Michelle Malters, M.A.
For some Reality Therapy may be viewed as a Neo-Adlerian approach. This entry describes the history of Reality Therapy and the overlap of tenants within Reality Therapy and Individual Psychology. There will also be a discussion of the unique aspects of Reality Therapy not mentioned in the Individual Psychology approach.
In 1965 William Glasser, a psychiatrist, developed and published writings about Choice Theory. During his time in working in inpatient hospitals and correctional settings William Glasser came to notice that people appeared to be stuck in their ineffective behaviors even after extensive psychoanalytic therapy. This was puzzling considering these clients were able to gain insight and meet psychoanalytic goals. Glasser felt that there needed to a shift in the field of psychology from the unconscious to the conscious and a focus from an external to an internal locus of control. Choice Theory proposed a new understanding of behaviors and motivation. Glasser believed that clinical progress could be found in behavioral changes and clients taking responsibility for their behavioral choices. The principles of choice theory outlined the concepts as followed: that all humans have wants based on their basic needs and their quality world, all behavior is purposeful, behavior is generated when there is an imbalance in one’s quality world, and all behaviors are attempts to impact and communicate with the external world. Reality Therapy is the modality in which choice theory is practiced.
One of the greatest commonalities between Reality Therapy and Individual Psychology is the belief in an internal locus of control and the human capacity to make choices. The Reality Therapy approach emphasizes experiences and behaviors in the present and future, the past is not explored. Even with exploration of the past in Individual Psychology practice, there is still an emphasis on the present and future. What is viewed as more important is how the client perceives their past experiences. An egalitarian relationship is greatly highlighted in both approaches. Without a strongly developed relationship and maintenance of the therapeutic relationship these therapeutic approaches would likely feel less effective for the clients.
A review of the core assumptions of Reality Therapy and Individual Psychology reveals similarities and differences between approaches. Both Glasser and Adler believed that people desire a sense of belonging and need to have relationships with others to have satisfaction in life. The Adlerian assumption of holism can be seen in Glasser’s total behavior. From both theoretical approaches people viewed from an indivisible lens. Adler’s positive psychology resonates well within Reality Therapy. Both Adler and Glasser believed in a focus on client strengths and resources rather than a focus on weakness or psychopathology. Adler and Glasser both discussed the importance of not labeling clients, the explanation of avoiding labels somewhat differs between theorists. From a Reality Therapy perspective, the labeling of clients provides an excuse for clients to maintain ineffective behaviors and abandon personal responsibility. Adler’s teleology suggests that people are striving to meet their goals. Glasser’s writings held that individuals are consistently working to meet their goals through their behaviors. A similarity with Adler’s concept of creativity, Glasser explained that people can only control their own behaviors but frequently attempt to control the environment around them. An individual not only perceives information from the outside world but also attempts to impact the outside world by their behavioral choices. Adler’s subjective perception of phenomenology fits well with Glasser’s quality world. One’s quality world is influenced by experiences and culture. The quality world is made up of the aspects of life that is most important to the individual and is unique to the person. The quality world assigns standards and expectations. Adler believed that individuals are not bound by their genetics and environments, this assumption is known as soft determinism. Glasser agreed with this assumption. He believed that humans are always capable of making choices even if they have been influenced by experiences. Individuals will attempt to make the best choices based on their needs. Just as Adler explained in his social field theory, Glasser agreed that individuals are influenced by their social context. However, Glasser spoke sparingly about this concept. The individual Psychology concept of motivation as striving is seen when individuals are attempting to move from a perceived minus to a perceived plus. From the Reality Therapy approach individuals are always attempting to make choices that lead to fulfillment of needs. Adler accounted for the unique facets that every individual presents with through idiographic orientation. Glasser’s take on this concept can be viewed through the unique lens of every individual’s quality world. These concepts may not align perfectly; this may be considered a grey area. Both Adler and Glasser would have greatly agreed with the assumption of psychology of use. Both theorist held that the symptoms that clients present with are purposeful. Individuals are likely receive some type of benefit or at the very least attempt to get some type of benefit through their behaviors. Similarities exists between Adler’s acting ‘as if’ and Glasser’s quality world. Both acting ‘as if’ and quality world address how individuals navigate their world. Adler’s self-fulfilling prophecy may be linked to the quality world and the different levels of perception. Adler and Glasser both had an optimistic view. Both theorist believed that all people are capable of change.
The therapeutic interventions utilized in both approaches are quite similar. These common interventions include use of humor, skillful questions used to gain understanding of client, confrontation, bibliotherapy, use of metaphor, and encouragement. Within the Reality Therapy approach there are less interventions utilized as compared to what is seen in Individual Psychology practice.
If Alfred Adler and William Glasser were to sit down and converse about their theoretical approaches they may come to a fond sense of agreement about their inspirations, views of humanity, and how people come to have difficulty in their lives, as well as how people may feel more effective through their behaviors.
For further exploration of the unique facets and similarities of Reality Therapy and Individual Psychology, please refer to “Reality Therapy a Neo-Adlerian Approach” which can be found in the resource section on this AdlerPedia page.
Glasser, W. (1965). Reality Therapy: A New Approach to Psychiatry. New York. Harper and Row.
Glasser, W. (1984). Control Theory. New York: Harper and Row.
Glasser, W. (2000). Reality therapy in action. NY: Harper Collins.
Glasser, W. (2011). Take charge of your life. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.
Manaster, G. J., Corsini, R. J. (1982). Individual psychology: Theory and practice. Chicago: Adler School of Professional Psychology
Maniacci, M., Carlson, J., & Sackett-Maniacci, L. (in press). Neo-Adlerian approaches to psychotherapy, Journal of Individual Psychology, In Press.
Mosak, H. H., Maniacci, M. P. (1999). A primer of Adlerian psychology. New York: Routledge.
Wubbolding, R. E. (2011) Reality Therapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.