Reality Therapy: Understanding People’s Lives through ‘Quality Worlds’

Mother and daughter coloring with crayonsAt the heart of this therapeutic approach is a focus on human connection, since the underlying theory in reality therapy posits that human relationships are the most vital of the five basic needs we must satisfy to be happy and fulfilled. The remaining four needs include: survival or self preservation, achievement, independence or freedom, and fun.

This approach is founded on the belief that individuals choose many of their behaviors in order to satisfy these needs, which are innate. Therapy provides the opportunity for an exploration of the degree to which a person in therapy’s needs are being met.

A problematic relationship, past or present, is thought to be the major source of a person’s presenting problems. The relationship could be one of many—for example, with one’s significant other, sibling, parent, child, friend, teacher, colleague, or boss. The goal of reality therapy is to support people in identifying the problematic relationship, assist them to evaluate how their behavior may be helping or hurting, and to give them tools to reconnect in a healthy way.

As a school counselor and therapist, I utilize reality therapy concepts both with adults and children and find them exceptionally useful in gathering immediate, vital data about the person. I especially like that reality therapy has an artistic/drawing component that helps people feel less threatened and more able to access and evaluate behaviors and emotions than might be possible using a traditional therapeutic approach.

Discovering One’s ‘Quality World’

Exploration of the person’s quality world provides both clinician and person in therapy valuable information. One’s quality world is unique to each person and is essentially that place inside us that holds a vision (pictures) of all that is most important to us. Among many, the pictures may include our homes, special people, places we hope to visit, hobbies and interests, our religious or spiritual practices. Quality world pictures depict present circumstances and dreams for the future. Quality world pictures may reflect things we presently possess or long for in the future; other pictures may indicate what we have relinquished hope of manifesting (the adult who always wanted to play the violin, go to Paris, learn a language, or have a baby; or the child who wished he could be a better student but has given up).

I have never found an adult or child who was not eager to depict their quality world when invited to do so. I generally describe the quality world as I have above, and I give a few examples of the pictures in my own to help people understand what I am asking of them. The simplest way is for people to use a piece of paper and either draw symbols to represent a specific want, or write a word that represents it. I encourage them to be as creative as they’d like. There is no wrong way to do the exercise.

Living One’s Quality World

In as little as 10 or 15 minutes, the counselor or therapist can learn the most important and desired aspects of the person’s inner world. The counselor or therapist also learns what the person is lacking—for example, the child whose quality world depicts no friends, or no parents. People are invited to talk about their words and symbolic representations and this provokes a rich dialogue and the beginning of a close connection between person in therapy and clinician. It also helps people to reflect on and appreciate what they have, as well as to evaluate their goals, the probability of their success, and the action they are taking to attain them.

What impresses me most about reality therapy is that it is an effective and collaborate approach for multiple environments (schools, businesses, counseling, and therapy). Some of my child clients even go home and use reality therapy concepts they learn with me on mom and dad. It helps people to be accountable and teaches them skills that are empowering and easy to share with others.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Sharon Coulter, MA, MFTi, CT/RTC

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • malachi

    May 29th, 2013 at 12:09 PM

    If i have consistently been lacking in friends all my life, then how am I to know that this is what is lacking?
    Are you saying that there is some innate need to have this type of relationship, and that I would crave that even if I have never had that?

  • AleX

    May 30th, 2013 at 12:09 AM

    looking back at history is a great way to learn and to create something new.likewise looking back at out own lives’ past and seeing what we did and anlaysing things is a good way to not just understand ourselves but also to plan ahead for the future.doing this can be a satisfying experience and is something I have always advocated for.try and you will see.

  • Kim Olver

    June 4th, 2013 at 1:40 AM

    You have described a wonderful use of art to depict one’s quality world and further cement the counselor’s relationship with their client. As the Executive Director of William Glasser International, I would like to thank you for advocating Dr. Glasser’s work. I would add to what you said that one of the Axioms of Choice Theory tells us that the problem relationship is always a current one and sometimes could be one’s relationship with self.

    Thank you again for your brilliant description of Quality World exploration as a therapeutic technique.

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