William Glasser: His Life and Enduring Influence

William Glasser, the unorthodox psychiatrist behind reality therapy and choice theory, has died recently at the age of 88.

His 1965 Reality Therapy was an introduction to such key concepts as putting the focus on the present versus the past, being aware that we always have choices in our lives, and taking personal responsibility and control versus controlling others.

Positive Addiction (1976) is another book of his that’s been influential in my own work. In it he advocates developing an “addiction” to such activities as running, journal writing, and meditation to replace the “negative” addictions like alcoholism, overeating, gambling. While the positive ones build strength, the negative ones control our lives and destabilize them.

Several later books by Glasser reflect his change of terminology from reality therapy to choice theory. In Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom he “suggests that misery is always related to a current unsatisfying relationship. Contrary to what you may believe, your troubles are always now, never in the past. No one can change what happened yesterday.”

Further elaboration of this theory is provided on ChoiceTheory.com:

A central aspect of Choice Theory is the belief that we are internally, not externally motivated. While other theories suggest that outside events ’cause’ us to behave in certain predictable ways, Choice Theory teaches that outside events never ‘make’ us to do anything. What drives our behavior are internall ‘Quality World Pictures,’ these internally created notions of how we would like things to be, are related to certain Basic Needs built into the genetic structure of every human being. The Basic Needs which provide the foundation for all motivation are: to be loving and connected to others; to achieve a sense of competence and personal power; to act with a degree of freedom and autonomy; to experience joy and fun; and to survive.

Another major concept in Choice Theory is the notion that we always have some choice about how to behave. This does not mean that we have unlimited choice or that outside information is irrelevant as we choose how to behave. It means that we have more control than some people might believe and that we are responsible for the choices we make.

Knowingly or not, humans constantly compare their perception of the world with how they would like it to be, their current Quality World picture. Consciously or not, they determine if their current behavior is the best available choice to take them in the direction they want to go. When people learn to apply the principles of Choice Theory, they are taught how to more consciously self-evaluate so that the behaviors they choose have the best chance of helping them achieve what they want in ways that are responsible.

Counseling with Choice Theory, a practical manual for therapists, illustrates “how to get rid of the controlling, punishing I know what’s right for you psychology that crops up in most situations when people face conflict with one another.”

A selection of quotes related to the views of William Glasser:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.”Stephen Covey

“One of the most difficult lessons to master as we struggle to create effective change is to learn not to label something as bad just because it is different from what we want.”Dr. William Glasser on page 32 in Take Charge of Your Life

“The only reality I can possibly know is the world as I perceive and experience it at this moment. The only reality you can possibly know is the world as you perceive and experience it at this moment. And the only certainty is that those perceived realities are different”.–Carl RogersA Way of Being

“You can’t change the past, but you can ruin the present by worrying about the future.”–Isak Dinesen

“You’ve got a lot of choices. If getting out of bed in the morning is a chore and you’re not smiling on a regular basis, try another choice.”–Steven D. Woodhul

The brief video below gives us a peek into Dr. Glasser’s thoughts from a few years back:

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