Reality Therapy is a method of counseling developed in the 1960's by Dr. William Glasser. The focus of Reality Therapy is to help counselees take ownership of their behavior and responsibility for the direction their lives take. Reality Therapy holds as its basic premise the notion that regardless of what has happened to us in our lives, or what we have done in the past, we are living and making choices here and now. Reality Therapy helps counselees become effective self-evaluators here and now, so they can learn to take their lives in the direction of health, control and responsibility.
While Reality Therapy emerged purely from Dr. Glasser's keen instincts and effective practice during the 1960's, it is now based firmly on Choice Theory. The successful application of Reality Therapy is dependent on the counselor's familiarity with, and knowledge of, Choice Theory. In fact, teaching Choice Theory to counselees is now part of Reality Therapy.
Choice Theory is a new psychology that explains human behavior. In his 1998 book Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom, Dr. William Glasser explained how Choice Theory can be applied in the counseling field as Reality Therapy.
Choice Theory suggests that all we can do is behave, and all of our behaviour is internally motivated. Most of us spend our lives trying to mould the world to our individual idea of how we want it to be, - a fairly hopeless activity - instead of recognising that we are actually choosing to behave in ways which we hope will satisfy our five basic needs:
Choice Theory states that human beings always choose their behavior in an attempt to satisfy basic needs which are built into their genetic structure. It is called Choice Theory because it explains that our behavior at any given time is our best choice to satisfy one or more of our basic needs. Dr. William Glasser has designated Choice Theory as the psychology that should replace the theory of human behavior almost all people in the world believe, which he calls External Control Psychology. External Control Psychology postulates that people, situations and things outside of us cause our behavior. External Control Psychology can be recognized in the belief systems of many people who are not in effective control of their behavior. For example . . .
"I hit him because he made me mad!"
"I drink a lot because my job makes me really stressed out."
"You better wash those dishes or you'll never drive that car again!"
Dr. Glasser believes most people in the world are applying External Control Psychology in their lives to some degree. When people follow the External Control Psychology belief that "stimuli" outside of us cause us to "respond," they lose effective control of their behavior and experience frustration of their basic needs. More specifically, Dr. Glasser believes External Control Psychology is destructive to relationships. When people use External Control Psychology in their relationships, they have difficulty finding responsible ways to satisfy their basic needs. Dr. Glasser contends that non-existent or unsatisfying relationships with other people is the active ingredient in most human problems, such as what is called mental illness, drug addiction, violence, crime, school failure, and spousal or child abuse.
Since Choice Theory contends that non-existent or unsatisfying relationships with other people is the active ingredient in most human problems, the aim of Reality Therapy is to help counselees create and maintain healthy relationships. This process almost always starts with the counselor establishing a healthy relationship with the counselee and then using this connection as a model to teach them how to improve the relationships in their lives.
Thinking is The Engine of Choice
The underlying assumptions of Choice Theory emphasise that we are not controlled by external influences or events. The central tenet of Choice Theory is that we are internally motivated by identifiable psychological needs. These needs are regarded as being culture free, and all our behaviour is directed to making choices to satisfy these genetically based psychological needs.
Principles Guide Informed Action
Choice Theory Principles state that we are responsible for choosing and evaluating the way we think, feel and act in our personal relationships and in our working lives.
* The more you do what you're doing, the more you'll get what you've got!
The practice and application of Choice Theory sustains, builds and supports relationships, whether personal or business, through our understanding of the basic needs: Survival, Power, Love/Belonging, Freedom, and Fun . It helps us determine the strength and importance of every one of these needs in each of us, and what choices we are making to ensure they are met.
Choice Theory enhances our awareness of the need for our personal Quality World to be of our own choosing, to ensure that we have need-fulfilling people and relationships in it, and that the behaviors we choose increase the likelihood of this happening.
Our Quality World is the place, in our mind, where we put things we value; which we believe will satisfy one, or more, of our basic needs. Hopefully, these are of positive value to us, but may be of negative, as with some obsessions and addictions, for example. It may be necessary, for our needs to be satisfied, to remove some thoughts/pictures/ideas from our Quality World and replace them with more needs-satisfying ones.
Choice Theory states we cannot change the past, but we can choose to behave in a way that will satisfy our basic needs now, and plan for
continuing future satisfaction. The only person whose behaviour we can change is ourself.
"The fewer bad values we attach to what we see, the more effective we will be." - William Glasser.
Choice Theory enables us to evaluate whether the choices we are making are bringing us closer to, or moving us further away from, the relationships we have and want in our personal, business and educational lives.
For us to be effective individuals and to function well in a group we have to learn to refrain from labelling as 'bad' anything that is different from what we want.
"If what we see coincides with what we want, a good label is instantly added to the picture...It is much easier to satisfy our needs in a different world than in a bad one." William Glasser.
The Basic Tenets of Reality Therapy
The counselor who wishes to use Reality Therapy successfully will do these things:
• Focus on the present and avoid discussing the past because almost all human difficulties are rooted in current relationship problems.
• Avoid discussing symptoms and complaints as much as possible since these are ineffective ways counselees choose to deal with current relationship problems.
• Understand the concept of total behavior, which means focus on what counselees can directly control - their actions and thoughts. Spend less time on what they cannot control directly - their feelings and physiology. Feelings and physiology can be changed, 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 encumber the development of healthy relationships.
• Remain non-judgmental and non-coercive, but encourage people to evaluate all they are doing by the Reality Therapy axiom: "Is what I am doing getting me closer to the people I need?
• If their choice of behaviors is not helping them with current relationships, then help them find new behaviors that foster better relationships.
• Teach counselees that legitimate or not, excuses stand directly in the way of helping them maintain need satisfying relationships with other people.
• Focus on specifics. Find out about their current relationships and work to help them come to terms with all need frustrating relationships in their life. If they are completely disconnected from people, focus on helping them find new connections.
• Help counselees make specific, workable plans to improve the relationships they currently have or establish new relationships, 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 focused on the source of the difficulties: current relationship problems. Counselees with long term unsatisfying relationships will find this difficult to do. They are often so involved in the symptom they are choosing that they have lost sight of the fact that they need more satisfying relationships. Help them to understand that whatever their complaint, better relationships are the best possible solution to their problem.
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