Open letter from Fanita English to Agnes Le Guernic

April 14, 2007

Dear Agnes,

It is only recently that I read your article, “Fairy Tales and Psychological Life Plans.” (Le Guernic, 2004). I became so enthusiastic about it that I am now writing you about it, even though I am a few years late.

You are kind enough to list my name among your references. Of course you refer only to items I contributed in French, whereas some of my writings which do not exist in French are even more pertinent to your thesis, that “fairy tales and stories nourish children’s imagination and give them material to use in building up their life plan”.

You write from the perspective of prevention, as an educator who has had access to children, all of whom are actually in the process of setting up their life plans.  You show how fairy tales and other stories have important functions and offer motivating factors that can further the positive development of a child.  This corresponds to what I increasingly saw from the perspective of a therapist working with clients retrospectively on stories that affected them in the course of growing up.

I came to realize that it is a fallacy to think of scripts as primarily negative.  In fact scripts have many dimensions, perhaps corresponding to the 31 functions you refer to. They offer essential structure for a growing child, even when some negative conditioning that may lead to harmful behavior or inappropriate expectations gets integrated into their personality. (I refer to these as archaic “survival conclusions”  that need to be re-evaluated in the light of present-day reality, quite distinctly from what may be a client’s script. English,  (1977, p.332).

Although my article on the case of Stella that you refer to still gives a negative connotation to scripts, originally the article was written in l973 for the Magazine “Psychology Today”.(English, l973/4)   Regrettably it did not appear in French until l992, so it is referenced by you with that date.  However by then I had considerably changed my outlook about scripts on the basis of additional clinical experience, precisely due to having heard about how various stories, including fairy tales, influenced my clients at different stages of their lives.   My “new script perspectives” were described in detail in l977 in my chapter entitled “What Shall I do Tomorrow?” in Graham Barnes’s book, “Transactional Analysis after Eric Berne” (English, l977, pp.338-345) There I also described an “exercise” which forms the basis of my script workshops, whereby we discuss different stories that made an impact on a given client at different stages of his/her life. Since then I have worked with as many as 2,000 workshop participants and heard many stories that had crucial impact on them.

Therefore, on the basis of clinical experience, I can heartily agree with what you write about “Fairy Tales and Psychology”.

This is also why, whenever I have the opportunity, I insist that scripts not be loosely referred to as synonyms for pathological patterns.  They are an integral part of our personality; they meet our “structure hunger” and support our development from childhood to old age.             Of course our life span carries ups and downs, as do fairy tales in the manner you so clearly describe. The question is:- at each point of our lives, how do we deal with the vicissitudes we face?  The tales that inspired our scripts often offered  models for courage, incentives and cooperation, thus hope for the future.

I have spelled out my thoughts on scripts in my article, “Whither scripts?” English, l988).  I suppose it might be more conciliatory to accept Cornell’s suggestion  as you describe it, namely “to use the term ‘psychological life plans’ for the healthy functional aspects of our personal reality, and  to keep the term ‘life scripts’ for pathological aspects of a person’s life “(Cornell, l988),  Except that Berne himself indicated that “scripts can be positive and bring on happiness” (Berne, l969) so I do not like the distorted assumption of equating scripts with pathology.

As you indicate,  “the stories in fairy tales and myths are concerned with both aspects” (of  positive and negative messages and experiences), as is reality for all children – and grownups – and actual life has to do with how the hero or heroine of one’s story manages to overcome obstacles in the course of growing to the mature “ok” position. In fact, I have developed the concept of a “fifth position”, namely “I’m ok you’re ok –for Real – or ”I’m ok you’re ok –Adult” (.English, l975) because obviously the infant’s original, euphoric  “ok” position  cannot be held throughout development, and   children must struggle with what you call ”raised and lowered positions” in developing their characters. Thus, I really like how you connect someone’s script with his/her life position, and how, additionally you distinguish between one’s life position (and/or character) and the different roles each of us may take on.

There is so much more in your article that I would love to discuss.  At this point I will simply say that I was happy to read your  effective presentation of the function of fairy tales in supporting children’s development, and  that I heartily concur with your inspiring “conclusion”.


                                                                                     Fanita English


Berne, E.  (l961) Transactional analysis in psychotherapy. New York: Grove Press

Berne, E. (l969) Personal communication, in conjunction with discussion on episcripts, which are pathological, by contrast to scripts

Cornell, W.F. (l988) Life script theory: A critical review from a developmental perspective.  Transactional Analysis Journal l8, 270-282

English, F. ( l973/74) Transactional Analysis and Script Analysis Today., in   Psychology Today Magazine, N.Y. April l973 – also in Readings in Psychology Today – CRM Publications, N.Y. l974

English, F. (l977) What shall I do tomorrow?  Reconceptualizing transactional analysis.  In G. Barnes (Ed),  Transactional Analysis after Eric Berne.  New York: Harper’s College Press.

English, F.  (l988) Whither Scripts? Transactional Analysis Journal 4, 294-303

Le Guernic, A. (2004) Fairy Tales and  Psychological Life Plans. Transactional Analysis Journal 34, 216-222.