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Brian Lennon (


(with thanks to Lucy Billings for a better title)

Based on the Reality Therapy and Choice Theory of Dr William Glasser

Although choice is totally free it is not totally avoidable. We cannot choose not to choose! It is the confrontation with this reality of our personal lives that lies at the heart of RT/CT counselling practice. The inevitability of choice is not a limitation. It is our power to make some change in our life. The following notes suggest a structure for helping a client deal with the unavoidable choice. Needless to say they should not be followed in a cook-book fashion.

* What is the problem? Although it sometimes takes a lot of time, there is a critical point in counselling when the clients become aware of how their life differs from their quality world, how what they have is not the same as what they want. The more specific this awareness the better. This "Reality Choice" process requires that the problem area be identified already.

* What are the OPTIONS open to the client? The counsellor helps the client identify different approaches to dealing with the problem. This includes any ideas the client already has together with possibilities known to the counsellor. Depending on the seriousness and complexity of the problem it may be necessary to extend the list of options by consulting outside experts. Important: In all cases the counsellor will ensure that one option describes a "no change" scenario. This is the "zero option". It can also be helpful to include possibilities that appear far-fetched or even funny.

* Establish the INEVITABILITY OF CHOICE. It can be useful to introduce this with a remark such as, "When you leave this office you can choose to leave things as they are. You can choose the 'no change' angle or you can opt for one of the other plans. Is it possible not to choose? What do you think of having a closer look at each of the options before you choose?"

* What are the possible CONSEQUENCES of each of these options? Here we can ask about each option on our list: "What do you think might happen if you were to choose this option? If you choose this what else are you probably choosing? How might you feel once you make this choice? What would be good about it for you and what would be bad about it? How certain can you be about these outcomes?" We cannot foresee the future but good planning depends heavily on good anticipation. That's the best we can do.

* How does the client EVALUATE each of these options bearing in mind their consequences? "If you could award a satisfaction rating to each of these options where maximum score is 100%, what would you give to each option?" This helps the client compare the options and make an evaluation of each.

* Which CHOICE will the client take? "Maybe all your scores are between 90 and 100% but even if they lie between 10 and 15% you still have a choice and you can pick whichever seems best or whichever is least bad." Clients sometimes think they have no choice when none of the available choices score well. Writing down the different options and giving each a score can help them see that, no matter how bad they may be, some choices are better than others.

* How can we help the client PLAN to make that choice a successful reality? This has to do with planning, teaching, rehearsing. "Would you like to look at plans for carrying out this choice? Do you need to learn new skills? Would you like to practise them now?"

* FOLLOW-UP on the chosen plan Plan a follow-up session to have on-going evaluation of the choices made and to refine them or create new ones.
March 1996

From: "Marti Jones" : Hi, This idea that people can make choices might be okay in everyday life but what use it is to a kid in a Romanian orphanage or the Kosovans who were rounded up by the Serbs? Someone asked me this recently and I'm stuck. Can anyone out there help? Marti

From: Martin Salisbury : Perhaps the condition of those children is really not much different from those children in forced detention facilities, residential centers, and uncariung foster home situations.

Making the best choices to satisfy your needs applies in any environment, no matter how restrictive or impoverished.

I hope that doesn't sound too simnplistic and I have seen these principles apply in extreme maximum security facilities.

From: "Padraig O'Morain" : It seems to me that all choices occur within boundaries. If I'm here in a city and I want to go out tonight I have a myriad of choices. The boundaries to those choices will include legal restrictions, financial restrictions, other people's rules and so on, but essentially I have hundreds if not thousands of choices. If I'm living in a refugee camp the boundaries are much tighter. If I am locked in a room they are tighter still. So while we almost always have choices they occur within boundaries. Sometimes these boundaries are such that all the choices are painful. A child in an orphanage who's locked into the boiler room for the night has choices (curl up, bang on the door, hurt yourself, try to sleep etc) but they are terribly constricted by the boundaries imposed by whoever used their power to throw them in there. They are also painful choices - people often have to choose between painful alternatives because that's all that is available. I think it is very important to place the moral responsibility for putting tight boundaries around people on those who put the tight boundaries around them. There is also the question of "choices" which are made so fast we are not aware of making them - I would like to see choice theory dealing some more with these.

From: I am no expert in Control Theory and I am just learning about different approaches. I do work with children who have been severely abused by their parents. In many ways this has some connections to the statements below. I do believe that choices plays an important part in the lives of these kids because we have choices in how we deal with what situation we are in. How do we meet the new needs that we now have? I explain to the children in my care, that in every moment we have a choice and how we handle that choice effects something. Not only that, we are the only ones responsible for what happens next. There are external controls such as the foster care system but if they act out physically that effect their ability to get out of that system. Keeping feelings in rather then talking also is a choice and that choice might lead to an outburst. I do believe that choices are part of everyday life no matter what situation you are dealt.

From: Marti, I am reminded of Viktor Frankl who endured concentration camp 'life' as a Jew during the Holocaust. He chose to live in a dignified way. What alternatives did he have? He might have chosen to die or to perform jobs that were reprehensible to him. The fact that he was incarcerated was, in one way, like a hand of cards that life had dealt him. He had to play those cards the best way he knew how or could learn. The same as the folks in Kosovo and Sierra Leone and other places where atrocities have and are occuring - one makes choices about how one lives or resists the atrocities.

One alternative to making choices is to become catatonic - and I recall Rich Puteran from Brandon, Manitoba discussing how he had counselled a catatonic individual using CT/RT/LM. I agree that we, the world, are shocked when peoples' lives are taken and when atrocities are committed against entire populations. It is not surprising that individuals in charge of perpetrating or carrying out these acts are firmly of the belief that they are doing the best they can to control the 'alien' or 'subhuman' population[s] that threaten them. This is likely the epitome of 'boss' management, e.g. 'I am morally right and driven to effect these changes'.

I am also reminded of a situation Dr Glasser describes when an acquaintance of his was threatened by a thief with a weapon. His acquaintance had some immediate choices to make - one of which might have been to turn over his wallet as was being demanded. He, in fact, made another choice which changed the outcome of the encounter. He made a choice based upon the information he had at the time. In fact, he might have been shot and killed, but he made a choice based upon the cards that had been dealt him - robbery at gun point. Hope this is helpful, Al

"apicelli" : I hope you can forgive my stumbling around as I try to explain, Our approach is to say something like "we understand that in the past you may have been a victim and you may feel like a victim now. But you can choose to see this placement at the group home as punishment or an opportunity to stop the piano in your life form playing and assess where you are and move ahead. You can choose to run a way (explore consequences here..more restrictive placement, jail) or you can choose to accept some of the help that is available, school, job,counseling,activities that may get you to your community or home faster. "Look at your behavior, is your behavior getting you closer to home or further away." To those versed in RT/CT help me out here as I am learning and bumping on a new path. We understand the judge placed you here but we can't undo that(right now) you have to help make up the facts and reality that will move you from here, good grades, working the program, successful home stays, no drugs, no arrests.

"John Pesciallo" : At a local hospital I picked up a card that, while not necessarily coming from choice theory, is somewhat reflective of the concept of making choices: ATTITUDE "The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. I will make or break a company... church... home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We can-not change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes." Franciscan Health System St. Anthony Hospital Take Care, John Pesciallo

"Padraig O'Morain" While I accept that our attude has a powerful effect on our lives, I often wonder if we fall into the danger of overstating it, as in the verse which John posted to the list. I spoke to a man the other day who, as a child, was put into an institution where he was raped and physically and sexually abused by the Christian Brothers who ran it. He also saw many traumatising incidents. While he can choose various attitudes to this, his choices are constrained by the psychological pain he suffers and by his need to dull the pain by drinking. Similarly when he was in the institution (Letterfrack) he could have made choices about what to do and what attitude to take. These were also limited by the institution, the rules of society, and the horrific consequences of enraging his assailants. I believe that the Choice Theory emphasis on choices (in attitudes and actions) is empowering and can be very liberating - but I think we need to realise that the available choices can be restricted by other people, the weather etc. Padraig O'Morain

lyn : I think what Choice theory teaches us is that we have choices about how we feel in a given situation and that how we feel will often be most easily influenced by the control we take of our total behaviour particularly our actions and thoughts. Sometimes we may choose to feel sad because feeling sad is an appropriate response for us to our lifes circumstances at a particular time e.g. when we are grieving. How we choose to behave in terms of our actions and thoughts will govern how we may gradually come to resolve a difficult issue for us. eg. if we are grieving or otherwise choosing to feel sad or depressed we can choose to drink alcohol, take drugs, sleep all day, isolate ourselves from others, think that life is not worth while or that we have a bad 'lot' in life,etc etc....... or we could choose to seek support from a counsellor or good friends/ family, exercise, seek small enjoyments in life,think that we will overcome this bad period and so on..... I think where 'Attitude' comes in is that we need to take the attitude that we are in control of our lives,and that how we act and think is our easiest route to altering how we feel. Attitude should not involve just 'getting on' with things inspite of emotional pain, I think people need to recognize their pain, seek help to help them deal with it, have it validated, at least validate it themselves, but make positive choices to help them deal with the issues. Lyn.

"tamster" : I think it's important not to confuse thinking with feeling. We have the most control over what we do, and more control over what we think than what we feel. What we think has influence over how we feel. Therein lies the power of positive thinking. "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing : The last of his human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances." -Viktor Frankl

"Your Friend" : I have to agree that choices are always available. Conditions may make some choices less desirable and change the nature of the choice but it's still there. If I plan a picnic and on that day it rains, I can still have my picnic, but I have to choose to have it indoors or I may choose to get wet. The choices are not restricted but their impact has changed. Richard Epps

"John Pesciallo" : A person's attitude is a choice much like other choices. There are other descriptors that can be attached to that choice (attitude, in this case) to add specificity to it. Without this specificity the concept can be too general. By overstating it in this way the concept is vaguely applicable.It applies in some contexts and not in others. The educated person most likely realizes this, and even the uneducated, but the person who is having difficulty coping with life may globalize the concept and attempt to apply it in contexts in which a general concept does not adequately apply. For instance, an individual may be experiencing grief issues over the loss of a loved one. He uses the verse on attitude from the handout by the Franciscan Health System, St. Anthony Hospital. Taking this verse to heart and out of need, he convinces himself that he has to take on an attitude like what is described in that handout. This may help him to deal with his grief for the moment, but not in the long-run. He believes then that life is 90% of how he reacts to it, so he may take on an "attitude" of "I can handle it."Rather than dealing with and working through the trauma he instead deals with it only on the surface. With counseling, if he gets counseling, he may be enlightened on how attitude is important, but can be overstated. With counseling, he may come to realize that "attitude," is not a end-all-to-be-all coping tool. Rather,it is an approach to use "with" coping tools not as a coping tool. In this case I would add the descriptors "positive coping" to the concept ofattitude and call it "positive coping attitude." Any number of descriptors could be used. But by reframing the general concept of "attitude" into a more specific concept, the patient/client has another tool for dealing with his conflict. This is but one example, and in different contexts different descriptors would be used to make the concept of "attitude" more applicablefor a person who is having difficulty coping. Food-4-Thought,Take Care,JP I think automatic choices or forgotten choices are still choices. I believe it is important to remember that because as choices we are responsible. Many time we make routine choices and do not put much thought into them but we are still responsible. Your example of driving a car and being a million miles away in our mind is a great example. After all, if by being a million miles away we got into an accident then we are responsible for that choice even though we did not mean to make it. That consequence may make us more aware next time.

From: Martin Salisbury : Glasser also states that some of what we do is genetically encoded and in that sense perhaps it is unconsciously done.

From: "Padraig O'Morain" : So those "choices" we make outside our awareness, are they really choices at all or are they automatic actions or forgotten choices or actions taken while we are asleep (in the sense of not being aware of what is going on)? I think this is important because so much of life involves routines carried out beyond our awareness (like driving a car while we are a million miles away in our minds, God help us) and when we describe these as choices we seem to "blame" those who carried out these actions. Padraig

From: Johan Gouws : Sometimes you cannot choose the development of politics, social changes, etc, that forces you to be in awkward situations like Kosowa or orphanages. But when I am in a certain situation, e.g a refugee or an orphan, or being abused, etc. I have choices in that immediate context to make, e.g living a dignified life, submitting to the authorities, accepting the fact of not having parents, etc. I can make choices in my immediate situation which could make a difference.

From: Martin Salisbury : I believe Glasser would posit that being truly present in the moment includes an immediate consciousness of every choice which requires mentation.

From: IMHO it is important that carers/therapists are careful not to offer the "correct" decision along with the awareness of choice. An abused child would then be faced with the choice, kow-tow to the fearful parent figure or defend dignity and freedom of self and others by acting out physically, especially when the authority refuses to admit responsibility for making the choice for them.



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