Reality Therapy: Techniques, Goals & Limitations

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  • 0:01 Focus on Outcomes
  • 1:07 Glasser's Theory
  • 2:25 Counselor's Role and Goals
  • 3:27 Therapeutic Techniques
  • 5:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

In this lesson, we will explore William Glasser's reality therapy. We will cover topics such as how does this therapy works, its therapeutic goals, and techniques that are used by the counselor.

Focus on Outcomes

You may be familiar with the phrase, 'Do or do not. There is no try.' While this phrase comes from a popular sci-fi movie, it can be used for any number of scenarios. Imagine someone who is disarming a bomb. He has to decide whether to cut the blue wire or the red wire. If he doesn't cut a wire, the bomb will explode; if he isn't cutting a wire, he isn't doing anything useful to solve the problem. If he cuts the wrong one, the bomb will still explode. But, if he cuts the correct wire, he will disable the bomb.

Trying is not an outcome of our actions. The only outcomes are success or failure. Whether or not someone tries is irrelevant. This idea helps us understand the basic concept of reality therapy. Reality therapy focuses on personal responsibility for our choices and the resulting outcomes. In other words, we are responsible for creating our problems because we are making the choices that create these problems. Likewise, we are responsible for solving our problems through our choices. The outcome tells us whether or not we are choosing wisely.

Choices and Outcomes

Glasser's Theory

Reality therapy was founded by William Glasser, based on his belief that problems are created by how we choose to behave.

William Glasser
William Glasser

Glasser rejected the idea of unconscious forces because he felt this concept did not hold people responsible for their behavior. If a person is not responsible for their behavior, then how could they change it?

He also rejected the concept of formal diagnosis. Glasser felt that these labels were only necessary for insurance purposes. He also felt that these labels indicate that the diagnosis, not the individual, is responsible for personal problems.

Because personal accountability is essential to Glasser's theory, there is no focus on what a person cannot control. Complaints and excuses have no place in reality therapy. Clients must develop the understanding that the only thing I control is myself.

Reality therapy is a positive and simple approach with clear concepts that can be used in a variety of helping professions. One of its main strengths is its appeal to clients that are resistant to therapy, such as those who are court ordered. The main weakness of reality therapy is that it may not be successful with clients who have problems that are more complex, like severe mental illnesses or childhood trauma.

Counselor's Role and Goals

The primary goal of reality therapy is to help clients find better ways to fulfill their needs. You could think of reality therapy as a mentoring process where the counselor is the teacher and the client is the student. The counselor would teach the client how to evaluate their behavior, make plans for change, and set goals.

Counselors practicing reality therapy will often come into contact with clients who may come to therapy involuntarily. These clients may actively resist the process. An essential role of the counselor in these situations is to make a personal connection with the client. If this connection is not made, there is no possibility for the counselor to provide help.

Reality therapy's focus on personal responsibility dictates that the counselor must sometimes confront the client in a firm manner. However, they must also be accepting, sincere, and their client's biggest advocate.

Therapeutic Techniques

Techniques used in the practice of reality therapy can be described using the acronym 'WDEP.' Each letter stands for a group of strategies. 'W' stands for the client's 'wants.' 'D' stands for 'doing.' 'E' stands for 'evaluation,' and 'P' stands for 'planning.'

Many clients coming to reality therapy need to discover what it is they truly want in their lives. This understanding sets the stage for the application of other procedures. For example, the counselor may ask her patient, Matt, to visualize what his life would look like if it were perfect. The goals that Matt wants to achieve will be derived from his ideal world. Let's choose a goal of finding a good job.

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