Items filtered by date: August 2015

Using Transactional Analysis (Ta) in Understanding and Working With Issues Relating to Food and Size

  • Published in News

Kathy Leach TSTA

A brief introduction by Kathy Leach.

The majority of people who are overweight do not want to be, so why are they? Many of those who do not have weight and food issues do not understand the struggle that goes on in the life of the obese person. They do not ask why. “Why” is the important question to ask and this is the question we address in psychotherapy. It is not about the amount of food and exercise, or lack of, that our clients indulge in, it is what psychological trauma leads someone to eat that food and harm themselves by doing so.
Obesity, overeating, size and related medical, economic and social issues have become a focus of media interest, government concern and prejudice. We are told we are facing an obesity “epidemic.” An epidemic is described as a “rise or increase in” the incidence of something, or a “plague or scourge.”

Although, the truth is there has been a significant rise in obesity over the last two decades, I often feel that the word “epidemic” is loaded with the negativity of the likeness to a “plague.”

Obese people are not protected by any discrimination laws and there is ample evidence that discrimination and prejudice against overweight people is rife.

What is missing from most debates is an understanding of why people are overweight. Most people do not want to be fat, so we need to find out why they are maintaining a large body size.

TA provides a powerful framework in which to understand the psychological reasons for someone holding on to their large size or eating more than they need in order to satisfy biological hunger. The concept of psychological hungers is central to enquiry into the client’s unwanted behavioural phenomenon of overeating and/or maintaining a large body size.


The 6 types of Psychological Hungers, as described by Eric Berne in the book “Sex in Human Loving”, 1970

It is not possible to discuss all the hungers in this brief introduction, so perhaps the most helpful ones to demonstrate the use of TA is to think of Stroke and Recognition hungers. Stroking starts in infancy as physical touch and then translates throughout development as recognition.

Recognition, in the form of both verbal and non-verbal communication, is acknowledgement and acceptance and shows the love and worth, of the other. We needed strokes as babies in order to survive and we continue to need them throughout life.

The lack of strokes leaves someone feeling empty, lonely, abandoned and worthless.

Food may be used to feed this hunger, giving a sensation of fullness and companionship. Sometimes it goes much deeper. For instance I have had a number of clients tell me that their mothers gave little else but food; No hugs, no touching, no mirroring, no listening, no attunement. How do they give up the only thing their mothers gave them? Others need their large body size as a defence or as a means of knowing they are here in the world.

Working with Obesity issues in therapy using TA

When we consider ego state analysis, we see that, around the issues of food and weight, the client generally has an excluded Adult and a dominant Adapted Child with toxic Critical Parent control.

  • S/he will discount his/her ability to change because the inner Child’s need for food, or to maintain a large body size, are experienced as vital or even survival issues. This is particularly apparent in those who describe themselves as having a long term, or even lifelong, issue with weight. In such cases we need to look at what the body is protecting or defending. The inward CP to AC dialogue, supported by an imaginative, caustic and self-limiting P1, gives rise to self-disgust and loathing. However, if the client needs the weight or food in an attempt to resolve the fundamental deficit, say of love, recognition, right to exist, then the loathing is better than the feared result of losing weight. It is likely we are facing issues of existence and lovability and a type III impasse.
  • If a client does not have this depth of defence in action, then investigating Parent messages and Child beliefs in response to those introjects, is effective. Deconstructing a well know parental instruction “Eat everything on your plate” can lead to very interesting work that reveals the continuing influence of the parent figure, usually mother in this case. Fears of “disobeying” will be brought into awareness. We are likely to be working with type I and/or type II impasses and the resolution will go beyond the simple sounding, yet complex issue of “Eat it all up!”.

© Kathy Leach 2015.


Teaching and Supervising Transactional Analyst, Individual and Group Psychotherapist, Trainer and Supervisor to Trainers and Supervisors, qualified and trainee psychotherapists and counsellors.

Author of “The Overweight Patient – A psychological Approach to Understanding and Working with Obesity”, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Kathy offers certificate courses in working with this client group and 2-day intensive therapy groups for those wishing to understand the psychological aspects of their relationship with food and size. you can contect her at



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