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  FROM IRELAND ON SUNDAY 1st November 1998

 Empowering yourself through change

by Marianne Hartigan

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 things.

It is more to do with helping individuals find better ways of meeting their needs and taking responsibility for themselves and their lives.

Founded by Dr William Glasser in the United States in the 1960s, it was introduced to Ireland by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors in 1985.

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 life.

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 loved ones;

*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 manner.

"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 into trouble.

"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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