Office scene, two businesswomen. Informal coaching session on the sofa. Mirroring.

Choice Coaching

Choice Coaching is a method of coaching based on Dr. William Glasser’s Reality Therapy® and Choice Theory® psychology. It is built on the fundamental idea that people are able to accomplish their goals and work through their challenges with the proper mindset, the information they need for success and the relationships they have to support them along the way. Our lives are the total of the series of choices we have made from the mundane to the astronomical and everything in between.


In 2011, this author became aware that the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) had stated that if you were an NCC (Nationally Certified Counselor) and you offered coaching to your clients, then you needed to be a Board Certified Coach (BCC) by going through one of the Center for Credentialing & Education’s Board Certified Coaching programs.

The first thing this author did was run the idea by the board of the William Glasser Institute and William Glasser himself, the creator of Reality Therapy. As someone certified in Choice Theory/Reality Therapy (CT/RT), this author believed that Dr. Glasser’s Reality Therapy process would be perfect for coaching. Dr. Glasser did not want to start a program for coaches that another organization would have control over, so he declined to start a BCC coaching program. He said coaches could become certified in CT/RT but did not want a specific coach-related program under the auspices of the Institute, which paved the way for this author to create one based on Choice Theory psychology and the Reality Therapy process. I knew then that I wanted to create one of those programs and I needed to complete my application and submit it to the BCC program.

Choice Coaching involves helping clients articulate and develop their goals, evaluating how their behavior is working to get them there, expanding the choices they are considering, while guiding them in choosing what they believe will be their best option. The plan is implemented, evaluated and reassessed as many times as needed to be successful.

When Does Choice Coaching Work Best:

Choice Coaching works best when clients are in the preparation or action phase of change, already have an internal locus of control mindset, and have a record of successes in the past. That doesn’t mean that clients can’t change their level of readiness for change, develop an internal locus of control and take smaller steps toward their goals. Of course, they can, but those with the most immediate success come to coaching with those things already in place.

Theoretical Basis and Roots:

William Glasser’s Choice Theory psychology is the theory underlying Choice Coaching. In Choice Theory, it is believed that humans are motivated by the five basic needs that all humans have—Survival, Love & Belonging, Power, Freedom and Fun. In Choice Coaching, there are the same needs, but we call them Safety & Security, Connection, Significance, Freedom and Joy. Dr. Glasser theorized that needs are encoded in our genetic structure, with individuals experiencing different need-strength profiles, meaning different needs are higher for different people. That doesn’t mean we don’t experience contextual pressures that make it difficult to meet some of our needs, which results in the frustration of one or more needs. It doesn’t make them grow in size, but it will cause them to be felt as a deficit and that deficit will motivate one’s behavior toward engaging in things that will satisfy the frustrated need.

Another aspect of Choice Theory psychology that is an important part of Choice Coaching is the idea that most people create their own misery by using external control to force people to conform with the way they want the world to be. This is often done at the expense of relationships, which tends to lead to misery and unhappiness. Much of Choice Coaching is aimed at uncovering those external control beliefs and behaviors while helping people move to an attitude and behaviors of non-judgment, compassion and forgiveness, if needed.

A lot of what Reality Therapy stands for is also true of Choice Coaching:

  1. Both Reality Therapy and Choice Coaching deal with the present and plan for the future. The past holds little interest.
  2. Choice Coaching and Reality Therapy both see the basic human needs as the motivation for behavior.
  3. Reality Therapy and Choice Coaching honor the clients’ wishes, wants, perceptions, as a facilitator helping clients accomplish their goals, rather than as an “expert” in addressing problems and providing insight.
  4. Choice Coaching and Reality Therapy both acknowledge an internal locus of control.
  5. Both Reality Therapy and Choice Coaching stay focused on the things the client can control or change, namely their actions and their thoughts. They do not spend a lot of time talking about feelings.
  6. Choice Coaching and Reality Therapy both work to help clients reduce their attempts to change people into who they want them to be.
  7. Both Choice Coaching and Reality Therapy believe in a client’s innate ability to heal themselves when they have the information they need.

Coach Coaching Framework:

The questioning process of Reality Therapy and Choice Coaching are quite similar. Relationships are the root of all influence so creating a need-satisfying relationship with the client is paramount and is attended to throughout the entire coaching process. This means that the coach works to create a relationship with their client where the client can satisfy their Safety & Security, Connection, Significance, Freedom and Joy needs within the relationship they have with their coach if they choose to. This means the coach works hard not to put impediments in their clients’ way for them to satisfy their needs.

  1. Defining the goals of the client by asking the question, “What do you want?”
  2. The next question is about determining what the client has been doing to get what they want by asking the question, “What are you doing to move in the direction of your goals?”
  3. A follow-up question is: “Is it possible, you might be doing anything that could be getting in the way of getting what you want?” This question helps to uncover what may be slowing or stopping the person from reaching their goals. This is not a question about general obstacles, though. The Choice Coach wants to always keep their clients focused on the things they control, namely their actions and thoughts, rather than things they can’t control, like other people or circumstances beyond their control.
  4. Once the Choice Coach has extracted all the behavior, thinking, and emotions that are moving a client closer or farther from their goals, they ask the question, “Is what you’re doing working? If you keep doing everything the same, will you get to the goals you have set for yourself?”
  5. If the answer is yes, then you can end coaching; they don’t need you anymore. However, if they say, “no,” or if their answer is “I’m not sure” or “not fast enough,” then it’s time to ask the next question.
  6. “Are you willing to try something else?” This is important because a client may not yet be ready for change. They may also be receiving a benefit, conscious or not, to doing things the way they currently are. This needs to be uncovered and getting those needs met in another way must be added to the client’s new plan.
  7. The next step is to look at all the options available. A Choice Coach knows that clients need at least three choices to feel like there is actually a choice. Discuss all the options, while assessing the costs and benefits to each one.
  8. Then the coach gets out of the way, and let’s the client decide what would be their best option. Even if the coach doesn’t agree, they know they should allow the client to try their way first. It might just work! If it doesn’t, they’ll come back to replan.
  9. Follow-up. Plans do not work in a vacuum. When a coach takes time to go through the Choice Coaching process, you helping the client create a plan, it is incumbent upon the coach to check back in to see how the plan is working. If it isn’t, adjustments need to be made; if it is, then plan a celebration.

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