Reality Therapy


Reality TherapyReality Therapy

Reality Therapy is based on a concept called Choice Theory (originally called Control Theory). It has become well established in the US and internationally, and it has also been widely applied in education.

Definition of Reality Therapy

Reality Therapy is a particular approach in psychotherapy and counseling. Reality therapy was developed by William Glasser, a psychiatrist.  Glasser believes that people who are behaving in inappropriate ways do not need help to find a defense for their behavior. Instead, they need help to acknowledge their behavior as being inappropriate and then to learn how to act in a more logical and productive manner. Reality therapy attempts to help people control the world around them more effectively so that they are better able to satisfy their needs.

The Reality Therapy approach to counseling and problem-solving focuses on the here-and-now of the client and how to create a better future, instead of concentrating at length on the past. It emphasizes making decisions, and taking action and control of one's own life. Typically, clients seek to discover what they really want and whether what they are currently doing (how they are choosing to behave) is actually bringing them nearer to, or further away from, that goal.

Reality Therapy is a considered a cognitive-behavioral approach to therapy; that is, it focuses on facilitating the client to become aware of, and if necessary, change, his/her thoughts and actions.

More about Reality Therapy

The following outlines some of the critical concepts of Reality Therapy.


Establishing a relationship with the client is believed to be the most important factor in all types of therapy. Without this relationship, the other steps will not be effective.


Emotions are a source of information about how we are doing and whether we are happy with what is going on in our lives. But it is very hard to choose and to change our emotions directly. It is easier to change our thinking and our behavior. So Reality Therapists approach changing "what we do" as a key to changing how we feel and to getting what we want.

Current behavior and evaluating your behavior

While traditional psychoanalytic and counseling often focus on past events, Reality Therapy and Choice theory solutions lie in the present and the future. The focus of the practitioner of Reality Therapy is to learn what needs to be learned about the past but to move as quickly as feasible to empowering the client to satisfy his or her needs and wants in the present and in the future.  The therapist asks the client to make a value judgment about his current behavior which presumably is not helping, otherwise the client may not have negative consequences from behavior motivating enough to seek therapy. In many cases the therapist must press the client to examine the effects of his behavior, but it is important that the judgment be made by the client and not the therapist.

Make plans and perform actions

Plans for making better choices are at the heart of successful Reality Therapy. The counselor helps the client to make a workable plan to get what he or she wants. It is and must be the client's plan; not the counselor's. The essence of a workable plan, in Reality Therapy, is that it is a plan the client can implement - in other words, it concentrates on the things that are in the client's control to do.  The client is likely to need some suggestions and prompting from the therapist, but it helps if the plan itself comes from the client. It is important that the initial steps be small enough that the client is almost certain to succeed, in order to build confidence.

Commitment to the plan

The client must make a commitment to carry out the plan. This is important because many clients will do things for the therapist that they would not do just for themselves.  In some cases it can be helpful to make the commitment in writing.

No Excuses, No Punishment, Never Give Up

If there is no punishment, then there is no reason to accept excuses. The therapist insists that the client either carry out the plan, or come up with a more feasible plan. If the therapist maintains a good relationship with the client, it can be very hard to resist carrying out a plan that the client has agreed would be feasible. If the plan is too ambitious for the client's current abilities, then the therapist and the client work out a different plan.


Control is considered a key issue in Reality Therapy. To meet their needs human beings need control.  Control can be very positive and helpful but it gets us into trouble in two primary ways: when we try to control other people, and when we use drugs and alcohol to give us a false sense of control. At the very heart of Choice Theory is the core belief that the only person I can really control is myself.

Practical Principles of Reality Therapy:

Focus on the present and avoid discussing the past because all human problems are caused by unsatisfying present relationships.

Avoid discussing symptoms and complaints as much as possible since these are often the ineffective ways that counselees choose to deal with (and hold on to) unsatisfying relationships.

Understand the concept of total behavior, which means focus on what counselees can do directly-act and think. Spend less time on what they cannot do directly; that is, changing their feelings and physiology.

Feelings and physiology can be changed indirectly, but only if there is a change in the acting and thinking.

Avoid criticizing, blaming and/or complaining and help counselees to do the same. By doing this, they learn to avoid these extremely harmful external control behaviors that destroy relationships.

Remain non-judgmental and non-coercive, but encourage people to judge all they are doing by the Choice Theory axiom: Is what I am doing getting me closer to the people I need? If the choice of behaviors is not getting people closer, then the counselor works to help them find new behaviors that lead to a better connection.

Teach counselees that legitimate or not, excuses stand directly in the way of their making needed connections.

Focus on specifics. Find out as soon as possible who counselees are disconnected from and work to help them choose reconnecting behaviors. If they are completely disconnected, focus on helping them find a new connection.

Help them make specific, workable plans to reconnect with the people they need, and then follow through on what was planned by helping them evaluate their progress. Based on their experience, counselors may suggest plans, but should not give the message that there is only one plan. A plan is always open to revision or rejection by the counselee.

Be patient and supportive but keep focusing on the source of the problem.

Additional Information

For more information about Reality Therapy and other therapeutic approaches, please click on the linked websites listed below.

The Center for Reality Therapy
Angelfire: Bright minds - Reality Therapy
The William Glasser Institute home page

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Reality TherapyReality Therapy