Reality Therapy

Reality Therapy

What is Reality Therapy?

Reality Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on our choices (choice theory) and taking responsibility for our actions. This form of psychotherapy came into existence in 1965 with William Glasser, MD’s published work called Reality Therapy: A New Approach to Psychiatry. Glasser first began working on the idea of Reality Therapy when working at a correctional facility in the 1950s. He had a background in psychoanalysis, but noticed the negative behaviors in clients would persist after such treatment. This inspired him to create Reality Therapy, which would seek to train clients how to make more effective choices while simultaneously taking responsibility for their behaviors. It was actually Glasser’s professor, G. L. Harrington, who encouraged him to put his new ideas into practice.

Goals of Reality Therapy

The main goal of reality therapy is to help the client reconnect with others, including the therapist themselves. Unlike most psychotherapies, reality therapy does not focus much on the past. This is because it is believed that our problems are caused by how inefficient our current relationships with people are. This therapy also avoids the discussion of complaints, criticisms, symptoms, and blame because this helps the client to avoid potentially harmful behaviors, which can destroy their current relationships. There is also a large focus on specifics on who the client feels disconnected from and what they can do to directly help themselves rekindle their relationships. There is no focus on the changing of physiology or feelings because those cannot be changed unless the client’s thinking and acting are changed as well. It is taught that excuses are barriers to the connections they wish to make. The therapist aids the client in making specific and doable plans, and then evaluating the client’s progress as a means of following through with said plans.

When is Reality Therapy Used?

Reality Therapy has proven results for people of almost any age. It is often used in schools, including elementary schools, for a few different reasons. Reality Therapy is used to help school counselors improve their patient’s self-esteem, help school psychologists improve behavioral and emotional problems in students, give underachieving students better control, and helps school coaches set goals with their players in a more positive teaching environment. It has even been shown to help PTSD and childhood obesity.

How Reality Therapy Works

Reality Therapy focuses on five basic needs that everyone is actively seeking to fulfill. These are power such as feeling worthwhile and making achievements, love and belonging such as from the client’s loved ones, freedom such as autonomy and having one’s own space, fun (meaning enjoying oneself), and survive such as shelter and nourishment. Questions generally asked during therapy are “What does the client want?”, “When is the client doing to get what he or she wants?”, and “Are these actions working?”.

If these actions are not proving to be effective, the therapist works with the client from there to develop plans of action that will hopefully prove to be effective. The plan must be something that the client is in control of performing. It is up to the therapist to empower the client to do what he or she is capable of. It is extremely difficult to control our emotions, so Reality Therapy does not focus on that. Instead, thoughts themselves need to be changed, such as focusing on what we know we can do rather than what we wish we could do, or to stop thinking of ourselves as victims. The act of actually changing what we do is what further influences how we feel and can ultimately get us to where we want to be. Even if we have trouble changing our thoughts, changing our actions will almost always give us results.

The focus of reality therapy is on what we can actively do, but control is also a key factor. Control plays a huge part in our basic needs, but everybody seeks control in different ways such as in money, position, or freedom. Control can have negative connotations as well, such as when a false sense of control is developed through drugs and alcohol, or when we try to control other people. The point is that we can only control ourselves and what we do about particular situations, not what others do to us or what happens to us in these particular situations.

Discovering a solution to the client’s problems involves hope and acknowledges that we are products of our pasts, but that we can continue to move forward and away from those pasts.


Glasser, William. Reality therapy: A new approach to psychiatry. HarperCollins, 2010.

Siedentop, Daryl. "Developing teaching skills in physical education." (1976).

Wubbolding, Robert E. Reality therapy for the 21st century. Brunner-Routledge, 2000.

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