Reality Therapy: Complete Definition, Techniques, Examples

What is reality therapy? Find out more about this practical and empowering approach to counseling, here at HealthyPlace.

Reality therapy is an approach to counseling and psychotherapy that was developed by William Glasser in the 1950s and 60s. It is a choice-focused therapy, meaning it focuses on the way human beings determine their behavior. Reality theory (also known as choice theory) states that these choices can either satisfy or not satisfy basic social goals and drives. Reality therapy helps many people become more aware of their decisions and how these decisions might impact their ability to achieve their goals. It focuses on internal control, leading those in therapy to feel more in command of their own lives and choices.

Reality Therapy: How Is It Defined?

Reality therapy is defined as a counseling approach based on the choice theory. It helps people focus on their existing relationships and behavior instead of the past.

According to William Glasser International:

"Since unsatisfactory or non-existent connections with people we need are the source of almost all human problems, the goal of Reality Therapy is to help people reconnect."

Central to reality therapy is the examination of behavior and how it helps you move closer or farther from your goals. The client-therapist relationship is crucial, as your therapist is responsible for nurturing you and helping you find healthier ways to meet 'basic needs.'

In reality therapy, basic needs might include:

  • Love
  • Survival
  • Belonging
  • Fun and enjoyment
  • Power
  • Freedom

Who Does Reality Therapy Help?

Reality therapy can be effective for a variety of mental health conditions, such as eating disorders, addiction and other emotional or behavioral issues. Because it focuses on problem-solving, it can be applied to almost any situation, especially where the patient is resistant to treatment or considered at risk.

A 2016 study conducted by the Department of Clinical Psychology at Islamic Azad University found that reality therapy was effective at increasing overall emotional, social and educational adjustment in female adolescents with anxiety.

Reality therapy is often used in schools to help students with emotional and behavioral difficulties. In 2009, professors at Western Kentucky University proposed reality therapy techniques be applied to school counseling programs across the board. Their aim was to improve teacher-student relationships and boost self-esteem in children and adolescents.

One of the main reported weaknesses of reality therapy is that it may not be appropriate or helpful for those with more complex problems such as severe mental health conditions or childhood trauma.

Reality Therapy Techniques and the WDEP System

Reality therapy techniques are structured around the WDEP system. This stands for wants, doing evaluation and planning. If you were to attend a session, a reality therapist would work to explore your wants, as well as what you are doing to achieve those specific goals. He or she would also evaluate whether your current behavior was helping you. If not, your therapist would help you plan ways to change your behavior so it was more constructive.

Reality therapy is a highly effective approach that can help you solve problems and achieve your goals. It emphasizes the importance of thoughts and actions and how these might be changed to influence positive behavior.

One of the main benefits of reality therapy is that it empowers the individual to improve their present circumstances and work towards their future. Throughout therapy, as you begin to meet small goals and experience successes, your confidence and ability to problem-solve will grow. This way, you are free to move closer to your goals and look for healthy ways to fulfill your basic needs.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2019, September 26). Reality Therapy: Complete Definition, Techniques, Examples, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 22 from

Last Updated: October 15, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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