Understanding Drama in the Coaching Room, the theory

So you can have an understanding of Drama in the Coaching Room this week I will lay out the theory in a little more detail.

As already mentioned Transactional Analysis has a great model called the “Drama Triangle” (Karpman 1968) as one way of exploring what Berne described as games.

In Transactional terms, the interaction between people can be viewed almost as a theatrical performance. There are three main roles;

  • Persecutor – when in this role you may have several behaviours such as criticising or even bullying. You may believe you are just giving constructive feedback however the unhealthy nature of the triangle invites the other party or parties to react either defensively or provoke a counterattack.
  • Rescuer – in this role, you may find yourself trying to solve problems for the other person with solutions or suggestions. You may take over and disempower the other person without meaning to. Although motivated by a desire to help this role usually backfires.
  • Victim – when in this role you may feel hard done by and helpless. There can be a sense of other people disrespecting you. You may find it hard to express yourself or set boundaries. You may be just as likely to have a tantrum!


‘Players’ tend to circulate the roles until everyone has had a go at all three. There is always a negative payoff and as with all games the Drama Triangle tends to be out of awareness.


So how do you recognise a game of Drama In The Coaching Room?

We often talk about people playing psychological games with each other and wonder what is going on. A game is described as a repetitive but unsatisfactory interaction with another person or group of people. There are several elements to a game that can alert you to its presence:

  • Repetition – here you go again.
  • Predictability – we may not predict our games but when we see others playing we can predict how it will go.
  • Ulterior transaction – what is on the surface masks what is going on underneath.
  • Switch – where the roles change dramatically.
  • Negative payoff – everyone is left feeling worse even if you think you won to game.
  • Out of awareness – you are not aware of the pattern playing out.

A game may last just a few minutes or go on for much longer. A game can only continue if both parties are willing to “play”. This willingness occurs at an unconscious level.


As a Coach learning to recognise what is going on is key in creating a more positive dynamic with your client and ultimately helping the client to become self-aware too.

Next time I will use an example from the Coaching room to explain what is going on and how you the Coach can step out of the Drama.

If Transactional Analysis is something you would like to explore further do contact me to find out about Transactional Analysis for Coaches (on Zoom) next month, 28th to 29th November.

If you are a Coach and think you might need Supervision contact me directly for details of one-to-one sessions and Supervision Groups.


Melody Cheal MSc MAPP
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