Book Review: Groups in Transactional Analysis, Object Relations, and Family Systems

By N. Michel Landaiche, III

This review will shortly be published in the The Transactional Analyst, published by UK Association for Transactional Analysis (

“Berne’s central focus in transactional analysis was to wake us up to the delusional aspects of our decision-making in order to place ourselves more securely in the world we actually inhabit.”

I confess that I bought Landaiche’s book on impulse, enticed by the 3-in-1 offer implied in the title and ever keep to fast-track my reading, finding the route of least resistance.

As ever, the laws of physics take over, and I found myself reading a book as densely packed as a neutron star.

For example, as early as p5, we’re treated to this incoming meteorite:

“human neurophysiology can be described as interdependent and cross-regulating, a collaboration and conflict between physiological and neurological processes (between body and mind), and a collaboration and conflict between individual and group (between forces for togetherness and forces for individuality).”

My Grammarly says helpfully: “A knowledgeable audience might find this sentence hard to read”.

Incoming giant boulders full of rare minerals keep coming, making it hard to skim at pace for slackers like me. It’s worth the effort though, and the book mostly delivers the goods inside the tin.

The book is a broad survey of three major components of psychodynamic theory:

  • Transactional analysis
  • Objects relations
  • Family systems

The book is packed with references and should get many students’ citations. There are times when it reads as one long book review. As an introduction to the material, it’s a helpful start, but it inevitably gets thin in parts and needs to move briskly. As in a complex crime drama, we are left wondering, “wait, how did we get here?” More staging and summarisation would make it easier to absorb.

It’s quite heavy and, in my view, could have done with more comparison and explanation of the theories and how they each measured up. That said, the book is very good on Bion and Berne. But less so on Bowen. I was left wanting more on IFS and would like Bowen to have been examined in similar detail.

The book begins with a detailed explanation of Bion and delivers a good synthesis, such as this gem:

“Bion’s insight that the psychoanalyst or other helping professional first processes the client’s unconscious material at a bodily, felt level, and then essentially works up from the body into the mind, where that experience can be symbolised even as it remains bodily rooted.”

After reviewing the key theories in the initial chapters, the book moves on to focus on Landaiches’s practitioner experience as a consultant and educator. There are some useful sections that show how the theories are being applied in context. The practitioner focus in the book almost brings in Kurt Kevin’s field theory as a fourth dimension.

“We modify how we work in accordance with the continuous feedback we receive in the form of our research data. We engage in an iterative process of action, evaluation, and modification that ideally fine-tunes our practice as it achieves our work. We learn from experience.”

As I said, it’s quite packed.

In Chapter 2, Landaiche explores the “Body/Mind” problem. And we find amongst the heavy rock some real glints of precious jewels, like this in Berne:

“Berne’s central focus in transactional analysis was to wake us up to the delusional aspects of our decision-making in order to place ourselves more securely in the world we actually inhabit.”

Chapter 2 offers a very good explanation of the central problem of working in groups, as Bion emphasised):

“The individual has to live in his own body, and his body has to put up with having a mind living in it” (p. 10).

Bowen is introduced to put this individual body/mind dilemma into the social context. Landaiche summarises Bowen as follows:

“Bowen believed that individual behavior could not be understood in isolation from the family emotional systems into which individuals are born and of which they remain an inextricable part throughout life.”

In chapter 2 we’re also introduced to Bion’s ontological concept of the “container”, that relational space shared between the therapist and the patient.

In Chapter 3, Landaiche explores learning and hating on groups. After introducing Berne, we start to get more practitioner examples of Landaiche’s own work in a subsection called “My Group Psychology”

Towards the end of the chapter there’s a quote from Berne highlighting the role of groups (Berne, 1963):

“One purpose of forming, joining, and adjusting to groups is to prevent biologic, psychological and also moral deterioration. Few people are able to “recharge their own batteries,” lift themselves up by their own psychological bootstraps, and keep their own morals trimmed without outside assistance.”

Chapters 4, 5 & 6 dwell on Landsiche’s own consultancy work. I confess to becoming a bit lost at certain points as these cases became anecdotal, and it was a real challenge to follow ALL the theoretical threads. Many were quite contextual, and as often with this type of fieldwork, certain cases will be more valuable than others.

In chapter 7, Landaiche delivers a useful insight summering these experiences:

“the intelligence of the group can function like a distributed network or system of processors, with problems broken down into components to be solved by the different processors—by the individuals with more complex brains—and then reintegrated at the system level.”

And, “something happens to our individual intellectual capacities when we bring our minds together in collaborative ways, something that a single human brain cannot achieve alone.”

This insight moves the work towards more contemporary thinking about mental networks, such as James Surowiecki’s “Wisdom of Crowds” and Geoff Mulgan’s “Big Mind”.

The pathology of groups unable to learn is explored, and Bowen is brought back into the picture:

“When this balance between the emotional and intellectual systems was absent, what predominated was what he called chronic anxiety. This reactivity no longer correlated with actual environmental cues and could spread throughout the system like a wildfire; it was a heightened panic that overwhelms the ability for thoughtfulness.”

However, along the way, we’ve had references to Kolb, Janis, Schein & Kuhn, and many others, contributing to this over-packed feel, rather like an overfilled burger. Tasty, but hard to digest.

In chapter 8, we look at a broader community perspective, such as professional associations, sports clubs and spiritual organisations, etc and yet more references in the form of Senge, Stacey etc, etc.

In chapter 9, we move to “Principles and practices of group work”, addressing leadership and followership and how we can encourage this transmissive learning.

Landaiche issues a call to action:

“Reproducing life requires the transfer of information—everything from DNA to instruction sets for sheltering, feeding, child-rearing, and warring. And in any species for which the transferred information and relevant behavioural sequences cannot simply be activated automatically via genetic or epigenetic expression, some form of instructing is key to preparing the next generation. …


“since that instructing and training must meet acceptable minimum standards for survival over time—not only of the immediate young but of succeeding generations—such training is an activity of urgent interest to the community, sometimes even an activity of the whole community. …

To what extent can we influence that succession? When does that influence serve our principles more than our reactivity?”

(Landaiche, 2015)

In the concluding chapter, Landaiche offers a fair and well-balanced reflection on his own work:

“What I have written in this book represents, at best, an intuitive synthesis of these three frames of reference, even though articulating a clear and actual integration of these theories is, regrettably, outside the scope of this book”

There’s no doubt the book is a bit of a slog, but rather like a yomp throw rain-soaked landscape, where the light breaks through and makes it all worthwhile.

This will be one of those well-thumbed books, with a forest of post-its sticking out, with those strange hard-to-remember symbols written in the margins. Not an easy way out of psycho-theory overload, sadly. But Landaiche is a good ally to have on your professional journey.

Dr Andrew Atter