Briony Nicholls

This page contains some short articles I've written, that give you some more information about the way I work, about TA, sports and some topics in psychotherapy. I will be adding more written pieces over time. If you'd like to see a particular topic covered here, then do get in touch with me.

Why TA? gives some of the reasons I am so enthusiastic about this way of working.
Talking to Yourself describes some of my work with Sarah Outen while she was rowing the Pacific Ocean, solo.
Relational TA discusses some key concepts of Relational TA Psychotherapy





Articles and information #01

Why TA?

This is a question I'm asked frequently, when I'm running introductory courses or speaking to prospective students. The answer for me is that it is a beautiful theory that really works.

TA was originally designed to be accessible to all. The key concepts are described in everyday language and the basic theories are deceptively simple. You can pick up the fundamentals of a theory of personality or interpersonal interactions in 5 or 10 minutes. More importantly, you would also be able to put that concept into practice straight away. The concepts are so easily applicable that we can start to apply them to ourselves, use them to make sense of our day-to-day situations, and make positive changes immediately. Whenever I teach a TA101 – a 2-day course of the key concepts – I look forward to the second morning, as I can guarantee that some of the participants will come in describing how they have tried out some of the theory and seen its positive effects.

On the other hand, after 15 years of studying TA, I am still struck by the subtleties and possibilities of the theory. Those deceptively simple concepts, such as a model of personality comprising events in our own history (the Child), our experience of influential others (the Parent) and our being in the here-and-now (the Adult), are able to describe and inform issues as complex as trauma and personality disorders, and guide our clinical practice with clients. The theory of the Script describes how we adapt ourselves to others in relationship from the earliest age, and because of that we limit ourselves and develop troublesome patterns of behaviour. This has effects on our thinking and how we make sense of some situations, which can lead to problems such as panic attacks. It also affects our relationships, and the TA theory of psychological Games gives us a way to think about the problematic repeating patterns that we get into with other people: the roles we play and the ways we might sabotage ourselves. We can use that theory not only to help our communications and relationships, but also to understand the internal world of our clients in psychotherapy.

The purpose of TA psychotherapy is to allow clients to be released from those constraints of their own history. So they have more freedom in themselves: to develop different ways of communicating, different ways of seeing and thinking about the world, and different, more fulfilling ways of being in relationship with others.


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Articles and information #02

Talking to Yourself

This article was originally posted on www.sarahouten.com, September 2013, while Sarah was rowing solo on the Pacific Ocean.

Talking to yourself is, for me, a good sign of your sanity. Sarah and I have been working together for many years now, looking at the challenges of her stressful and solitary expeditions. During that time, we have talked a lot about the need for her to say what’s going on for her. When any of us is under stress and/or finding situations difficult, it can be tempting to try to ignore our responses. We bury our feelings and try to concentrate on solving the problems or moving on to other things. That’s fine, provided the stress is short-term or easily managed. But if we keep burying more and more things, they start to leak out anyway. Our feelings are useful information to ourselves and others. Ultimately, emotions are hard-wired survival mechanisms. So they won’t stay buried for long – they will find a way to affect and overwhelm our thoughts and behaviour until we take account of them.

Sarah’s now been at sea for more than 4 months. It’s hard for most of us to imagine what that’s like. She’s faced constant physical challenges – just living in a tiny and constantly moving space being one of the most basic. She’s also been more alone in that time than most of us would be in a lifetime – physically separated from the world and facing up to the huge physical and psychological trials of the ocean on her own. There are many things out there that she can’t do anything to change – the wind and weather have a massive influence on Happy Socks and Sarah’s progress. So if you want a definition of stress: working to complete a task in the face of external factors that we cannot control in any way, which are preventing our progress, is a pretty good start.

In the face of that daily stress, it’s important for Sarah not to try to ignore or bury it, but instead to take account of her feelings. Saying things out loud – to herself, Chimpy or another person – is a good way to do that. There’s something very important about putting our feelings into words rather than just having them rattle around in our heads, and in having someone else hear those words. (For me, this is one of the key reasons that psychotherapy helps people feel better.)

I’m one of the people lucky enough to talk to Sarah in those times when she reaches out. This isn’t a simple process – Sarah usually has to email me first to arrange a time (around our different time zones) that suits us both to speak on the phone. Even that making contact has a positive effect, because Sarah is already putting some of her thoughts and feelings into words. What an amazing thing it is that I can sit in my office in Oxford, speaking to Sarah floating in the middle of the Pacific. The sat phone is absolutely brilliant, and, there’s always a delay on the line, so mostly I listen to what Sarah has to say, to avoid cutting across her. This simple process is also incredibly powerful. Sarah is able to say what’s on her mind and hear that I’ve heard that. Sure, over the course of a conversation, I’ll offer a few of my thoughts about what she’s saying, and maybe some ideas about what she might do. We’ve worked together since she started preparing to row the Indian Ocean, so we share a ‘short-hand’ of previous discussions and experiences that can inform her current situation. Still, I’m confident that Sarah’s ability to cope with the extreme and prolonged stresses and challenges she’s faced with in her expeditions, and her ability to come though that with a huge level-headedness, is due to a large extent to her ability to talk about what’s going on. Whether that’s to herself, her accompanying fleet of fish, Chimpy, or some of us on land, she’s hearing what’s inside her head, outside.


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Articles and information #03

Relational TA

A key idea in relational TA is that trauma and psychological problems originate in relationship, so are also healed in relationship. It places an emphasis on what happens between the psychotherapist and client, in terms of their own therapeutic relationship, and on the unconscious as well as conscious communications and relational patterns that the psychotherapist and client create. If we are able to ‘catch’ and recognise those communications and patterns, then we can think about them, create different outcomes and ultimately develop different ways of relating that are less likely to lock us into problematic patterns.

An emphasis on relationships was built into TA theory from its earliest history, with the concepts of Transactions and the development of Script in relationship with others. However some of that emphasis was lost in the years following Eric Berne’s death, and TA was developed for some time as a therapy that prioritised cognitive insight as a route to psychological change. In the last 20 years, TA theory has reclaimed some of its psychoanalytic roots, and its understanding of the importance of the unconscious and of relationships.

TA psychotherapy aims to allow clients to change in profound ways, to improve their lives, their relational patterns and ways of being in the world. It allows the psychotherapist and client to work at depth, in the long term, with complex psychological problems, including serious mental illnesses. It has models that provide structure, and can describe and shed light on important conscious and non-conscious processes. The theory can be used for reflection and to provide direction for the work. TA is an integrative modality, with a depth of theory that has been developed over 60 years and continues to evolve. Because of this, the theoretical concepts link well together and inform thinking about each other and clinical practice. It is an extremely robust theory that allows the psychotherapist to remain grounded, even when working in very complex ways.


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