The foundation of Reality Therapy (RT) was conceptualized by American psychiatrist William Glasser in 1965. He had already started developing his own therapy in 1956 when he became a consulting psychiatrist at an institution in California for the treatment of delinquent adolescents.
It was while working in this facility that Glasser finally broke away from the Freudian psychoanalytic tradition, which, he felt was not working with his clients.
The Basic Goals of Reality Therapy
Reality Therapy is based on control theory, with states that a person’s basic motivation is to survive and fulfill basic psychological needs of belonging, power, fun, and freedom. RT aims to help clients develop the strength to make their own choices and be responsible for them. The process includes helping the client evaluate his needs and wants, his behaviors at the present time, and his future plans for his life.
For Reality Therapy, the past is not important. Like the existential therapies, RT sees the present as the most important moment in the client’s life. They are not controlled by their unconscious, nor are they victims of circumstance unless they choose to be.
The therapeutic goal of Reality Therapy is helping the client find effective ways to meet their needs for belonging, power, freedom, and fun, and to regain control of their lives. The therapist helps the client evaluate his wants if they are realistic, and his behaviors, if they are effective.
Glasser emphasizes that a client can control his behavior, that he is responsible for them; and that a greater self-awareness can help him change these maladaptive behaviors, if he wants to.
The Concept of Responsibility in Reality Therapy
Responsibility is a basic concept in Reality Therapy. According to Glasser, it is having the ability to fulfill one’s needs without depriving others of the ability to fulfill theirs. Responsible people know what they want in life, and have plans to achieve these goals.
Irresponsible people, on the other hand, focus on external events and on the past to explain and excuse their behaviors, and for their lack of a life-plan. They continually gripe about not having a choice, that they are what they are because their environment made them so.
Choice as an Important Concept of Reality Therapy
This concept of choice is at the center of Reality Therapy. According to Glasser, people have the capacity for choosing behaviors that will adapt to their needs. By choosing present behaviors, clients aim to control an aspect of their lives.
A client who was divorced by his wife, for example, chose to be depressed, in the hope that his wife would return to him. The therapist, by making the client realize that his behavior, his choice, was not working for him, helped him come up with future plans that were more constructive.
The Role of the Reality Therapist
The therapist, therefore, has a major role to play in Reality Therapy. Unlike in other schools, the client-centered theory, for example, the reality therapist is more directly involved. He teaches the client how to behave responsibly, how to be free to make his own satisfying choices, and how to become accountable for his actions.
The reality therapist looks at the client’s totality of behavior, and it is this totality that he seeks to change, to help the client meet his needs satisfactorily.
Glasser, W. (1975). Reality therapy: A new approach to psychiatry. NY: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.
Corsini, R. J. & Wedding, D. (Eds.). (1995). Current psychotherapies (5th ed.). Itasca, IL: F.E. Peacock Publishers, Inc.