What is Reality Therapy – Psychology Essay
Reality therapists believe that changing what we do is the key to changing how we feel and to getting what we want (Glasser, 1997). The name reality, though catchy, is easily misunderstood by those who assume that
reality therapy has something to do with giving people “a dose of reality” (Rogha, 2005). The focus of this paper will be to explore the various uses and overall effectiveness of reality therapy among a diverse population.
From a realistic perspective it is very hard to change our emotions directly. It is easier to change our thinking: to decide, for example, that we will no longer think of ourselves as victims or to decide that in our thoughts we will concentrate on what we can do rather than what we think everybody else ought to do.
First and foremost, the founder of reality therapy, Dr. William Glasser does not believe in the concept of mental illness unless there is something organically wrong with the brain that can be confirmed by a pathologist (Howatt, 2001). Therefore, this counseling/psychological approach which is a cause and effect theory that explains human behavior is considered controversial by some mainstream professionals as non-traditional.
Early on, he (Glasser)came to the conclusion that genetically we are social creatures and need each other and that the cause of almost all psychological symptoms is our inability to get along with the important people in our lives.
In this paper, I will examine the above ideas which focus on personal choice, personal responsibility and personal transformation in an attempt to show the effectiveness of reality therapy among a diverse population of clients.
Dr. William Glasser has used his theories to assist helping professionals in dealing with a myriad of client problems and to influence broader social issues such as education, marriage, and advocating mental health as a public health issue.
He does not believe in punishment as a deterrent. Punishment is external control that can seldom be effective because people understand that they have choices and never internalize the lesson intended (Pierce, 2003).
Reality therapy introduces the concept of total behavior which explains that all behavior is made up of four different but inseparable components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology. (Glasser, 1997). According to this model of therapy, “acting and thinking are directly under our control and it is these components therapists focus on when they practice reality therapy. Focus is not on how people feel or on the physiology of their brains because none of us have direct and predictable control over these two components” (Glasser, 1997).
If we want to change how we feel–and almost all clients want to feel better–we have to make more effective acting and thinking choices such as finding a friend if we are painfully lonely ( Petersen, 2005). If we find one and we are happy, this choice will also change our brain chemistry from the chemistry of loneliness, (usually the chemistry associated with choosing to depress) to the normal chemistry of satisfying our need to love and belong (Glasser, 1997; Howatt, 2003; Jones, 2005).
Among the philosophical underlying principles of reality therapy are the following:
“People are responsible for their own behavior; human beings–not society, not heredity, not history–determine their own choices; People can change and live more effective lives; People need not remain victims of external forces, neither do they need to wait for the rest of the world to change before being able to satisfy their own needs; People generate behavior and make choices for a purpose: to mold their environment–as a sculptor molds clay–to match their own inner pictures (quality world) of what they want in order to satisfy the five needs described above” (Glasser, 1997).
Reality therapy concentrates on the client’s needs and getting them to confront the reality of the world. Client needs consist of survival, power, love, freedom, and fun.
• Survival includes the things that we need in order to stay alive, such as food, clothing and shelter.
• Power is our sense of achievement and feeling worthwhile, as well as the competitive desire to win.
• Love and belonging represent our social needs, to be accepted by groups, families and loved ones.
• Freedom is our need for our own space, a sense of independence and autonomy.
• Fun is our need to enjoy ourselves and seek pleasure.
“We seek to fulfill these needs at all times, whether we are conscious of it or not” (Glasser, 1997; Howatt, 2003; Jones, 2005; Loyd, 2005; Petersen, 2005; Pierre. 2003; Turnage et at, 2003; Wubbolding & Brickell, 2004; Yaniger, 2003).
Choice theory, a theory of how our brain functions that supports reality therapy, directly challenges the belief system that says we have no choice and therefore can blame others and society for our problems (Rogha, 2005). I contend that when we are unable to figure out how to satisfy one or more of the five basic needs built into our genetic structure that are the source of all human motivation, we sometimes choose to behave in ways that are currently labeled as mental illness.
Moreover, choice theory explains that, not only do we choose all our unhappy behaviors, but every behavior we choose is made up of four components, one of which is how we feel as we behave (Howatt, 2003). What is common to these ineffective and unsatisfying choices, no matter what they may be, is unhappiness: there is no happiness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
When we choose a behavior that satisfies our needs, immediately or eventually, we feel good. When we choose a behavior that fails to satisfy our needs, sooner or later, we feel bad. But the choice to be unhappy is certainly not mental illness.
Our society is flooded with people who are choosing anxious, fearful, depressive, obsessive, crazy, hostile, violent, addictive and withdrawn behaviors. All of them are seriously unhappy; there is no shortage of unhappy people in the world (Turnage, Jacinto, Kirven, 2003). However, many mental health practitioners reject therapy as useless or time-consuming.
Mental health practitioners who strongly believe in mental illness have tunnel vision. Either they don’t or won’t see the unhappy people described above a capable of helping themselves or benefiting from therapy. They see them as suffering from a mental illness i.e., brain pathology, incapable of helping themselves without drugs.
In his new book, Reality Therapy in Action, 2005, Dr. Glasser describes how his use of reality therapy has helped many seriously symptomatic clients choose to function normally without the use of drugs. He is far from alone in what he does.
Hundreds of thousands of symptomatic people are helped each year by psychotherapy without the use of drugs because most of the effective psychotherapy in the world is done by therapists who cannot prescribe them (Glasser, 1997).Therefore, we can fairly conclude that unhappy people need empathetic and compassionate therapists, not prescriptions.
In Choice Theory, the concept of total behavior explains that all behavior is made up of four different but inseparable components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology ( Glasser, 1997; Petersen, 2005). Acting and thinking are directly under our control and it is these components to focus on in practicing reality therapy don’t focus on how people feel or on the physiology of their brains because none of us have direct and predictable control over these two components (Glasser, 1997).
Almost all approaches to psychology assume that people have certain basic needs and, indeed, there is broad agreement on what these needs are (Howatt, 2003).
The concept of reality therapy is based on choice theory, a systematic explanation of how the human mind works. According to choice theory, “human beings choose many of their behaviors in order to satisfy innate human needs: self-preservation or survival, belonging and love, achievement or power or inner-control, freedom or independence, and fun or enjoyment.” (Glasser, 1997; Howatt, 2001; Howatt, 2003; Jones et al., Lyod, 2005; Petersen, 2005; Pierre, 2003; Turnage et al., 2003; Wubbolding and Brickell, 2004).
One of the core principles of reality therapy is that, whether we are aware of it or not, we are all the time acting to meet the above five basic needs. But we don’t necessarily act effectively. One effective way to meet our need for belonging is socializing with people whether they are in our quality world or not (Howatt, 2001). Sitting in a corner and crying in the hope that people will come to us is generally an ineffective way of meeting that need–it may work, but it is painful and carries a terribly high price for ourselves and others.
So if life is unsatisfactory or we are distressed or in trouble, “one basic thing to check is whether or not we are succeeding in meeting our basic psychological needs for power, belonging, freedom and fun.” (Glasser, 1997).
In this society the survival need is normally being met – it is in how we meet the other four “psychological” needs that we run into trouble (Glasser, 1997). So what really drives us as social beings is our wants. We don’t think of our needs as such. We think of what we want, behave to get what we want, fantasize about what we want and so on.
So while a counselor in reality therapy would check out whether a client is meeting his or her needs the three basic questions that are asked are: (1.) What do you want?, (2.) What are you doing to get what you want?, and (3.) Is it working? … (Glasser, 2005)
At the very heart of Glasser’s Choice Theory is the idea that the only person I can really control is me. If I think I can control others I am moving in the direction of frustration. If I think others can control me (and so are to blame for all that goes on in my life) I tend to do nothing and again head toward frustration.
There may indeed be things that “happen” to us and for which we are not personally responsible but we can choose what we do about these things. Trying to control other people is a game, from the point of view of Reality Therapy. “It is a never-ending battle, alienates us from others and causes endless pain and frustration” (Glasser, 1997). This begs the question, isn’t this why it is vital to stick to what is in our own control to do and to respect the right of other people to meet their needs? Exactly!
Reality therapy does visit the past but probably to a lesser extent than those who use other theories. This is not a criticism of those who use other counseling/psychological theory’s, it is simply a way in which this therapeutic approach is different.
Dr. Glasser’s counseling model adheres to the principles of teaching clients strategies that take control of their lives, in a manner that makes sense as to where they are. Not surprisingly, “when clients are able to understand and accept internal locus of control, total behavior, organized behaviors, wants vs. needs, comparing places, and the feedback loop, their chances for a healthy recovery are greater.” (Glasser, 1997; Howatt, 2003).
Not only are the bad things that happened to us there but our successes are there too. 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 (Glasser, 1997). This is because it is our present perceptions that influence our present behavior and so it is these faulty perceptions that the Reality Therapy practitioner helps the client to work through.
In conclusion, Reality therapy teaches clients choice theory. Moreover, this counseling model asserts that because behavior is chosen, abdicating personal responsibility, or blaming others or society for problems is unacceptable (Petersen, 2005).
According to all I have read it is very much a therapy of hope, based on the conviction that we are all products of the past. Accepting that we are products of our prospective pasts we do not have to focus on the past and continue being its victims.
We can, of course, get an instant sense of control from alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and some other drugs. Unfortunately, our lives are never more out of control than when we are drunk or drugged. There are very few people in this world who ever woke up with a hangover to find that they had fewer problems than they had when they started drinking the night before.
Excessive drinking and the use of drugs have to be replaced by doing something else–and that something else has to have a fair chance of getting us what we want in life.
After extensive reading and research, I can safely summarize that many counselors/therapists working with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), addiction, anger management, anxiety, depression, domestic violence, mental disorders, pain therapy, substance abuse, and recovery have found this approach useful.
Consequently, it is unrealistic to state emphatically that Reality Therapy works for all clients, because it obviously does not. I really like this counseling model because it is effectively altered my personal perception of behavior. The quote, “keep doing what you’re doing, keep getting what you’re getting” (Vitatoe, 2005) was/is very powerful for me as an individual and a professional.
Moreover, it is a very effective counseling model for addictive behaviors and helping certain clients deal with the “here and now” of their daily lives.
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