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Reality Therapy from a Christian Perspective

The following represents Arthur's opinions only and not necessarily those of Christie.

Psychoanalytic Therapy
Adlerian Therapy
Existential Therapy
Person-Centered Therapy
Gestalt Therapy
Reality Therapy
Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Feminist Therapy
Family Systems Therapy

Reality Therapy

            William Glasser developed a theory of counseling that focuses on individualís taking responsibility for their choices in life.  Reality therapy relies on the basic assumption that that the only thing an individual can control is the present life.  When identifying problems with an individual, Glasser often found that the issue stemmed from a current unsatisfying relationship or the lack of any sustaining relationship.  These problems develop from the clientís inability to connect, to develop intimacy, or to develop depth with at least one significant person in their life.             The Reality therapist has the goal to help the client develop better ways of relating to others in order to experience happiness and greater fulfillment in life.  This is one of the challenges of Reality therapy: helping clients to identify that their behavior is limiting them.  Unfortunately, this limiting behavior is often in response to the frustration and hurt of unsatisfying relationships, which further compounds the problem.

            Glasser identified five needs that guide individuals through life and motivate people to seek deep and lasting relationships.  These genetically coded needs are survival, love and belonging, power or achievement, freedom or independence, and fun.  While each individual has varying degrees of each need, they are present and need an opportunity to be experienced and lived in life.  Reality therapy sees individuals as being social creatures both needing to receive and provide love.  

            The therapistís responsibility is to help the individual prioritize needs, deciding what is most important and how to make the required changes necessary to enable greater happiness and responsibility for choices and outcomes.  This is considered Choice theory, which Glasser integrated into Reality therapy in recent years.  Individuals develop a concept of what they want for their life and store this information in a scheme he termed their quality world.  It is this concept that counselors must tap into using both the sense of ownership and responsibility for themselves as well as incorporating choice therapy to make decisions and follow through to experience happiness.

            When understanding behavior in the perspective of reality theory, four identifiable components work together towards understanding oneís experience of happiness, acting, thinking, feeling, and physiology.  Glasser looks at how an individual feels or behaves as being active rather than simply constant states of being.  Rather than saying an individual is depressed, Glasser would identify the individual as depressing, or rather than being angry, the individual would be seen as angering.  These active verb forms place the individual in a position to change.  Rather than something that is happening to them, they are instead experiencing a state of being that they have the control and responsibility to change.

            During therapy, the counselor works with the client to determine the relationships that the client wants to become more connected with or to reconnect.  This happens with the understanding that the only person the client can change is himself or herself.  The focus remains on the present with an understanding that while individuals are products of their past, they are not victims unless by choice.     The therapist functions in the role of establishing a good relationship between himself and the client.  This provides a foundation where the client is safe and able to move towards people and activities that are satisfying and bring happiness.  An essential component of reality therapy is for the counselor to convey to the client that no matter how bad things are with the circumstances, there is always hope.  Once this foundation is set, implementing specific procedures to establish change in behavior begins.

            A system in this theory provides the guideline to implementing change.   WDEP is an acronym used to define the process of technique:  wants, direction, evaluation, and plan.  The first component explores wants and needs, encouraging clients to recognize and refine how they wish to have their needs met.  The second component is determining direction and how the client is moving towards their goals or what they are doing that impedes their own happiness.  This involves gaining awareness of their choices and the results of these actions.  Third is an evaluation of whether oneís present behavior has a reasonable chance of obtaining what the client wants.  During this evaluation, clients are required to look at the choices they have made and analyze this in regards to their total behavior.  This is one aspect of Reality therapy where the counselor is directive, helping the client to see how some of their behavior is not effective.

            The final component of treatment is developing a plan and setting it into action.  This involves identifying specific ways in which the client can fulfill their needs taking into account the priority they identified.  Obtaining client commitment to this plan is imperative to ensure that once counseling is complete the client is will be able to continue to pursue happiness and take responsibility for their choices. 

            Criticism of Reality therapy includes the lack of emphasis and consideration to the unconscious and the power of the past.  While the past is considered it is limited to individuals accepting their experiences and choosing to feel and act against the trauma they may continue to carry and protect themselves from.  Consideration is not provided to such aspects as repressed conflicts and the power of how the unconscious affects aspects of thought, emotions, behavior and choice.  Further, individuals who are suffering with real illness such as depression or schizophrenia are left feeling that they are choosing their conditions. 

Personal Evaluation

            Reality therapy places a great deal of emphasis on personal responsibility.  Unlike person-centered theory where individuals and all of their habits, thoughts, and behaviors are unconditionally accepted, reality therapy focuses on accountability and challenges clients towards greater personal responsibility.  I believe that in our current society where blame and responsibility are so frequently deflected onto everything except the individual, the principles in this theory should be more widely incorporated into counseling practice.

            This form of therapy would be especially useful for young people who are so easily drawn into peer pressure, that they do not see the effects of their choices, but simply behave according to the group.  By bringing to bear the causual chain of events that result from individual choices, people are better able to make the necessary changes in their lives in order to affect positive growth.  Simply providing safety to the client is not enough for the reality therapist, but challenges towards personal responsibility comprise a much higher purpose.

Being a Christian who believes in freewill, I appreciate this theory more than several others I have learned about strictly because of its emphasis on responsibility.  In addition, its proposal that humans have root needs is also agreeable to me as I too hold that primary needs drive human behavior.  I also favor its cognitive approach in analyzing behavior and its effects on the individual and the environment.  Only through this deconstructing does true understanding come about, which is a form of cognition.  So, this form of therapy has many components that are favorable to my personal worldview.   In my own personal theory of counseling, I have drawn several concepts that are similar in scope to reality therapy.  I believe that with only minimal modifications, a Christian counselor would do well with this form of therapy and maintain spiritual integrity.