Reality therapy is based on the notion that individuals hold responsibility for their actions and thoughts. This approach aids individual’s ability to make choices in difficult situations. The late, William Glasser is credited with developing reality therapy. He developed this approach to therapy because of his dissatisfaction with the traditional psychoanalytic training he received. Influential in the development of the approach was Glasser’s advisor G.L. Harrington, who supported Glasser for over seven years.
In 1956 Glasser worked as a psychiatrist at an institution for girls. During his time at this state institution Glasser was able to focus on friendliness and responsibility. He conducted group and individual therapy as well as staff training while on staff at the institution. As his reputation grew he became a consultant to the California school system. He focused his attention towards the prevention of “failure identity”.
Glasser introduced choice theory to the management and administration of schools. He developed methods for teachers to utilize choice theory with many issues, particularly in dealing with delinquents. Along his journey, Glasser was introduced to the ideas of William T. Powers which related to what is now referred to as perceptual control theory. Glasser took from Powers the ideas pertaining to individuals making choices in an attempt to control their own lives…“control theory”.
Eventually, Glasser began to change his focus from control theory to choice theory in order to sway individuals from believing that his reality personality theory was the same as Powers’s broad theory of control. Before his death, Glasser created works that described his disapproval for medications, because he felt that medicine was responsible for preventing individuals from making positive choices and maintaining responsibility.
There are multiple aspects of choice theory that have proven to be staple components of reality therapy. Glasser suggested that individuals merely have a picture of reality and are unable to fully know reality itself. With this note, Glasser went on to say that each individual’s perception is different, and that on occasion individuals become interested in others’ perceptions in order to satisfy their own needs.
Glasser believed that our perceptions determine our behaviors, and that our perceptions are often derived from our desire to satisfy our needs. If these perceptions (or pictures) prove to provide satisfaction we store them as the “quality world”. Glasser believed that eight percent of our perceptions are visual and thus he referred to them as pictures. These pictures are often irrational and promote destructive behavior. According to Glasser there are five basic needs that include the following: survival, belonging, power, freedom and fun. These needs are met through our perceptions.
Glasser had a unique approach to describing psychological problems, and he referred to the problems as verbs such as depressing or anxietizing. His purpose was to emphasize action and choice. He suggested that people do not become these things but choose to be them. Glasser defined behavior as “all we know how to do, think and feel”. He divided behavior into two parts, what we are familiar with and what is constantly being reorganized. Glasser believed that we face a multitude of situations in life and use different behaviors to deal with those situations. Behavior itself is made up of four components: doing, thinking, feeling and physiology. These four components are key to understanding Glasser’s view of behavior.
The key to changing our behavior is in changing our doing and thinking, which in turn will change our emotional and physiological reactions.
It is my belief that we are all free individuals when it comes to making choices. Some may suggest that law, morals and ethics constrict our ability to choose. I do believe that these things narrow our pool of choices; however, the majority of the time it is to prevent harm or unfairness to other individuals. I feel that there are factors in a person’s life, especially at a young age that they have no control over. These factors often impact the individual’s perceptions and thus guide their behavior.
Yet and still these unfortunate individuals have opportunities to make choices that can free them of a negative life style. Choice implies responsibility, and I agree that individuals should at all times be responsible for their actions. It may be difficult to convince some individuals that they are choosing to be a certain way.
Many times individuals look for excuses and something or someone to blame for their actions. I suggest that therapists and coaches can provide a great service to individuals who are stuck in these beliefs. Assisting individuals with changing these negative behaviors will allow them to break free.
But remember, individuals subject to this path don’t necessarily benefit from blame but alternatively must be encouraged towards positive change and credited with the progress.
Author’s Note: Rest in peace Dr. William Glasser (August 23, 2013), this composition was constructed from the authors own scholastic submissions from April 2008 and brought forth in this capacity as a tribute to Dr. Glasser’s contributions to theory, therapy and psychiatry.
For more on Choice and Dr. Glasser, please visit William Glasser Institute.