Eulogy – Dr William Glasser, founder of Reality Therapy
by John Brickell
Dr William Glasser, world-renowned psychiatrist, author, and creator of both Reality Therapy and Choice Theory Psychology, has passed away peacefully at the age of 88. Surrounded by his wife Carleen and family members at his home in Los Angeles, Dr Glasser died on 23rd of August 2013.
Around the world, over 84,000 people have done basic training in Glasser’s ideas and over 12,000 have completed the full certification training.
Born in Cleveland Ohio, USA, on 11 May 1925, Dr Glasser reached international fame in 1965 when his ground-breaking book, Reality Therapy, challenged the traditional approach to psychiatry at the time and continued to do so for many years thereafter; particularly the “medical model” of mental illness. As an increasing number of people wished to learn his methods, he founded the Institute for Reality Therapy, now called William Glasser International. Today, his ideas on therapy, education, management and personal wellbeing are taught throughout the world, although still to a lesser extent in the UK.
The Reality Therapy Glasser developed was primarily focused on the present, the necessity of self responsibility, and based on his contention that a vast array of mental health disorders, behavioural problems, including addictive behaviours, emotional distress and, indeed, an array of health-related problems was caused or exacerbated by the person’s continued failure and sustained frustration in being unable to meet their essential and innate human needs, and particularly the needs of love and belonging (the relationship, or lack of, with others) and self worth (the relationship, or lack of with oneself). He contended that the distress of such perceived loneliness, emptiness and sense of powerlessness cannot be tolerated or suppressed indefinitely by human beings, and given time, may express itself as a mental, emotional and/or physical symptom or disorder. Therefore, the approach in Reality Therapy is to not only deal with the presenting problems, symptoms or behaviours, but to focus more so on the underlying cause (unmet needs), so that meaningful and lasting change can occur.
From its inception in the mid 1960’s, Reality Therapy found much favour within the field of drug and alcohol addictions. Indeed, many addictions facilities integrated Reality Therapy into their existing programmes, both in the UK as well as the USA, and it was claimed that the original Minnesota Model consisted of the first 5 steps of AA plus Reality Therapy. Whether this was accurate or not, its resonance within the profession was no doubt due to its emphasis on the here and now, the importance of self responsibility, its “action-led” focus (change what you do), the emphasis on self evaluation, and the essential needs for healthy relationships and self worth.
Glasser was always a strong supporter of the anonymous fellowships and was a keynote speaker at several American AA and NA conferences, in the 70’s and 80’s.
More recently, Glasser’s Reality Therapy approach has been described as cognitive behavioural in nature but more practical and “action-led” in its delivery – hence its wide applicability and success not only in the field of mental health, but also to coaching, managing, education, mediation, parenting, stress management and personal development
Throughout his career, Glasser never stopped trying to refine and improve his ideas, and coupled with the influence of others such as William Powers, Glasser further articulated the psychological theory, that explained and informed the practice of Reality Therapy, that he went on to call ‘Choice Theory Psychology’, and published this in 1998. This was a new psychology of personal freedom that, on the one hand, gives clear pointers about the path to mental health and happiness and, on the other hand, highlights the destructive power of any psychology based on external control. Glasser believed that many of the world’s problems at a personal, social and even political levels derive from an often unwitting reliance on what he called “external control psychology”, the belief that we can control other people or that other people and/or events can control us.
Having started his professional life working, for some of the time, with delinquent girls at the Ventura School, in Los Angeles, Dr Glasser always kept a strong interest in both therapy and education. In 1969 he published ‘Schools Without Failure’ and went on to develop an approach to teaching and education known as the Glasser Quality School model, based on his Choice Theory psychology. There are currently some 24 such schools, situated in various countries around the world, that have adopted the Quality School approach; all of which boast improved or higher levels of academic achievement and a very low incidence of discipline problems.
It was only in more recent years that Glasser was recognised and honoured within his own profession. In 1989, the Milton Erickson Foundation’s Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference admitted him as a member of the distinguished faculty of Pioneers in Psychology. In 2004, the American Counselling Association honoured him as a ‘Legend in Counselling’. In 2005, the American Psychological Association awarded him the prestigious ‘Master Therapist’ designation. Then, as recently as last May (2013), the California Senate passed a resolution to honour Dr Glasser for “a lifetime of achievements and meritorious service to humanity”. It was so fitting that this last honour should have been in his home state and city
John Brickell is director of training for the Institute for Reality Therapy UK
www.realitytherapy.org.uk Tel: 02380 730918