Reality Therapy is not - as it might sound - about being presented
with a good dose of reality or harshly being told to get on with
It is more to do with helping individuals find better ways of
meeting their needs and taking responsibility for themselves and
Founded by Dr William Glasser in the United States in the 1960s,
it was introduced to Ireland by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors
However, it is used in this country in a wider context,
particularly in the field of addictions.
Once the basics for survival - food, drink and shelter - are
catered for, humans have other more complex psychological needs such
as the need to love and be loved, the need to belong, the need for
power, self-worth, freedom and happiness.
Each of us has these needs but some need more of one thing than
another and what makes it harder is that often you are not actually
aware of exactly what it is that you need.
Reality Therapy is used to bring about change while respecting the
needs of others. Learning to assess one's needs and to alter one's
life in a small way to fulfil those needs is a significant step
towards progress and ultimately taking responsibility for one's own
In Reality Therapy these are classified under five headings:
*Power which includes achievement and feeling worthwhile;
*Love & belonging which includes groups as well as families or
*Freedom including independence, autonomy or your own space;
*Fun including pleasure and enjoyment;
*Survival nourishment, shelter and reproduction.
According to Padraig O'Morain, of the William Glasser
Institute Ireland (of Reality Therapy) one of the core principles of Reality
Therapy is that, whether we are aware of it or not, we are all the
time acting to meet these needs but not necessarily in an effective
"Socialising with people is an effective way to meet our need for
belonging. Sitting in a corner and crying in the hope that people
will come to us is generally an ineffective way of meeting that need
- it may work, but it is painful and carries a terribly high price
for ourselves and others.
"If life is unsatisfactory or we are distressed or in trouble, we
need to check whether we are succeeding in meeting our basic
psychological needs for power, belonging, freedom and fun."
In this society, he says, the survival need is normally being met,
it is in how we meet the other four psychological needs that we run
"So while a counsellor in Reality Therapy would check out whether
a client is meeting his or her needs the three basic questions that
are asked are:
What do you want?
What are you doing to get what you want?
Is it working?
"Then the counsellor would help the client to make workable plans
to get what s/he wants."
Reality Therapy has to be about things that are in your control -
things that are possible to do.
"Maybe you can't make your spouse talk to you but you can talk to
him or her; maybe you can't get your teenage son to treat you with
respect but you can decide that you will no longer provide a laundry
and catering service to a son who treats you with contempt; you can't
make the company give you a promotion but you can look for it, lobby
for it and apply for the job when it comes up.
"Reality Therapy empowers the client by emphasising the power of
doing what is in your control to do," he says.
According to Reality Therapy, changing what we do is the key
approach to changing how we feel and to getting what we want.
Control is also very important. Glasser's focus is on individual
choices and sticking to what is in our own control to do while
respecting other people's right to meet their own needs.
Practitioners of Reality Therapy delve into the past with a client
but not to a great extent. The past is seen as the source of
individual wants and the origins of ways of behaviour, but there are
both good and bad things there.
Emphasis is on learning from the past but focusing on the present
and empowering the client to satisfy his/her needs and wants now and
in the future.
"It is very much a therapy of hope," says O'Morain, "based on the
conviction that we are products of the past but we do not have to go
on being its victims."
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