The treatment contract is an element that distinguishes transactional analysis from other therapeutic approaches. It is a specific agreement between a therapist and a client to accomplish clearly stated goals.

Berne (quoted by Stewart and Joines, 1987) defined a contract as an explicit bilateral commitment to a well-defined course of action. James and Jongeward’s (1973, page 47) definition explains contracts further – “A contract is an Adult commitment to one’s self and/or someone else to make a change.”

Contracts specify following concerns:

  1. Who both parties are?
  2. What will they do together?
  3. How long this will take?
  4. What is the outcome of working together?
  5. How will they know when they have gotten there?
  6. How will that be beneficial to the client?

In TA practice, therapist distinguishes three kinds of contracts: business contract, treatment contract and working agreements (Woolams and Brown, 1978).

A business contract outlines boundaries between a client and a therapist and makes explicit what can be expected. Steiner (1971) outlined four essential components: mutual consent, valid consideration, competency and lawful object.

Mutual consent means that both parties voluntary enter into a therapeutic relationship. Valid consideration is about putting mutual value into the work. Usually, it means that a therapist will put knowledge, skills and expertise, together with a safe place to assist a client in meeting own therapeutic goals.

Simultaneously, a client will pay fee by financial means or any other in advance agreed means. Competency means that both a therapist and a client must be competent to be involved in this particular kind of relationship. Competency also means that both parties have ability of cathecting the Adult ego state in a process of making a contract or during therapeutic treatment. Lawful object means that a therapist and a client will work together exclusively using legal and ethical means to obtain their results.

Life position “I am OK, you are OK” is a basis of a therapeutic work. A therapist and a client are equal and share responsibility for the change the client wants to make. To make it meaningful, both parties need to be clear about the nature of the change and contribution that each will invest in achieving it. All ulterior messages exchanged between them should be exposed because (Stewart and Joines, 1987) it helps both to stay out of the Drama Triangle and prevents them of playing games.

It is tempting to therapists to solve clients’ problems by making assumptions about proper goals for them to achieve. That arrogant position brings a therapist to the Rescuer or even Persecutor role. Gouldings (1976) said that working without contract might mean that therapist becomes “the rapist”.

Treatment contracts are made from two alert and informed Adults with a full support of Free Child. If the contract is made from Adapted Child it will further a client’s (and sometimes a therapist’s) script.

The main component of an effective contract is in which a client positions himself or herself in one of OK positions (2 and 4) from a list below (Woolams and Brown, 1978).

  1. A client can continue to do what she/he is doing now and feel not-OK about it
  2. A client can continue to do what she/he is doing now and feel OK about it
  3. A client can do something different and feel not-OK about it.
  4. A client can do something different and feel OK about it.

It is important to have a contract clarified since it can be an indication that both counsellor and client work toward the same goal. The contract can enrich the therapeutic process. Clients usually tend to put an effort into process of change and they are motivated and energetic about it. If achievable goals were set, a client’s self esteem will be increased. Having contracts means working on goals rather than a problem, employing available resources from all ego states.

Gellert and Wilson (1978, page 11) wrote an excellent literature overview of various aspects of the goal setting and the theory of aspirations.

“When a client establishes a goal (makes a contract) the client sets up in himself a system of psychological tension that will aid him in recall of pertinent early scenes so as to achieve closure, and that the tension will remain until closure, even though the task is interrupted, so that the client will continue to work even though the therapy session may be over”.

The research done by Ferdinand Hope (quoted by Gellert and Wilson, 1978) proved that a subjective success led to an increase in a level of aspiration and a sense of failure led to lowering a level of aspiration. In his findings a level of aspiration was never lowered after success or raised after failure.

Berne (1978) also stated: “A winner is someone who succeeds in what he says he is going to do. A loser is someone who fails to accomplish what he sets out to do.

The third available type of contract that a therapist may agree with a client is so-called, working agreement. It is consider as a subcontract and it always states intentions of behaviour. It differs from the treatment contract in that it may come from any ego state, it may contradict the main treatment goal and provide a short-term protection. The usual example of the working agreement will be giving homework to clients and their responsibility will be to report on own success.

The best use of working agreement has been seen with suicidal clients who will agree on not hurting themselves while making redecision. It is a therapist’s task to invite the client to move from “a working agreement to a treatment contract and then to a redecision as soon as possible.” (Woolams and Brown, 1978, page 256).

Counsellors often use all three types of contracts and they find them useful and commitment enhancing. A sense of achievement is sometimes very powerful and provokes further actions. By having contracts, a safe place is created, there is no confusion, and there are no questions about roles and aims of seeing each other regularly.

Counsellors occasionally work without a contract having a good reason for that. If someone has a strongly developed Adapted Child and not much available Adult, making a contract may just further the script. The Adapted Child will follow the contract or will sabotage it and either may serve to reinforce the script.

With clients who have strong Adapted Child, counsellors initially work on decontamination. Once the client has enough available Adult, therapists proceed to negotiate the contract.