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You’re OK is a 1969 self-help book by Thomas Anthony Harris. It is a practical guide to transactional analysis as a method for solving problems in life. The book made the New York Times Best Seller list in 1972 and remained there for almost two years.
It is estimated by the publisher to have sold over 15 million copies to date and to have been translated into over a dozen languages. Rather than working with abstract concepts of consciousness, Harris suggests that the pioneering work of brain surgeon Wilder Penfield in uncovering the neurological basis of memory could offer complementary insights grounded in observable reality. Though the patients were conscious that they were on an operating table, the stimulation also caused them to recall specific past events in vivid detail—not just facts of the event, but as a vivid “reliving” of “what the patient saw and heard and felt and understood” when the memory was created. Based on these experiments, Harris postulates that the brain records past experiences like a tape recorder, in such a manner that it is possible subsequently to relive past experiences with all their original emotional intensity.
Harris continues by linking his interpretation of Wilder’s experiments to the work of Eric Berne, whose model of psychotherapy is based on the idea that emotionally intense memories from childhood are ever-present in adults. Berne’s name for his model: Transactional Analysis. This readily understood standardisation, and the association Harris develops between TA and Wilder’s neuroscience, gives TA a degree of credibility not possessed by earlier abstract models such as that developed by Freud. After describing the context for his belief of the significance of TA, Harris describes TA, starting from the observation that a person’s psychological state seems to change in response to different situations.
The question is, from what and to what does it change? Harris answers this through a simplified introduction to TA, explaining Berne’s proposal that there are three states into which a person can switch: the Parent, the Adult and the Child.
Harris describes the mental state called the Parent by analogy, as a collection of “tape recordings” of external influences that a child observed adults doing and saying. The recording is a long list of rules and admonitions about the way the world is that the child was expected to believe unquestioningly. In parallel with those Parent recordings, the Child is a simultaneous recording of internal events — how life felt as a child. Harris equates these with the vivid recordings that Wilder Penfield was able to cause his patients to re-live by stimulating their brains.
Harris proposes that, as adults, when we feel discouraged, it is as if we are re-living those Child memories yet the stimulus for re-living them may no longer be relevant or helpful in our lives. According to Harris, humans start developing a third mental state, the Adult, about the time children start to walk and begin to achieve some measure of control over their environment. Instead of learning ideas directly from parents into the Parent, or experiencing simple emotion as the Child, children begin to be able to explore and examine the world and form their own opinions. They test the assertions of the Parent and Child and either update them or learn to suppress them.