Reality Therapy and Implementation of Choice Theory: How the Change of Behavior Will Help You Reach Your Goals


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Believing that interpersonal relationships are the key to a satisfying life, Reality Therapy suggests that humans make decisions about their behavior, based on the principles in Choice Theory, to satisfy their own personal human needs (Corey, 2008). Choice Theory proposes that the human mind responds to situations with certain behaviors to achieve a desired goal. Once realizing that the behavior does not result in satisfactory outcomes, the human mind acts to change behavior to meet that goal.

According to Choice Theory, humans choose their behavior. Behavior is not the result of our environment or childhood conflicts (Wubbolding et al., 2004). There are six principles of Choice Theory. These principles include:

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(1) Humans are born with five needs that they seek to satisfy using their behaviors or choices – survival, love and belonging, power, fun, and freedom.

(2) A person generates its behavior based on the difference between what one wants and what one perceives he or she is getting.

(3) All behaviors or choices are comprised of doing, thinking, feeling, and physiology, which are considered “total behavior.”

(4) Behavior has a purpose and attempts to find a balance between what the person wants and what he or she perceives it is receiving.

(5) Total behavior comes from within the person and not from an external element, and the person chooses or does not choose to respond.

(6) Humans see the world through perceptions and filter incoming information based on these perceptions.

Reality Therapy is the implementation of Choice Theory. Although Reality Therapy and Choice Theory were developed separately from one another, Choice Theory is the theoretical justification for Reality Therapy (Wubbolding et al., 2004). Rather than focusing on the past and the reasons for choices, this therapy focuses on altering current behaviors to meet current wants and needs.

Reality Therapy was developed by William Glasser in the 1960s while working in the Veteran’s Administration Center in California. He developed the principles of Reality Therapy while under the supervision of Dr. G. L. Harrington, who agreed with Glasser’s idea of discussing current client behavior without focusing on the client’s history (Wubbolding, R., 2015). Practicing in a psychiatric ward among seriously mentally ill patients, two years after the program initialized 100 of the 210 patients were released. In 2008, Reality Therapy was recognized for meeting criteria as a proven system of psychotherapy.

Glasser’s development of Choice Theory began after he discovered writings from William Power about control systems theory (William Glasser Institute, 2017 and Wubbolding, R., 2015). He adapted and simplified this theory for use with clinicians and for people who wanted better relationships, later publishing Control Theory (Glasser, 1984, as referenced by Wubbolding, R., 2015). Continuing to improve and apply this theory, he changed the name and published Choice Theory in 1998.

Practicing Reality Therapy requires a safe and trusting environment, and the use of procedures. For an effective and therapeutic environment, a counselor must establish and maintain a relationship based on empathy, congruence and positive regard (Wubbolding, R., 2015). With the establishment of a non-threatening relationship, clients will realize and understand that the counselor is legitimately concerned about them and genuinely wants to help. Once the counselor sets the environment, the counselor and client can continue with the procedures of Reality Therapy.

Developed by Robert Wubbolding, the procedures for Reality Therapy are summarized using the acronym WDEP (Wubbolding et al., 2004, and Corey, 2008). The W stands for the clients Wants. Counselors support clients in clarifying and refining their wants, hopes, and dreams, and what they want to get out of counseling. During this step, the counselor asks a series of questions to help clients identify and clarify their wants and perceptions of both the outer and their internal worlds. The D stands for Doing, in which the clients identify what they are currently doing to achieve the indicated wants (Corey, 2008). The E is for Evaluation, in which the clients perform self-evaluations to determine whether what they are actually doing is helping them achieve their goals or receive what they want. The last stage, P, stands for Planning. This stage is significant as the clients develop specific and realistic goals to incorporate new behaviors. Clients must continually re-evaluate and adjust the plan to ensure that they are moving closer to fulfilling their wants and goals.

This theory puts the power of changing into the clients. Only the clients are responsible for changing their behaviors to achieve their wants and have satisfying relationships. Choice Theory teaches individuals that they are the primary factors in their environments. They choose how they perceive and respond to external stimuli. By teaching them that they have the power, they can utilize Reality Therapy and the WDEP system to alter their behaviors and have satisfying relationships. I also feel comfortable with this theory because not everyone can alter external factors, such as their environment or other people. This theory focuses on the behavior and responses that can be controlled by the individual and aims to help the individual change those factors to achieve desired outcomes.

In group therapy, the leader’s main goal is to help members recognize their behaviors that result in negative or unintended consequences, accept responsibility for those behaviors, and help them make better choices (Corey, 2008). After the environment is established in the group, members begin by learning and understanding both the idea of Choice Theory and the WDEP procedures (Stupart, 2017). Having a visual aid, such as a handout or a whiteboard, is helpful during the beginning stages of a group for members to follow along. Using the WDEP system, members will work through each stage with their current issues or problems. The leader will help members identify and clarify their wants, or once members are more comfortable with each other, may have another member ask a working member to clarify what he or she really wants (Corey, 2008). Group members go through each step and are highly involved in the planning and refining stages. Receiving feedback from group members about clarifying wants, and developing goals and plans is valuable in group Reality Therapy.

Using Choice Theory and Reality Therapy in schools has helped students get closer to the environment that they desire. In one case, middle school students with frequent disciplinary actions were referred to the school’s counselor who recognized that most of the students had complaints about the school climate (Walter, Lambie, & Ngazimbi, 2008). Forming a leadership group based on Choice Theory principles, she could keep these students active and engaged in making a significant improvement to the school. None of the members of the group received disciplinary infractions while participating in the group and many students enjoyed the autonomy. Reality Therapy and Choice Theory can be used with a variety of age groups, teaching independence and the ability to solve their own interpersonal problems.

Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) is a popular theory used in group therapy. Founded by Albert Ellis, it is based on the idea that thoughts cause feelings (Corey, 2008). In groups, the goal is to help members examine their thoughts and beliefs, and use that awareness to gain control of their reactions and change their feelings. The ABC model developed by Ellis is used to help clients visualize and understand the relationship between their thoughts and feelings. In the model, A is the activating event, B is the belief or a thought about the activating event and C is the consequences or feelings that result from the belief. Members learn that their emotional reactions are not caused by the activating event, but are the result of their beliefs or interpretations of the activating event.

REBT focuses on how irrational thoughts and interpretations cause feelings whereas; Reality Therapy focuses on how we respond to those feelings to control our interpersonal relationships. When using REBT in groups, the counselor must teach members about irrational beliefs and be able to help bring awareness to the negative self-talk that causes their feelings. Rather than learning to recognize irrational ideas, members of a Reality Group learn to recognize how their choices and behaviors reflect their desires to meet basic human needs, including survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. The focus is on interpersonal relationships, rather than the self, and how members can make better choices when attempting to fulfill their human needs.

Though their focuses differ, both therapies aim to teach members control over negative responses. Both begin by teaching members the theory behind each therapy so that members will understand the focus and goals they wish to accomplish. With the ABC Model and WDEP procedures, members benefit from the use of visual aids to help explain these concepts and practice them using the members’ problems shared in the group. As members get comfortable in these groups and gain a better understanding of these concepts, they learn to assist each other, follow the steps and solve their own problems.

Skills and knowledge that I perceive as strengths for group therapy include my ability to remain empathetic to others, listen intently, and find value in alternative viewpoints. A basic and essential skill for counseling, showing empathy to members and modeling that behavior consistently in groups is extremely important. I am confident in my ability to understand and relate to the feelings and/or situations members may share in group therapy. Listening intently is a skill I can use to listen for underlying thoughts and messages that a member may be trying to say, but does not or is unable to say directly. Looking at situations from a variety of viewpoints is a skill I often practice that is valuable when helping group members see life or situations in new ways. I always encourage others to share their views and can find value, advantages, and disadvantages in the variety of viewpoints.

An area of improvement for me would be to increase my confidence in leading a group. I have held leadership positions in other areas of my life, but counseling and group therapy are still new to me. I know that the confidence will come with increased practice and application. Currently, when I participate in the group counseling at the end of each session I reflect on the skills and visual aids used by the counselor to expand my knowledge and perception of leading a group. Assertiveness is another area of improvement, as my passive and soft-spoken tendencies may cause unintended consequences when attempting to lead a group. Assertiveness skills are currently a focus in the group therapy sessions I attend, and I plan to continue practicing those skills as they are essential to all areas of my life.

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