How would you like your life to be?

How would you like your life to be? Right here on the South Shore, a small group of people is working with a method of focused conversation called Reality Therapy, where questions of that sort are routinely asked…and answered!

Developed by Dr. William Glasser, M.D., a world-renowned psychiatrist and counselor, Reality Therapy has been used since the 1960s to help clients reduce symptoms and improve their lives by making better, more need-satisfying choices. Dr. Glasser’s approach is to help people live their lives more effectively without the need for “brain drugs,” which he contends are over-prescribed. Although the Reality Therapy approach is often associated with counseling, I’ll limit the scope of this article to how it might be used by a life-coach or a teacher.

Reality Therapy is based on Dr. Glasser’s Choice Theory—a theory of human behaviour that specifies that we choose essentially everything that we do, and that the only behaviour that we can control is our own. Referred to as a psychology of personal freedom, this theory is in contrast with the “I know what’s best for you” approach that’s often used by professional helpers, and which you’ll see used within schools, families, at work, in fact, anywhere humans interact!

Choosing your own behaviour is a powerful idea. On the one hand, it empowers—you get to choose your own behaviour! On the other hand, it demands responsibility—you are responsible for the choices that you make. “The dog (or the devil) made me do it,” is no longer an acceptable excuse. Each of us, ultimately, must take responsibility for our own behavioural choices.

Common phrases such as “You make me miserable,” You make me so mad” or even “You make me happy,” imply that someone or something external to you is in control of your emotions, your state of mind, and your behaviour. You’re giving up the personal freedom that comes with being in control of your most basic human attributes: how you feel, what you think, and what you do.

A key strength of Reality Therapy is its emphasis on self-evaluation. When you know what you want and look at what you are doing, then ask yourself: “Is what I am doing leading me closer to, or further away, from what I want?” Depending on the answer, you may choose to do more of the same, or you may see the need to try something different.

Thus, Reality Therapy can be used for applications ranging from life-coaching to money-management, relationship counseling to bullying situations, to bringing peace to the home or bringing quality improvement to the workplace. In each situation, the client is encouraged to look carefully at the one thing that is under their control: their own behaviour, and then assess how well that is working.

Hand-in-hand with Reality Therapy is a structured four-part approach advocated by Dr. Robert Wubbolding.  This approach, known as WDEP, is deceptively simple: determine what you Want (W), look at what you are currently Doing (D), and self-Evaluate (E) just how well that’s working. Depending on the results of your self-evaluation, form a Plan (P).

The role of a Reality Therapy coach or teacher, then, is not to solve your problem, but to guide you through a process. For example, the coach might begin by helping you clarify what you want. After all, as Dr. John Maxwell quotes in one of his many books, “Ours is a world where people don’t know what they want and are willing to go through hell to get it.”

The coach may also guide you in your own self-evaluation, so you can clearly see the effects of your current behaviours. A coach might help you to come up with behaviours that will be more effective in achieving what you want than those behaviours you’ve been using.  And while your coach may ask you if you’d like a suggestion when you perceive that you are “stuck,” the underlying premise is that no one else knows what’s best for you—that knowledge, and the responsibility that comes with it, is yours alone.

Any plan that you make is followed up and assessed for effectiveness. If the plan is making things better, then you would likely carry on, improving and refining. If not, then revise the plan in a methodical way, trying something different until you start getting the results you want.

Do you want to learn more about Choice Theory and Reality Therapy? You can check out books in the local library by Dr. William Glasser, visit the Glasser Institute main website at and the Canadian website at

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