The descriptive model of ego states

The descriptive model of ego states sometimes also known as the functional model of ego states was originally presented by Eric Berne in his book “What Do You Say After You Say Hello”.

He states

“There we will also encounter descriptive terms which are self-explanatory or which will be explained: The Natural or Nurturing Parent and the Controlling Parent, and the Natural,  and Adapted, and the Rebellious Child. Where the “structural” Child is represented by horizontal divisions, the “descriptive” Child is shown with vertical ones, as in Figure 1D.”

Berne's functional model Jpeg

There has been minor modifications to this over the years. For example I prefer to divide the Child ego state into the Free Child and the Adapted Child. The Adapted Child is then further subdivided into the Rebellious Child and the Conforming Child.

However the main point is these are descriptive models of the personality which means they simply describe the transactions between people in the here and now.

With the advent of the integrated Adult ego state model we have the following situation

ES past & present

This has lead some to say that one cannot have the Free Child or the Nurturing Parent ego states because they are from the past and not here and now and hence can’t be shown in the here and now. They conclude that only the Adult can be shown in the here and now.

Unfortunately this boils down again to a confusion between structure and function. The integrated Adult model is a structural model and the descriptive model of ego states is a functional model.

When one is said to display Free Child that is simply a description of the functional ego state the person is currently using in the here and now. The Integrated Adult model is not relevant as is not a descriptive model of behaviour but a statement about where the ego states come from.

Business lady

One can diagnose this woman being in her Adapted Child ego state in the here and now. This is a description of her current behaviour. She also has fixations from her past held in her Child ego state in the integrated Adult ego state model but one can never see these. They are a theoretical construct that cannot be observed.



The Free Child and Adapted Child are not the same thing as the Integrated Adult model of Child ego state. They are two different things all together. It is unfortunate they have both been called the Child and that may to explain the confusion as people assume them to be the same thing. The FC and AC are descriptions of a persons current behaviour. The Child ego state in the integrated Adult model is a statement that we get part of our personality by having archaic fixations which reside in the Child.

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