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William Glasser

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William Glasser Reality Therapy/Choice Therapy


“Choice theory is the theoretical basis for reality therapy; it explains why and how we function”. (Corey, 2013, p.306) The following report will explore the work of William Glasser. William Glasser, 1925 – 2013, was an American psychiatrist who developed a theory on human behaviour. Glasser believed that our behaviour is the cornerstone for how our lives are developing, for how we feel and how we act. He believed that we have control over our behaviours and thus we have control over what we think and how we act. It is through reality therapy that a client can learn how to change his or her behaviour. The use of strategies, by a qualified therapist, can set about achieving a happier life for the client. These set of strategies are not a set of rules to follow, but, are used in accordance with the progress of the client, thus requiring a qualified therapist, as outlined by The William Glasser Institute (2010). Glasser believed that using terms such as depressed or angry shows a lack of personal responsibility. Instead Glasser used terms like depressing, headaching, angering. He said that these are only part of our behaviour, people are not depressed, they are depressing themselves, as argued by Corey (2013).

Philosophical principles.

“Many of the problems of clients are caused by their inability to connect, to get close to others, or to have a satisfying or successful relationship with at least one significant person in their lives.” (Corey, 2013, p.305) Reality therapy believes that every mental aliment is due to an unsatisfactory relationship or a lack of a relationship. It believes that the symptoms clients present with are all down to lack of fulfilment with relationships. Choice theory believes that we are all born with five needs; these needs are survival, love and belonging, power, freedom and fun. Love and belonging being the more important, “because we need people to satisfy the other needs”. (Corey, 2013, p.306) Therefore relationships are the key to a more or less fulfilled life.

People are the most important aspect of what choice theory calls our “quality world” this is “the world we would like to live in if we could”. (Corey, 2013, p.307) This world consists of everything we have liked since we were born, making this world our perfect world, not unlike Freud’s Ideal Self. As a therapist it is powerful to gain access to the clients’ quality world, getting an insight into this world can build a strong relationship between therapist and client, as stated by Corey, (2013).

Behaviour is an important part of choice theory, we can choose how we behave and thus we can choose our path in life. Our “Total Behaviour” is made up of four parts; acting, thing, feeling and physiology. Choice theory focuses on acting and thinking, therefore what the client is doing is most significant and the client is responsible for what they do. “Choice theory contends that we are internally motivated, not externally motivated by rewards and punishment.” (Funderstanding, 2016)

Choice theory does not like to dwell on the past, nor does it like hearing self-defeating talk. Choice theory focuses on client’s taking responsible for himself or herself, it keeps the therapy in the present. It does not totally reject the past, but it believes that we can only help ourselves in the present. Reality therapists try to avoid spending time on symptoms, as they can draw attention away from current unsatisfying relationships. Symptoms will dissolve when the client deals with the current relationship issues, according to Corey (2013).

The Therapeutic Process

An important factor in reality therapy; is the relationship between the client and the therapist. Getting into the clients quality world is a chief component of building this relationship. The client also needs to be able to trust that the therapist is qualified and experienced; they will need to feel accepted and understood. The client will need to feel respected, listened to, ease to openness and not to be judged, to mention a few. Once a relationship is formed the therapist can begin to help the client gain “a deeper understanding of the consequences of their current behaviour.” (Corey, 2013, p.312).

The goals of reality therapy, is to help the client live a more fruitful life, to help them realise and meet their needs in a better way and to encourage the client to self evaluate by asking specific and well timed questions, such as;

• “How would you most like to change your life?” • “What do you want in your life that you are not getting?” • “What you would you have in you life if you were to change?” • “What do you have to do now to make the changes happen?”
(Corey, 2013, p.311)

Once a client evaluates’ themselves and realise their specific wants and needs, they can then decide to make a plan to help change their behaviours. “The outcome is better relationships, increased happiness, and a sense of inner control.” (Corey, 2013, p.311) Therapy can be short and it is critical that the client can bring what they are learning from therapy into their lives. Clients needs to realise that there problems are in the present and they need to solve their problems in the here and now and this is an important factor in reality therapy, argues Quinn (2016)

Robert Wubbolding developed a model known a WDEP system, which reality therapy is structured around.

W – “Explore the clients wants and perceptions. Helping clients define what they want is a powerful tool.” (Palmer Dainow and Milner, 1996, p.54)

D – “Explore doing; actions, thinking and feeling. A skilled counsellor using reality therapy helps clients explore how they feel and what they think.” (Palmer Dainow and Milner, 1996, p.54)

E – “Help clients self-evaluate. The heart of reality therapy or the WDEP system is the self-evalutaion of the client.” (Palmer Dainow and Milner, 1996, p.55)

P – “Help clients make action plans. The process of counselling using the WDEP system culminates in “SAMIC” planning” (Palmer Dainow and Milner, 1996, p.55)

SAMIC planning is used by Wubbolding to summarise the key features of effective planning.

• “S Simple - Easy to understand, specific and concrete • A Attainable - Within the capacities and motivation of the client • M Measurable -Are the changes observable and helpful? • I Immediate and Involved - What can be done today? What can you do? • C Consistent – it can be repeated over if necessary • C Controlled - Can you do this by yourself or will you be dependent on others? • C Committed”
(Quinn, 2016, p.4).

The therapeutic environment plays a major part in the practice of reality therapy. The environment should be “supportive and challenging” (Corey, 2013, p.313). Reality therapists should avoid behaviours like: “arguing, attacking, accusing, demeaning.” (Corey, 2013, p.313) It is in this therapeutic environment that clients can begin to change their behaviour; that leads to change in their lives.

As stated previously, Glasser believed that it was in the clients’ relationships or lack of, that their entire problem rose from. Glasser believed that in these unsuccessful relationships people tried to control the other person, using seven deadly habits. Glasser proposed to exchange these deadly habits with seven caring habits, as shown in the table below. To let go of control can be challenging and it is important to realise such and move forward accordingly.

|Seven Caring Habits |Seven Deadly Habits |
|Supporting |Criticising |
|Encouraging |Blaming |
|Listening |Complaining |
|Accepting |Nagging |
|Trusting |Threatening |
|Respecting |Punishing |
|Negotiating Difference |Bribing or rewarding to control |

(Habits for Wellbeing, 2013)

Strengths and Limitations of this approach

Choice theory appears to have much strength, including aiding clients to come up with more effective ways of thinking and acting. It helps them evaluate their life and decide what they want to change and furthermore helps them make a simple plan that is easy to maintain. Choice theory can be applied to group counselling. “…they can use the group as a place to explore as alternative course of behaviour… Feedback from the members and the leader can help individuals design realistic and attainable plans.” (Corey, 2013, p.319)

Choice theory is also multicultural, so long as the therapist is aware of the clients’ morals and beliefs. Glasser believed that, “relationships are the problem in all cultures.” (Corey, 2013, p.302) However choice theory may not take into consideration, such realities as, “discrimination, racism, sexism, homophobia.” (Corey, 2013, p.321)

“…choice theory is limited in that it discounts any type of biological or chemical root cause for mental or psychological problems.” (eHow, 1999-2016) Choice theory does not allow for repressed feelings, it pays no attention to the unconscious or childhood experiences. It is too easy for the reality therapist to put their values on a client and there is an open place for the therapist to fix and advice. (Corey, 2013, p.325)

Evaluation and integration into your own personal style of counselling.

Choice theory and reality therapy is focused on assisting the client gain more control over their lives. Achieving this involves the WDEP system, exploring the clients’ wants, what they are doing, evaluating such and putting a plan in action in order to change. Glasser’s theory was, that the reason for feeling depressing, angering or headaching, was down to a dysfunctional relationship or lack of and if everyone had a successful relationship with at least one other person, the likelihood of said feelings would be significantly less. By exchanging deadly habits for caring ones we can begin to accomplish a successful relationship. Choice theory is focused on the present and our present emotions and feelings; it does not like to dwell on the past. We cannot change what happened, we can only change how we act in the present and plan to behave better in the future. It is through our behaviour that we can achieve what we want in life and work towards our quality world.

I appreciate choice theory and I believe that this theory is accurate, however I dislike it as a form of therapy. I agree with what it says, yet, I feel that it is too rigid and lacks any depth when put into the therapeutic environment. When it comes to my own personal style of counselling, I will take choice theory on board as a background theory, but I will not be using it as a form of therapy. I believe that using reality therapy is too direct and may unintentionally cause the client to retract. Informing a client that they are not depressed, rather their behaviour is what is causing them to be depressing, maybe to severe for the client to hear, regardless of the strength of the therapeutic relationship. I feel that imparting this information, despite its accuracy, may cause the client to become defensive and withdrawn, causing detrimental outcomes for the client.


The life and work of William Glasser, I feel is extraordinary. While I may not use reality therapy in my future as a counsellor, his theory is of great value, it gives a clear understanding of how people behave. Relationships, according to Glasser, are the key to the way we think and act. Choice theory gives the client a more effective approach to relationships, replacing seven deadly habits with seven caring habits, thus, making people happier. Wubbolding’s WDEP system is a great addition to the structure of reality therapy; it can give the therapist a guideline to this, short term, therapy. Choice theory deals with the present, it looks at how the client is feeling in the here and now and pays little attention to the past. “The client can now learn that other choices are possible and acting on those new, more effective choices sets him free to explore a life filled with creativity that does not harm him.” (Quinn, 2016, p.6)

Corey, G. (2013) Theory and practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. 9th Edition. India: Brooks/Cole, a part of Cenage Learning.

eHow, (1999-2016) Strengths and Limitations of Choice Theory. [Online] Available from: [Assessed: 4/6/16]

Funderstanding. (2016) Inspiring People who care about Learning [Online] Available from: [Assessed: 1/6/16]

Habits for Wellbeing. (2013) Choice Theory – Replacing 7Deadly Habit with 7 Caring Habits in Relationships. [Online] Available from: [Assessed: 4/6/16]

Palmer. S, Dainow. S and Milner. P. (1996) Counselling: The BACP Counselling Reader. Volume 1. Britian: Sage Publications.

Quinn, S. (2016) Choice Theory / Reality Therapy. p.4/6.

Quinn, S. (2016) Choice Theory / Reality Therapy. p.6/6.

WGI US. (2010) teaching the world choice theory. [online] Available from: [Assessed: 3/6/16]

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