Reality Therapy

Reality Therapy

Reality therapy, developed by Dr. William Glasser in 1965, is founded on the principles of choice theory and has developed into a widely recognized form of therapy. Parents as well as professionals in the fields of education, mental health, and social services have embraced the fundamentals of this therapy, which suggests that all human issues occur when one or more of five basic psychological needs are not met and that an individual can only control his or her own behavior. Glasser believed that when someone makes choices to change his or her own behavior, rather than attempting to change someone else's, that person will be more successful at attaining his or her desires.

Understanding Reality Therapy

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Reality therapy focuses on the current issues affecting a person seeking treatment rather than the issues that person has experienced in the past, and it encourages that person, through therapy, to change any behavior that may prevent him or her from finding a solution to those issues. This type of therapy encourages problem solving, and it is based on the idea that people experience mental distress when their basic psychological needs have not been met. These needs are:

  • Power: A sense of winning, achieving, or a sense of self-worth.
  • Love and Belonging: To a family, to a community, or to other loved ones.
  • Freedom: To be independent, maintain your own personal space, autonomy.
  • Fun: To achieve satisfaction, enjoyment and a sense of pleasure.
  • Survival: Basic needs of shelter, survival, food, sexual fulfillment.

The fact that everyone is at all times striving to meet these basic needs is at the heart of reality therapy. When a person feels bad, reality therapists hold, it is because one of the five needs have not been fulfilled. People participating in reality therapy might learn ways to be more aware of any negative thoughts and actions that may prevent them from meeting their needs, as according to the tenets of reality therapy, changing one's actions may have a positive effect on the way that individual feels and on his or her ability to attain desires. These changes ideally take place through the use of Glasser's choice theory, which uses questions such as "What are you doing/What can you do to achieve your goals?"

Overview of the Therapeutic Process

In reality therapy, the therapist might begin the therapeutic process by guiding a person's attention away from past behaviors in order to focus on those that occur in the present. Present needs are what are relevant, as they are the needs that can be satisfied. Reality therapists also tend to not focus on a person's symptoms, as Glasser believed that symptoms of mental distress manifest as a result of a person’s disconnection from others.

Individuals who enter reality therapy generally have a specific issue of concern, and the therapist may ask the individual to consider the effects that his or her behavior has on that area, helping that person to focus on things he or she can actually change, not things that are outside his or her control. In reality therapy, what is important is what the person in therapy can control, and by understanding one's own needs and desires and developing a plan to meet those needs while refraining from criticizing or blaming others, reality therapists believe that a person may be able to form, reform, or strengthen connections with others.

Role of the Therapist in Reality Therapy

Because reality therapy seeks to treat individuals who experience difficulty in their relationships with others, forming a connection with the therapist is considered to be an important beginning in reality therapy. This connection is considered by reality therapists to be the most important dynamic in facilitating healing. Once this relationship is stable, it can be used as a model to form fulfilling connections outside of the therapy environment.

Those in therapy might learn how to best strengthen relationships outside of therapy while in the “safe” therapeutic relationship, and they may then be able to more easily expand on those methods in daily life. Reality therapists hold that when a person in therapy can employ the behaviors, actions, and methods developed through therapy in life successfully, they will often be able to improve external relationships and experience a more fulfilling life.

Application of Reality Therapy

Reality therapy is considered to be an effective therapeutic strategy for addressing many issues, but it may be especially valuable in treating sensitive problems. This form of therapy can help bridge the gap between intolerance and ignorance through education and equality, often resulting in a more unified community or organization.

Additionally, this type of therapy has been shown to be successful at helping family members, colleagues, and other peers to better understand difficult situations. Reality therapy attempts to encompass sensitivity and empathy in an authentic way. Reality therapy may also be a useful approach in family therapy. Each family member is given the opportunity to express their needs and desires with respect and acceptance in order to lay the foundation for a plan that will develop into closer bonds, deeper understanding, and better conflict resolution.Limitations and Concerns


  1. Choice Theory / Reality Therapy. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Neri, G. (2007, November 1). William Glasser's Choice Theory and Reality Therapy. Retrieved from
  3. Reality Therapy. (2010). Retrieved from


Last updated: 07-02-2015

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