These modifications broadened and enriched psychoanalytic theory.  The impact of the environment and interpersonal and primary relationships on the development of the individual led to new derivations in the field of psychoanalytic theory: ego psychology, object relations theory, individual psychology, self-psychology, and interpersonal psychology (Bateman & Holmes, 1995; Mishne, 1993; Mitchell & Black, 1995).  The influence of psychoanalysis was not limited to theorists whose work remained consistent with its fundamental premises; its far-reaching effect materially influenced many innovators and theorists across many schools of thought and disciplines.

The United States, founded on pioneer spirit, embraced Freud’s exploration of the interior frontier more warmly than the continent (Cushman, 1995; Mishne, 1993; Mitchell & Black, 1995).  Cushman (1995) notes that after Freud’s visit in 1909 “within six years … psychoanalysis had eclipsed all other psychotherapies in the nation’s magazines (p. 38).”  Cushman, among others (cf. Foster, 1996; Moskowitz, 1996; Rendon, 1996; Roland, 1996) speculates about the American attraction for Freudian theory and the concept of the ego in psychology.  He notes that Demos (1981) saw a fit between Freudian Oedipal theory and the implicitly optimistic American ideology that characterized masculine success as surpassing the father; others have seen the embracing of psychotherapy as a validation of the American preoccupation with the self and a panacea for an increasing alienation of the individual in society.   Cushman (1995) argues that the influence has been interactive between the American vision of the self and the path of American psychology and that they have each made their mark on the other.


A second theoretical approach, behaviorism, was heavily influenced by the philosophy of logical positivism and grew out of the desire to make psychology more scientifically respectable (Bergin & Garfield, 1994).

The intellectual roots of behavior theory go back to the intellectual and cultural climate of the Enlightenment and the emphasis on reason and scientific study of the natural world.  From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, the British empiricists steadfastly emphasized four main principles: (a) knowledge comes from experience, not introspection or inspiration; (b) scientific procedures have to be based upon observation and not opinion or intuition; (c) the mind of the child is a blank slate (tabula rasa), and therefore, adult mental life is a recording and unfolding of the individual’s previous history; and (d) the model of consciousness is that all thoughts can be broken down into basic elements which are connected through natural laws, such as continuity, similarity, contrast, frequency, and recency (Kimble, 1985; cited in Fishman & Franks, 1995).

Behavior therapy was influenced by the classical conditioning of Pavlov in the 1920s.  John Watson firmly placed the emphasis of behaviorism in the United States on an empirical footing, declaring introspection and unconscious motives to be irrelevant to understanding complex human action. The behaviorists felt that only observable events would contribute to creating a descriptive science of behavior, lean in its terminology and avoiding the use of private, mentalistic terms (Robinson, 1995).  The emphasis in behavior theory is on an “outer” model that focuses on concepts and procedures primarily external to the individual, such as environmental consequences, reinforcement, modeling, token economy, social learning and behavior influence.  The implicit assumption for behavior change in the outer model is that human nature is plastic and not fixed as conceptualized by an inner model that incorporates mind, feeling, genetics, and biological functions (O’Donohue, 1995).

Psychology, traditionally conceived as a science of the mind, was reframed as a science of behavior; it was to include only the observable activities of an organism (Honderich, 1995).  Behaviorist John Watson, in a paper presented in 1913, announced his rejection of things mental, saying, “psychology as the behaviorist views it is a purely objective branch of natural science.  Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior.” (Monte, 1994, p. 27), but behaviorism made its mark most prominently in the 1950s. The term ‘behavior therapy’ was introduced to contrast the prevailing Freudian, psychodynamic standard (Eysenck, 1995) and denote behaviorism’s impact and import as a scientific revolution.

The 1950s saw a rapid increase in the acceptance and popularity of behavior therapy.  B. F. Skinner, influenced by the work of Watson and Thorndike, continued to further the techniques of instrumental or operant conditioning (Glass & Arnkoff, 1995; Nye, 1996).  Skinner was widely acknowledged as an expert and champion of behaviorism.  He saw it as a means by which to engineer society.  Skinner’s larger agenda for behavioral theory is evident in his books Walden Two and Beyond Freedom and Dignity, which had an enormous impact on institutional and social reform (Robinson, 1995)

In some eyes, behavior theory was the modern successor to psychoanalysis; to others, it was merely an interesting alternative (Monte, 1994). The emphasis in the field of psychology on the contrast between the emphasis on emotional insight learning in Freudian-based psychotherapy and the Pavlovian extinction and deconditioning of behavior therapy provoked considerable argument and research.  In 1952, Hans Eysenck published a review of 24 studies on the efficacy of psychotherapy and concluded that there was not only any evidence to support the effectiveness of psychotherapy but that psychoanalysis was less effective than no therapy at all (Bergin & Garfield, 1994; Bernstein & Warner, 1993; Eysenck, 1995).  This spurred considerable retaliatory research and rebuttal on the part of proponents of psychotherapy and psychoanalytic theory.  This border skirmish had the desirable results of increasing the quantity and quality of research on psychotherapy and increased awareness of the need for accountability even in an inexact science (Bergin & Garfield, 1994; Bernstein & Warner, 1993). This has become particularly important in the last decade with the emergence of cost controls and managed care issues.

The work of cognitive and social learning theory psychologists, such as Beck, Kelly, and Bandura, has furthered the integration of cognitive techniques with behavioral techniques.  However, the emergence of cognitive-behavioral interventions has also divided the field of behavior therapy.  There is disagreement among behaviorists as to whether cognitive work is really new, and among the radical behaviorists as to whether it is really a science. Social behaviorism has some hope of mediating the dissension.  Social behaviorism’s analysis closely links interactions between affect, behavior, and cognition to basic learning principles.  This linkage could make it possible to overcome the schism between cognitive and behavioral therapies by providing a theoretical framework for cognitive-behavior therapy. Eifert (1987) believes that social behaviorism, which is backed by extensive research, provides the best account of the basic mechanisms that underlie cognitive-behavioral and verbal psychotherapy methods.

The early days of cognitive therapy saw considerable emphasis placed on the primacy of cognitions over-emotional responses (Roth & Fonagy, 1996).  Currently, however, both dynamic and cognitive theorists recognize that the separation of these two modes of functioning is an oversimplification of little heuristic value.

 The Ivory Tower versus Life in the Trenches

The field of psychology has, from its inception, been rife with ideology conflict.  While the mind-body dualism may be one of the most celebrated, a notable conflict exists between the scholar and practitioner, or the clinical and experimental arenas.  While the public’s perception of psychology is of a patient in counseling or therapy, the history of psychology has tended to focus on the history of psychological experimentation (Benjamin Jr, 1997).  Many members of the founding generation of psychology were interested in how the healthy mind works in lieu of psychopathology.  Benjamin, Jr. (1997) argues that the emphasis on normality derived in part from the belief that understanding normal individuals was the path to understanding the mind.  In addition, mental illness, until the impact of Freud’s work, was viewed as being organically based and had been the exclusive domain of medicine.  Clinical psychology is an applied field and has been viewed by many as lying outside the field of scientific psychology.

In the early 1900s, Lightner Witmer, who is credited with the name of “clinical psychology” created the first psychological clinics ministering to previously neglected and disadvantaged population-children.  Except for treating children, the legal right to engage in psychotherapy was limited to licensed medically trained professionals. (Humphreys, 1996)

By the 1920s, psychologists were struggling to make sense of the impact of the social environment with the developing theories of the individual’s inherited capacities; trying to reconcile cognitive skills and the awareness of intrapsychic mechanisms due to the rise of psychoanalysis.  With the popularity of psychoanalysis, psychologists were also trying to define and justify their place within the academic arena and the medical establishment (Cushman, 1995).  However, between 1930 and 1939, applications of clinical psychology had expanded and a small number had begun to practice psychotherapy, breaking into the monopoly held by psychiatry (Humphreys, 1996).

The period post World War II saw an unparalleled demand and support for psychology, particularly clinical psychology (Vandenbos, Cummings, & DeLeon, 1995).  For the last fifty years, psychology has spearheaded the research and practice of psychotherapeutic treatment and prevention techniques (Vandenbos et al., 1995).  By the end of World War II, psychologists viewed psychotherapy as a legitimate part of their professional role, second only to assessment (Vandenbos et al., 1995). Virginia Satir believed that World War II also played an important role in fueling the development of the more immediate and short term therapies in the humanistic-existential traditions.  These new therapies targeted the individual directly with the goal of restoration of healthy functioning.  She writes:

“…the world had been outraged at the incomprehensible human atrocities perpetrated by one group upon another.  The energy of every man and women involved was essential to stopping this scourge…this meant that when service personnel were psychologically injured, they needed to be restored to duty as soon as possible. (Goulding & Goulding, 1979, p. xiii)

Humanistic-Existential Theories

The third major theoretical perspective, humanism, and existentialism, emerged in reaction to behaviorism, Freudian theory, and the social climate of the mid-twentieth century (Maslow, 1971).  Embodying a wide variety of viewpoints–client- or person-centered therapy, gestalt, transactional, and existential theory—humanistic-existential approaches place their emphasis on the client’s potential for growth and the ability of the therapist to be empathically sensitive to the client’s feelings (Bergin & Garfield, 1994; Monte, 1994; Nye, 1996).

Hegel’s influence has often been as important to his opponents as to his followers.  In the positions of existential philosophers, such as Kirkegaard and Sartre, existentialism arose in conscious antagonism to Hegelian thought.  The rejection of systems, the insistence on human temporality, the stress on self volition and responsibility, and the emphasis on combining subjective and objective realities in achieving understanding, were the foundations of Existentialistic thought (Rice & Greenberg, 1995; Van Doren, 1992).  Leahey (1994) suggests that the threads of humanism—valuing emotional feeling, trusting intuition and questioning the authority of reason—go back through the romantics and Christian mystics to the time of the cynics and skeptics of the Hellenistic age.  Many of the existential theorists were originally psychiatrists trained as psychoanalysts but felt that the person as he or she existed was not recognized and dealt with in the psychodynamic approaches.  Particularly the European theorists, who tended to be more familiar with the writings of Nietzche, Kirkegaard, Sartre, and others, responded with their theoretical approaches to the increasing sense of alienation and anxiety in the world due to the threat of nuclear war and massive cultural change.

As a psychotherapeutic school of thought, humanistic-existentialism took its immediate roots in values of existentialism, humanism and liberation movements of the 1960s.  It was also a reaction against the reigning disciplines: the impersonal, formalized, hierarchical, elitist psychoanalytic establishment, and the overly scientific, cold, detached school of behaviorism.  Rejecting the social conservatism inherent in the hypertrophied value of the individual, the humanistic-existential movement in psychology embraced the post World War II configuration of self as subjective, isolated, and anti-traditional (Rice & Greenberg, 1995).

In 1962, it was Abraham Maslow who coined the term “third-force psychology” to distinguish this grouping which was not fundamentally informed by either the psychoanalytic or behavioral schools  (Rice & Greenberg, 1995).  Although as early as 1900, Jacob Moreno developed and used the techniques of psychodrama, and may have been the first psychiatrist to put the patient in a centrally responsible role in his own life drama (Clarkson, 1992).

There are four primary themes common to all humanistic psychotherapy approaches (Tageson, 1982; cited by Rice & Greenberg, 1995).

1)     The most fundamental aspect of humanistic therapies is the commitment to a phenomenological approach.  It is a central assumption that the human capacity for reflective consciousness leads to the achievement of self-determination and freedom.  The phenomenological view values and appreciates the individual’s perception of reality and holds that cognizance of an individual’s reality is essential in understanding their behavior.

2)    The second common theme is based on the belief that humans strive toward personal growth or “self-actualizing” and development rather than stability (Maslow, 1968).  An individual uses his or her interpretation of the immediate present and vision of his or her future, not just the past, in making choices.  Tageson  (1982) believes the propensity toward self-actualization is more than a biological tendency; it derives from an organism’s innate actualizing tendencies that are transformed by consciousness, and given direction by the concept of self and its search for meaning.

3)     The belief in the human capacity for self-determination is the third major theme. Choice and will are the prime focus.  The development of a person’s ability to reason and choose, whether that process was facilitated or blocked, are key issues in healthy human functioning 5Nye, 1996 #7].

4)     The fourth theme is the concept of person-centeredness (Tageson, 1982; cited by: Rice & Greenberg, 1995) Person-centeredness is a genuine concern and real respect for each person involved in the process.  The subjective experience—the ability to understand the client from their own context—is of core importance to humanist and the concept of a humanistic therapeutic relationship.

Consistent with the respect for the individual and the subjective nature of individual reality, humanistic-existential therapy tends to be less structured and encompasses a broad range of techniques (Bergin & Garfield, 1994).  Consequently, humanistic-existential psychotherapy has are several prominent theorists and approaches.  Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers are two of the best-known theorists associated with the humanistic-existential school and were working and writing concurrently with Eric Berne.  Their work, if not directly influential to the development of TA, had an enormous impact on the time and is too important not to mention briefly.

Abraham Maslow is one of the best-known theorists because of his theories about the human’s “hierarchy of needs” and patterns of actualization (Monte, 1994).  Committed to creativity and art, Maslow studied the lives of creative people and concluded that they were propelled by needs that remained silent and unrealized in the greater portion of humanity (Leahey, 1994).  Maslow described the creative people he studied as self-actualizers.   In contrast to people who work to satisfy only the most basic needs of food, shelter, and safety, those individuals who make use of and are fulfilled by their creative powers exemplify Maslow’s interpretation of self-actualizers.  Maslow continued in the development of a hierarchy of needs theory as a means of evaluating the potential development of actualization of the self (Maslow, 1971).  Maslow sought ways to move people from comfortable but stifling psychological ruts and excite them to realize their full potential as human beings (Leahey, 1994).

Client-centered therapy is primarily associated with its originator, Carl Rogers, and is one of the most common humanistic-existential psychotherapeutic approaches (Rice & Greenberg, 1995).  Rogers, dissatisfied with existing psychotherapy approaches, began to experiment with his own ideas. Rogers was influenced by neuropsychologist Kurt Goldstein, who observed the reorganization of functioning methods in brain-injured soldiers.  Goldstein observations validated Rogers’ concept of a basic motivation toward growth and wholeness, the actualizing tendency in human beings (Rice & Greenberg, 1995).  The graduate theology students at the University of Chicago brought the works of Martin Buber to Rogers’ attention.  Buber’s view of the “I-Thou” relationship as having a healing effect articulated for Rogers’ effects he had observed during therapy sessions.  An attitude of respect for the individual, support, and recognition of the individual’s rights and ability to make decisions and change, and appreciation for the individual’s intrinsic worth are the central features of Rogers’ approach. Consistent with Maslow, Rogers also explored methods of moving people toward a fuller potential by creating congruence between self and experience (Leahey, 1994).

Transactional Analysis

Eric Berne was originally trained as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst.   He emphasized the interactional aspect of communication in practice and in the naming of his psychotherapy Transactional Analysis (TA).  Berne saw TA as an extension to the in-depth emphasis of psychoanalysis with its singular focus on intrapsychic phenomenon.  Transactional analysis integrates the intrapsychic dynamic with interpersonal behaviors within the humanistic/existential framework of values (Clarkson, 1992).  Berne made a significant contribution to twentieth-century psychology that is often overlooked, yet the references made to the “child” in each of us are far-reaching in popular and academic circles.  Clarkson suggests that many TA terms appear unacknowledged in modern Gestalt and psychoanalytic literature (Clarkson, 1992).

When Berne broke with psychoanalysis, he continued to write for psychiatric journals but used the emerging vocabulary he was developing for TA.  In 1962, Berne published Games People Play (Berne, 1964), and although intended for a professional audience, it became a best seller in the mass market.  TA terms, like games, strokes, and O.K. infiltrated everyday conversation both with and without an understanding of their meaning.  In many ways, the attention engendered by the widespread popularity and notoriety of Berne’s writing detracted from the acknowledgment or understanding the depth of Berne’s theoretical accomplishments

Stewart (1992) believes that Berne’s major accomplishment was “to construct a theory that was psychodynamic in concept, yet which could be checked directly against real-world observations.” (p. 17, author’s italics.)  Berne took concepts that other authors had described abstractly and operationalized them so that they could be identified by in situ observation.

Berne drew on his understanding of intrapsychic forces acting within the person from his background in psychoanalysis.  The most fundamental idea of TA is the structural model of ego-states, which Berne adapted from the work of Federn, Fairbairn, and Weiss..  He was influenced by the reality and permanence of ego states as described by Federn who posited ego states as parts of the ego unit with significant influence on decisions, involuntary behaviors and psychopathology (Clarkson, 1992).  Berne believed that each category of ego state, which he labeled the Parent, Adult, and Child, manifested in a distinct set of behaviors.  Thus, Berne’s innovation was to suggest that changes in ego-states could be consistently linked to observable changes in behavior.

Berne adopted the ideas of transference and countertransference from Freud, but described observable patterns of communications—transactions—that would indicate when or whether they occurred (Stewart, 1992).  Clarkson (1992) notes that Berne claimed a fascination with repetition compulsion, a term used by Freud to illustrate what Freud saw as an innate tendency to revert to earlier conditions (Freud, 1996).  Berne turned this idea into games, the interactions between people that follow predictable, repetitive, and observable sequences.

The life script, which became one of the central metaphors of his work, was a theoretical construct. Each person, according to Berne, develops very early on a lifeplan that they live out in a compulsive way.  Berne saw the life script as being developed very early in life under parental influence (Berne, 1964; Stewart, 1992).  As an existentialist, Berne worked to justify the free-will of the child in deciding upon their own script no matter how parental pressures or environmental factors shaped the circumstances of the choice against the determinism and lack of autonomous self-choice implied by the concept of an implanted pre-conscious and pre-verbal plan.  Berne specified several ways of detecting clues—assessing by observation whether a person was acting out a script at any given moment.  Playing games is a clue; posture, voice, and breathing can also function as clues (Steiner, 1974).

In spite of the contributions from psychoanalytic thought, TA is a fundamentally humanistic/existential psychotherapy due to its singular emphasis on human agency and autonomy.  TA places the client in the center of the therapeutic process; the therapist’s responsibility is to validate the capability and power of the patient to learn about the therapeutic process and “demystify” the process so that the client comes to the realization of how the past distorts the here-and-now relationships.

Redecision Therapy

In Changing Lives through Redecision Therapy, Mary Goulding wrote:

Between 1965 and 1970 Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, Eric Berne, Bob Goulding, and I lived within an hour’s drive of on another.  We were occasional collaborators, competitors, old, slow methods of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis… We were delighted with our own creativity.  Each of us wanted to come up with the fasted and best therapy for the most people.

…During this period of our friendship with Eric, Fritz, and Virginia, Bob and I were developing our own therapy, a blend of Eric’s TA [transactional analysis] theory with Fritz’s gestalt work and Virginia’s conjoint family therapy, plus our own theory and techniques. (1979, p. xi)

As Mary notes above, the redecision therapy model integrates ideas and methods of Eric Berne, Fritz Perls, and Virginia Satir.  The Gouldings adopted the fundamentals of TA theory in their work.  Where they differered most pronouncedly from Berne was on their emphasis on the early deccisions a person makes that support his/her life script.  The Gouldings flets that insight was insufficient to effect change.  Enabling the change process required revisiting the early decision in a way that triggered the feeling and senses that had originally accompanied the decision.  They believed this was most effectively accomplished by encouraging the client to find and visit an early scene. Redecisions are made frequently against the backdrop of an early scene.  Early decisions are based upon scenes from the client’s childhood; whether the scenes actually took place or whether they are a client’s beliefs is irrelevant. (Goulding & Goulding, 1979).

Reenacting an early scene taps emotional memory.  Memory is associationistic, dealing with fleeing images and idea fragments that connect psychologically. Memories do not occur in a vacuum.  They are generated when an adaptational experience is functionally consistent with a current event.  Most events adults face each day are not totally new except in certain details.  Each experience has the potential to reinstate the struggles of the past, which have not been resolved.  The connection hinges on the gestalt experience of emotion and meaning.  “An emotional-producing event, such as a failure, occurs and produces both an affective state and a set of relevant cognitions…The cognitions produced by the event then directly prime, or semantically cue, other items in long-term memory…” (Rholes, Riskind, and Lane, 1987; cited in Lazarus, 1994, p. 307).  Emotional memory according to Lazarus is always triggered by a core relational theme in the present that is functionally related to the one in memory.  Emotion influences memory and learning (LeDoux, 1996; Sapolsky, 1998).  The psychoanalytic theory of repression, the flashbulb-memory hypothesis, and the Yerkes-Dodson law (the interaction between task difficulty and arousal) all testify to the intensity of experiential memory with heightened emotion.  With its emphasis on the here-and-now and the expression of feeling, the Gouldings found many useful techniques and ideas from Fritz Perls that supported their emphasis on re-involving emotion in early scene work.

Although categorically humanistic, Fritz Perls’ theory of psychotherapy is referred to as the Gestalt approach.  Gestalt therapy is often confused with Gestalt psychology (Hunt, 1993).  Gestalt psychology is a theory of psychology; gestalt therapy is an approach to psychotherapy that is based on key concepts from Gestalt psychology as well as ideas from depth psychologies and existentialism. Gestalt therapy, which Fritz Perls developed in collaboration with Laura Perls, is an integration of the primary concepts of Gestalt psychology, the existential writings of Buber and Tillich, and the work of psychoanalysts Wilhelm Reich, Karen Horney, and Otto Rank (Rice & Greenberg, 1995).

Gestalt therapy places an emphasis on body awareness, direct experience, importance of encounter, and use of active experimentation.  In contrast to the warmth and understanding central to Rogers’ client-centered approach, Perls’ approach places a high value on stimulating in-session experiences and can, therefore, be confrontational and/or directive (Perls, 1988).  A well-known Gestalt technique, double or two-chair work enhances the redecision process by externalizing a problem and enhancing the client’s sense of personal autonomy (Lennox, 1997).

Virginia Satir represents a method that is experiential and highly individualized and emphasizes the system or patterns of behavior within relationships (Guerin & Dhabot, 1995).  Satir continually demonstrated the power of group support for growth and change as well as an arena in which transactions could be examined.

In 1959, Satir organized what may be the first formal training program in family therapy.  Guerin & Chabot (1995) note that although Satir did not focus on theory, there are fundamental premises within her work that are informed by humanistic thought and Kurt Lewin’s group standards (Rosenbaum, Lakin, & Roback, 1995). Satir speaks of the family as a balanced system and seeks to understand what price each family member pays to maintain that balance.  Symptoms are conceived as blockages to growth that maintain the balance.  She emphasizes that healthy families engender individual growth stemming from positive self-esteem, clear and honest communication patterns, and flexible rules by which family members interact with one another.  She encourages open family linkages to society (Allen, 1994; Mikesell, Lusterman, & McDaniel, 1995).

Redecision Therapy Basics

There are three fundamental assumptions ground redecision therapy.  First, human beings enter the world healthy and whole.  They will, with the appropriate environmental influences and interactions, grow and prosper.

Second, when an individual experiences events or interactions that are stressful, he or she, no matter what his or her age, will make a decision or construct about how best to cope.  It is these decisions that have the potential for problematic behavior.  A decision that was successfully adaptive within the context of childhood may not support the needs and desires of adulthood.  In fact, the behavior that played a useful role in childhood may become troublesome and self-defeating (Goulding, 1997).

Third, redecision therapy assumes that an individual can establish goals, reenact critical early scenes, and regain conscious control of their lives (Goulding & Goulding, 1979).

The redecision model can be summarized in the following features (Lennox, 1997):

  1. The therapeutic alliance with the client
  2. The joint development by the therapist and client of a goal for treatment, called a contract
  3. The emphasis of the clients’ power and responsibility through confronting efforts the client makes to deceive himself
  4. The identification of negative thinking and counterproductive behaviors
  5. The clarification of interpersonal and intrapsychic games that maintain symptoms
  6. Investigation of early childhood decisions to re-experience feelings, recognize parental messages and become aware of childhood script formations
  7. The resolution of impasses through redecisions, re-parenting, and ego state strengthening
  8. The anchoring of the client’s new and healthier behaviors and thoughts

As Satir noted, redecision therapy developed from the drive to be effective and efficient.  In redecision therapy, the principal question is “What early childhood decisions are creating problems today?” although this was phrased by Bob Goulding at the start of each session as “What would you like to change about yourself today?” (Goulding & Goulding, 1979).

For the Gouldings, redecision represents a beginning.  A person discovers her or her ability to be independent and experiences her or himself with enthusiasm, and energy, facing the world ready to practice changing and ready to enjoy the continuousness of the process.  Leahey (1994) writes:

By 1968, the hippie movement, and the associated movement of protest against the war in Vietnam, was at its height.  The Age of Aquarius was at hand, and age of skepticism and cynicism…In psychology, the humanistic psychologists were at war with the culture of intellect, siding with and inspiring the hippies and their political wing, the yippies, while cognitive psychologists cried for a Kuhnian revolution against Hull, Spence, and Skinner.  But was there anything more to the 1960s than sound and fury?  No. (p. 314)

People who have had the opportunity to experience redecision therapy, and who have experienced and are experiencing the excitement and the profound nature of what it means to change their lives, would likely disagree.


Divisions into different schools of thought are primarily suggestive.  Individual practitioners frequently do not adhere rigidly to a single orientation and skilled clinicians often integrate various approaches from the vantage of their conceptual model.  Mary Goulding made the comment that the therapeutic task is not to judge the validity of a childhood scene and find the “truth;” it is to help the client “recover from the past, real and imaged, and go on to a fulfilling life.” (Goulding, 1997, p. 87)

All major conceptual approaches to psychotherapy are informed by a system of theoretical assumptions and values in the context of the social, political and historical climate.  Every theory of psychology represents a manifesto about what it means to be human in the world.  Each theory is founded on a distinct set of beliefs about the human condition and the relationship of an individual to his or her world.  Mischel writes that personality theory is not only concerned with individual differences but with “the basic processes of adaptation through which people interact with the conditions of their lives (Mischel, 1993, p. 6; as cited in Ehrenreich, 1997).

The internalized assumptions and values about self, others, agency, goals, and context color the perspective as clinicians. They affect clinicians’ views of their clients, pathology, therapeutic techniques and goals.  Part of the process for the ‘therapist as investigator’ is the continual testing and questioning of the assumptions each holds.  This process never stops.  To the extent that what people read, see, or hear challenges their beliefs and realities, they have the opportunity to grow, which is exactly what Bob and Mary Goulding would want them to do.


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