Eric Berne: Father of Transactional Analysis

Zip Dobyns

When Maritha wrote her article on Transactional Analysis, we lacked any information on the birth data of its founder, Eric Berne. In the summer of 1982, I was delighted to discover a recent compilation of material written by Berne which included a short biography. Naturally, there was no time of birth listed, but at least it gave me his date, place, and some events in his life which could be used for rectification. Obviously, we have to consider the chart speculative, but even if we ignore the uncertain houses, we can derive some information from the signs and aspects. As our readers know, I find rectification a fascinating challenge.

Among the listed events in Berne’s life were the death of his M.D. father when Berne was 9 years old, and the birth of a sister when he was about 5 years old. His mother was a professional writer and editor. Berne followed in his father’s footsteps, with the encouragement of his mother, to become an M.D., and then went to the United States for his internship in 1935. He moved on to a psychiatric residency at Yale in 1936, where he spent two years. His first real job was in New York City in 1941-2, followed by a stint in the Army Medical Corps from 1943-6. A precise date is not given for his becoming an American citizen, but it was apparently 1938 or 1939, and he shortened his name at that time to the one by which he is known. He was briefly in private practice before the Army service, in Norwalk Connecticut where he met and married his first wife and had two kids. During this period, he was also training as a psychoanalyst. His first book was published in 1947, and his first work with group therapy occurred during his army service. After the army, he moved to Carmel, California where he spent the balance of his life.

In Carmel, he trained for two years under Erik Erikson. He wanted a divorce by this time, but Erikson ordered him to wait until he completed his training. Berne married for the second time in 1949 and had two more children: a son in 1952 and another son in 1955. He was divorced for the second time and moved in 1964. Throughout the period of his marriage, he was working on more books, sometimes on 6 at once! His 1956 application for membership in the Psychoanalytic Institution was rejected, and though he felt devastated at the time, it spurred him into more innovative thinking, and by the end of 1956, he had published two papers which were keys to his future direction. The name of his unique approach, Transactional Analysis (TA) was established by a paper published in Oct. 1958. He continued to write prolifically, along with teaching and private counseling. He also traveled abroad a number of times. A third marriage to a much younger woman took place in 1967 but ended in divorce in early 1970. Although surrounded by a group of devoted students, he seemed less and less able to let anyone come close. On Friday, June 26, 1970, he had chest pains, and the following Sunday, he suffered a massive heart attack. He was kept sedated for three days and seemed on the road to recovery, but another heart attack sent him back to the hospital where he died on July 15, 1970.

The speculative chart for Berne certainly fits his life. The life in the mind is suggested by Aquarius rising, Chiron in the first house along with both Virgo asteroids (Ceres and Vesta), giving a whole mutable dilemma as part of his natural self-expression with Chiron similar to Sagittarius, the sign of Pisces, and the asteroids for Virgo. He also has the Sun in the third house for the ego-involvement with the mind, and the nodes of the Moon across the third and ninth houses for the perpetual student, teacher, writer and traveler. Pluto in a mutable sign is closely quincunx Uranus in a mutable house for additional emphasis on mental activity, and Moon and Mercury in double Gemini further support his wide-ranging curiosity. He was too independent and original to stay in the traditional Freudian framework, though he wanted their approval.

His problems included a strong freedom-closeness dilemma with Jupiter in Libra in the seventh house and Neptune in the fifth showing the search for the ideal love and mate. Juno conjunct Neptune repeats the theme, and Mars in Cancer in the fifth shows part of his identity connected to home and his family, but at the same time, a possible conflict between independence and closeness. Venus in Aries and in the first house says it again, while the loaded first house and Aquarius rising also repeat the need for space. The struggle between his intense need for freedom and for closeness was obviously the cause of his death with a heart attack (Leo) soon after his third marriage failure. One would think that someone who spent his life exploring the mind would have been more self-aware, but for all its usefulness as a model of the mind, TA does not really deal with some of Berne’s major challenges, including the tendency to look for the Absolute in human relationships. Berne lacked faith in a higher Power or anything beyond this life though he was interested in telepathy and other psychic phenomena and had psychic experiences on a number of occasions.

The south node in the ninth house and Capricorn in the twelfth house both point to faith in something Higher as a lesson area for Berne, one he failed to handle. With Uranus, ruling the Ascendant, in the twelfth house, and Pisces in the first house, he put some of his faith in himself, and no one can carry the world alone. Some faith, as already indicated, was in other people, and that inevitably leads to disillusionment. The issue of power is also involved. With Aries in the first house, and Saturn, co-ruler of Aquarius, in Aries in the second house, he needed to keep the power in his own hands. It is typical for men with strong freedom and power needs to deny their dependency and be very uncomfortable with it. So, despite the strong water need for dependency on the family (Cancer) and God (Pisces), Berne seems to have ended up in his fire-earth, atlas, steam-roller side with an aching loneliness he could not satisfy.

Some of the new asteroids are prominent in Berne’s chart. Dudu (like Pluto) and Icarus (like the Sun) are rising in Aquarius, conjunct the Ascendant. Pittsburghia (another Pluto) is in the seventh house in Leo opposite the Ascendant, and Lilith (still another Pluto) is in the seventh house in Virgo, quincunx his Ascendant. The general picture just reinforced the freedom-closeness dilemma, adding more emphasis to the first and seventh houses with mostly separative aspects. Eros in Sagittarius and Frigga and Sappho in Pisces may be additional statements confirming the search for the ideal love. Both the new Saturns, Hidalgo and Dembowska, were in Scorpio, fitting both the career in depth analysis and the lesson in handling power and close relationships. Pandora was on Juno, an intriguing statement about his choice of wives. The new asteroid “California” was conjunct Hidalgo in a grand trine to Mars in Cancer and Chiron-East Point- Pallas in Pisces, showing his successful career in the state. The rising and prominent Pallas also fits the choice of counseling as an important part of his life. Just the sheer amount of activity in his first house could be one of the clues to problems. I often find a struggle with introversion in such cases: great talent but a danger of too much self-absorption or self-consciousness.

The intense conflict over love (needing it and unable to accept it) shows sharply in the progressed aspects at Berne’s death from heart failure. His progressed Sun (heart) was conjunct Neptune in the 5th house, vainly seeking God in a human love and opposite progressed Icarus (another Sun). Neptune was octile natal Moon (ruler of the 5th house) for most of Berne’s life and progressed Ascendant had reached the conjunction to natal Moon and octile to Neptune. Progressed Moon had just entered the seventh house, reminding him of his need for emotional closeness and its lack in his life, and the Moon was square natal Sun (heart again) and opposite natal Icarus (potentially another Sun). If this birth time is right, Berne’s quotidian progressed MC (moving about a degree a day) had squared the natal Sun, opposed the progressed Moon in Leo, the Sun’s sign, and was on natal Icarus during the last fatal heart attack and the actual death. In every form, letter five was in conflict with itself: Sun, Icarus, progressed Moon in Leo, progressed Sun-Neptune in the Leo house, along with progressed Mercury (natal ruler of the Gemini in the 5th house), conjunct Mars in the 5th, octile natal Sun, square Jupiter in Libra (the elusive ideal mate), quincunx progressed MC (the circumstances seemingly beyond his control that are simply the results of character and past actions.) Of course, there were many more aspects, but the interweaving of the different forms of letter five could not have been spelled out more clearly.

We realize why spiritual evolution takes a good many lives when we see someone with as much knowledge and capacity to care as Berne had, who is able to help many people (his concepts have touched millions of lives), but who is unable to resolve his own major conflicts. I wonder if the insight so obviously visible in his horoscope would have made a difference if he had known more about astrology?

Copyright © 1982 Los Angeles Community Church of Religious Science, Inc.

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