Reality therapy is a cognitive and behavioral method that helps people take more effective control of their lives and develop the psychological strength to handle the stresses and challenges of life. Although widely applicable in the field of mental health, the ideas and skills have also been successfully applied to the work domain (in coaching, managing, consulting, supervision and education), where it is referred to as ‘lead management’.
The ideas and skills focus not only on helping people find solutions to presenting problems and behaviors (the shorter-term, more solution-focused approach), but more importantly, to clearly identify and focus on the underlying cause(s) (rather than continually deal with behavioral symptoms), so that significant and lasting change can emerge.
The core of reality therapy is the idea that regardless of what has ‘happened’ to us, what we may have done, or how our ‘needs’ may have been unmet or violated in the past, we can redirect our lives and choose more effective (‘needs-satisfying’) behaviors both today and in the future.
Reality therapy was founded by the psychiatrist William Glasser MD in the mid-1960s in two settings: a psychiatric hospital and a correctional institution, both in Los Angeles. Early in his career, Glasser began putting his therapeutic emphasis on the ‘here and now’, helping clients to focus on what he referred to as the ‘current reality’ of their lives, and in particular on helping them better satisfy what he claimed to be ‘the two most important psychological needs that psychiatry should concern itself with today: the need to love and be loved and the need to feel that we are worthwhile to ourselves and others’ (Glasser 1965).
Glasser (1998) argued that the continued failure to meet these two human ‘needs’ satisfactorily is the basis of most long-term psychological problems, unhappiness, an array of health-related problems, and much of what is referred to as mental illness.
Additionally, from his own extensive observation and practice, Glasser found that by enabling clients to take responsibility for their own behavior, rather than accepting they were victims of their own impulses, their past history, or other people or circumstances around them, they were able to make dramatic changes.
Although these concepts of ‘need-satisfaction’, responsibility, choice, and the focus on ‘current reality’ are still fundamental to reality therapy, both the theory and practice have been developed and refined considerably and have since been applied to virtually every area of counseling/psychotherapy within North America, Asia, Australasia, the Middle East, and in several European countries (Wubbolding, 1999).; most notably in Ireland where, over the past 20 years, realty therapy has become by far the most counselor-favored approach.
It is surprising then that training in reality therapy, and its certification process, have only been available in the UK over the last 10 years or so. However, during this time it has attracted interest from a wide variety of practitioners, agencies and organizations and is now included in a number of UK counseling certificate, diploma and degree courses.
The purposes of undergoing psychotherapy are generally to gain insight, to see connections, and to reach a higher level of self-awareness. The primary goal of reality therapy is neither insight nor resolution of unconscious conflicts. Rather, the desired outcome is behavioral change resulting in greater need satisfaction. People enter psychotherapy because they feel that something has gone wrong in their lives. The reality counselor believes such people are not fulfilling their needs effectively, and thus they feel discomfort, anxiety, depression, guilt, fear, or shame. Others act negatively or develop psychosomatic symptoms. If they are comfortable with their behavior, but others believe they have problems, they are often coerced into therapy. Often such a...