This article originally appeared in the September 1998 Newsletter
of the William Glasser Institute Ireland and is reproduced by
permission of the author. In it, Alec Watson refers to the
"behavioural car." This is a way of illustrating a key aspect of
Reality Therapy: imagine that our total behaviour is like a car in
which the two wheels at the back represent feeling and physiology and
the two front wheels represent doing and thinking. It is by changing
the direction of the two front wheels that we change the direction of
the car. In other words, to change how you feel, change what you do
and/or what you are thinking.
Before I came to Reality Therapy I asked the Counsellor Teacher of
our evening class what she had to offer us on the subject of
"I find," I said, "That sometimes people come to you and say,'Iíve
got depression. What are you going to do about it?'"
"Yes," she said, "I know what you mean. Iíll get back to you on
it." But she didnít.
However, since discovering Reality Therapy I believe I have found
the answer. I say that R.T. is a most useful tool for anyone who
wishes to cease depressing and choose a more positive behaviour.
Unfortunately this is not yet widely known or accepted and orthodox
medicine tends to stuff people with drugs and considers that a good
dayís work is done! To be fair they donít rule out counselling
altogether but claim that a patient with severe depression needs to
have their chemical imbalance corrected before they are able to
benefit from counselling. Glasser, in his old book Control Theory,
allows for drugs in hard cases as a temporary prop though he himself
never uses them.
When working for an orthodox medicine helpline for depression, I
had to be wary of saying too much about my Reality Therapy
background. Our brief was to be a listening ear and to advise people
to see their GP. On one occasion a twenty-two year old girl told me
that she was not going to see a doctor and she would not take
medication but wished to stop depressing herself. Under these
circumstances I felt quite happy about explaining the behavioural car
to her and how she might help herself by positive thoughts and happy
Another time a lady detailed her depressing week, "Monday I stayed
in all day, Tuesday my sister took me shopping and I went to bed
early, Wednesday we went for a drive" and then her tone lightened a
little and she said, "and we played crazy golf in Portmarnock." She
continued the week with depressing blankness and then she stopped
suddenly and turned to me and said, "What do you think?" I said,
"Well, I rather liked the crazy golf." She sounded interested and
said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Well you werenít depressed then
were you?" "No" she said in a tone that suggested sheíd like to hear
more. So I suggested maybe she could schedule crazy golf in a
regular itinerary and maybe some other joyful pursuits as well. Both
ladies left thanking me for the helpful insights.
Orthodox medicine holds that people are depressed because of a
chemical imbalance. Glasser says that that is like saying a man was
running because he was sweating. In each case the chemical imbalance
and the sweat are the physiological component of the total behaviours
chosen to depress and to run.
All cases are, of course, different. It is often necessary to
build involvement, trust and empathy first rather than just thrusting
a formula at a new client. Their hurt or whatever Ďdroveí them to
depress may very well need to be expressed and accepted as genuinely
Glasserís rule that it is better to do something rather than
nothing and it is better to do something enjoyable rather than just
"do" applies. That is to say it is better to walk up and down than
just sit and it is better to go out for a walk with the dog or play
tennis or whatever turns you on than just walk up and down.
Glasserís principle of tiny bites also applies. If the client
feels they cannot manage a long walk how about the garden?
Much attention has been focussed on how to overcome depression. I
think it is often forgotten that it is not always wrong to depress.
Glasser himself has said, "I depress three or four times a day". It
is often a wise choice: it is wiser than anger, which could have
physical consequences. Often we need time to withdraw: bereavement
is an obvious example. Depressing here and there is quite
legitimate. It is only when the behaviour continues and no longer
provides effective control that it needs to be addressed.
The point is that it is a choice.