William Glasser's Reality Therapy

William Glasser was a psychiatrist who introduced reality theory. He claimed we could all be happier and meet our needs if we made better decisions. Here, we explain his therapy.
William Glasser's Reality Therapy
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 19 April, 2023

Do you feel that many of your most basic needs are unsatisfied? As human beings, we long for quality relationships. Moreover, we want to be good to ourselves and perceive that we have certain control over our lives. Unsurprisingly, when any of these pillars fail, dissatisfaction, feelings of emptiness, and psychological discomfort arise. These are issues that William Glasser’s reality therapy addresses.

This approach is both interesting and practical. It’s a technique that seeks to improve self-satisfaction. In addition, it gives the patient tools to make better decisions. As a matter of fact, as a rule, it’s only when we orient our steps and choices more accurately that we find what makes us happiest.

“We almost always have choices, and the better the choice, the more we will be in control of our lives.”

-William Glasser-


Who was William Glasser?

William Glasser (1925-2013) was an American psychiatrist. He developed choice theory and reality therapy in the 1950s and 1960s. The American Psychotherapy Association (APA) recognized his work. In fact, he even won the lifetime award of merit from the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology.

Glasser questioned the use of the classic clinical labels of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM. Moreover, he rejected the use of psychotropic drugs in mental health and postulated that human well-being only improves if we’re given tools to make the right decisions. He believed that only then can we satisfy our most basic needs.

Glasser’s book, Reality Therapy ( 1965), was a bestseller. It provided a novel perspective on psychological thought. Glasser advocated our ability to choose to improve our existence. Undoubtedly, his work left a positive mark in the field of mental health, business, and education.

The theory of choice

The central core of William Glasser’s reality therapy revolves around the theory of choice. It consists of a model that starts from the cognitive paradigm. It claims that what surrounds us conditions us. However, the ultimate responsibility when it comes to having control of our lives and improving them is ours alone.

In fact, Glasser claimed that self-control is the tool we need to be healthy. Therefore, it’s something we must pay attention to. He stated that our behavior is driven by the following five basic needs:

  • Love.
  • Power.
  • Freedom.
  • Fun.
  • Survival.

Furthermore, Glasser claimed that, when it comes to orienting ourselves toward these dimensions to guarantee our well-being, we must always do so realistically. As such, we must take responsibility for our actions, thoughts, and emotions.

The objectives and techniques of reality therapy

In 2011, the therapist, Robert E. Wubbolding analyzed the keys to William Glasser’s reality therapy. He stated the purpose of this clinical model is to discover the unsatisfied needs of the individual and guide them. Thus, via better plans and strategies, they can be nurtured.

This is achieved by anchoring the individual to their current reality. From this more objective starting point, they can make responsible decisions. As such, they can be guided toward their goals and, ultimately, toward psychological well-being. The techniques are as follows:

Most of us have unsatisfied needs that cause us unhappiness. However, if we made new and better decisions, this would change. Reality therapy can help in this regard.

1. Relationship habits

How are your relationships at the present moment? Are you happy with your partner? Do you have family problems? Reality therapy places special attention on the quality of social ties. They form an essential pillar in our well-being or, on the contrary, in our discomfort. The therapy focuses on analyzing the components mentioned below:

Connection habits

  • Support.
  • Listening.
  • Motivation.
  • Comprehension.

Disconnection habits

  • Blame.
  • Complaints.

2. Perception of reality

We all filter reality in a certain way. We start with how we feel and our experiences. This is decisive for understanding the origin of many of our discomforts and unhappiness. Reality therapy seeks to analyze the perception that the individual possesses about every aspect that surrounds them. In fact, this is the starting point of the therapy.

3. Analysis of control purposes and styles

With regard to reaching a goal or a purpose, it’s essential to understand how the individual directs their efforts toward said objectives. Some assume that they hardly have any control over their reality. Indeed, many people believe that we’re determined by our circumstances and that there’s little we can do about it.

But, Glasser’s therapy offers strategies for patients to assume an internal locus of control. In other words, they understand that they’re responsible for their own life. Therefore they can apply strategies in favor of what they want.

4. Comparison

The comparison technique aims to promote the idea in the individual that what they want must be close to what they have. In other words, they must be realistic and recognize their skills. After all, almost always, goals that are too fanciful lead to failure. On the other hand, goals that are in tune with capabilities are more successful.

Man must make decision between 2 paths
Living implies making decisions and being responsible for ourselves. These two pillars are key in reality therapy.

The suitability of reality therapy

Reality therapy is used in various clinical settings and is remarkably effective. Undoubtedly, its main benefit is that it provides patients with resources to improve their personal responsibility. Since this dimension is the cornerstone of many areas of life, you can imagine how useful this therapy is.

For example, in research conducted by Dongshin University (Korea) sufferers of schizophrenia showed an improvement. In fact, their self-esteem, ability to cope with stress, and internal locus of control were optimized. This therapy is also useful in the following scenarios:

  • Treating addictions.
  • Family therapy.
  • Troubled relationships.
  • Improving school performance.
  • Treating patients with personality disorders.
  • To help achieve personal development and work objectives.

William Glasser’s reality therapy has been shown to be useful in patients with schizophrenia.


There’s one important detail that we must highlight about reality therapy. This is the fact that it’s an approach that doesn’t accept the existence of different clinical labels for mental disorders. Indeed, Glasser didn’t look favorably on considering his patients as ‘people with depression’ or ‘patients with schizophrenia’. In fact, he rejected both labels and drugs.

Glasser believed that behaviors are choices that can be improved in the therapeutic setting. Its main aim is to guide patients to make better decisions based on their particular reality.

With regard to its effectiveness, reality therapy is successfully employed in the area of relationships. It’s also used in schools (developing responsibility in children), and, as we mentioned earlier, in schizophrenia sufferers. Undoubtedly, it’s an interesting therapeutic model that works on both well-being and personal development.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.