Self Help

Muriel James, self-help psychologist, author of 'Born to Win,' dies at 100

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Being authentic, said self-help psychologist and author Muriel James, is more important than being a success.

“Achievement is not the most important thing,” she wrote in “Born to Win,” her 1971 best-seller. “Authenticity is. The authentic person experiences self-reality by knowing, being and becoming a credible, responsive person.”

James, who wrote 19 books and counseled countless patients using the psychological system of transactional analysis, died Jan. 10 in Pleasant Hill. She was 100.

She lectured, attended conferences around the world, encouraged “purposeful, positive thinking,” and espoused the views of her mentor and fellow author and transactional analysis advocate, Eric Berne.

“Authentic persons,” she wrote, “do not dedicate their lives to a concept of what they imagine they should be. Rather, they are themselves (and) do not use their energy putting on a performance.”

James, a native of Berkeley, was the daughter of physician and music professor John Marshall and the daughter of concert pianist Hazel Marshall. She was a graduate of Lowell High School and of UC Berkeley, where she earned bachelor’s and doctoral degrees. During World War II, James was a safety inspector at the shipyards in Richmond, alongside other “Rosie the Riveter” women who did jobs traditionally performed by men.

She worked as a church secretary, counseled high school students and participated in the civil rights marches of the 1960s before becoming involved in the transactional analysis movement.

In addition to writing, James traveled around the world to train therapists and to lead counseling sessions. She served as president of the International Transactional Analysis Association.

In the early 1970s, she popularized the concept of “self re-parenting” by which survivors of difficult childhoods try to envision what an ideal parent would be like.

She also operated a joint counseling practice with her son and fellow psychologist, John James, who died in 2009.

In later years, James led a group for writers at Rossmoor in Walnut Creek and enjoyed cooking in her kitchen, particularly beef stew and chocolate cake. Two years ago, she arranged for the publication of her grandmother Josephine Knowles’ memoir of the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s.

“She had a way of talking, of putting people at ease,” said her grandson Ian who, as a boy of 8, remembers how his grandmother helped him get over a splitting headache.

“She had me lie down and told me to imagine my blood vessels unconstricting and opening,” he said. “I suppose it was semi-hypnosis. Whatever it was, it worked.”

She is survived by her son Duncan of Ukiah; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

At her request, no service will be held.

Steve Rubenstein is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:

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