William Glasser (1925-2013)

William Glasser

William Glasser was a contemporary psychiatrist who developed reality therapy and choice theory.

Professional Life

William Glasser was born on May 11, 1925 in Ohio. He attended Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where he studied clinical psychology, earning his BS and MA, and finally his MD in psychiatry in 1953. He completed his psychiatric training in Los Angeles, California at UCLA and the Veterans Administration Center between 1954 and 1957.

Glasser maintained a private practice in Los Angeles from 1956–1986. In the 70s, when he became familiar with control theory systems through the writings of scientist William T. Powers, Glasser developed reality therapy and choice theory. These remain controversial in the psychiatric community because of their emphasis on choice and behavior rather than mental illness or chemical imbalances.

Glasser was the president and founder of the William Glasser Institute designed to teach people choice theory. His books include Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom, Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health, and the booklet Defining Mental Health as a Public Health Issue. Glasser passed away in his home on August 23, 2013.

Contribution to Psychology

Glasser began to develop his theories after several years in clinical practice. He realized that many people were extremely unhappy with their lives, and in particular, with their relationships with others. Glasser emphasizes that humans have an innate need to control their situations. According to Glasser, this driving need causes individuals to exhibit forceful behaviors.

Rather than being the result of chemical imbalances, Glasser posits that destructive behaviors are subtle—if unconscious—choices. According to choice theory, people develop a “Quality World,” which is a representation of a person's relationships, beliefs, and values. We perpetually compare our real-world experiences. Much of human unhappiness derives from this comparison, and one of the most significant sources of stress is failed relationships. Glasser's approach emphasizes the role of behavior, rather than emotions, and argues that humans have significant control over their actions and thinking. The theory has ten basic axioms, which include statements such as, “We can only control our feeling and physiology indirectly through how we choose to act and think.” and “All long-term psychological problems are relationship problems.”

Reality therapy assimilates choice theory into a therapeutic system that is similar to cognitive-behavioral therapy. Practitioners of reality therapy argue that suffering, the need for belonging, and the craving for relationships are universal human afflictions, and the problematic behaviors these problems cause are not mental illnesses but part of the human condition. This form of therapy focuses on specific actions and behaviors and practical solutions in the present. Practitioners of reality therapy spend little time on diagnosis, analyzing the past, or traditional psychoanalytic methods.


  1. William Glasser. (2004). Contemporary Authors Online, Biography In Context. Retrieved from: http://ic.galegroup.com.ez.trlib.info
  2. The Glasser Approach, Reality Therapy. (n.d.). The William Glasser Institute. Retrieved from: http://wglasser.com/the-glasser-approach/reality-therapy

Last Update: 07-07-2015

Advanced Search
Subscribe to GoodTherapy.org's Email Newsletter

Free Student Membership

Are you a college or university student? Sign up here for a free student membership with GoodTherapy.org