In 1965, Dr. William Glasser developed a counseling method called Reality Therapy. Beyond being an effective counseling technique, Reality Therapy is a problem-solving method. Not only does it work well with people who want help solving their problems, it also works well with those who are mandated for help and appear to not want any assistance. Reality Therapy also provides an excellent model for helping individuals solve their own problems objectively and serves as the ideal questioning series during coaching sessions.
Establishing a relationship with the person who needs help is the underlying key to how Reality Therapy works. This is most critical when you are attempting to help someone who doesn’t really want your help, such as an involuntary client, a resistant student, or even your own child. Without a positive relationship, you have no influence, and your helpee doesn’t hear you. Relationships are the root of all influence. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but when you fail to convince people that you care and have their best interests at heart, it’s likely they will not be listening to you.
To build a relationship, you must create a need-satisfying environment. The five basic needs of all humans are safety & security (survival), connection (love & belonging) significance (power), freedom, and joy (fun). So, in a helping relationship, the helper must create an environment where it is possible for the person being helped to feel safe; to feel connected to the helper in some way; to feel listened to and respected; to have some choices; and to have some fun while learning with the helper. After creating this need-satisfying environment and working hard to maintain it throughout the relationship, the helper can move on to the actual problem.
After hearing the person’s story, you need to determine what the ideal solution would look like from the other person’s point of view. So, for example, if the person were complaining about a fight he had with his girlfriend, ask the question, “What do you want to happen? How do you want this to work out?” Get a specific picture of what the ideal solution will look like from the perspective of the person experiencing the problem. This is the first step in leading him or her away from the problem and into a problem-solution mode. In this way, the focus is off the past and the problem, which cannot be changed. Instead, the focus is on the behavior the person can create to move himself in the direction of the solution he wants.
The next step is to take an inventory of all the ways the person is trying to get the situation to work out the way he or she wants. Ask the person to list the steps he or she is taking to move closer to the goal. Typically, the person will only list positive things, so urge them to consider everything that could be helping and hindering his or her progress. It is acceptable to add in some observations of your own, as long as you can do it without judgement. You are simply stating observations, not judging the behavior. The point is to get as complete a picture as possible. In addition to considering one’s outward behavior, ask about their thoughts, feelings, and physiology (if appropriate), as well.
The next step is the most crucial in the entire process: ask the person if his or her current behavior is likely to get him what he claims he wants. This is the step where the helper comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. When people are aware that what they’re doing is not working, then they are already in distress and ready to try something different. The helper comforts the afflicted by helping them find a solution. On the other hand, when people are unaware they need help, this will be the step that drives the point home. Answering this question is likely to afflict the comfortable by holding up a mirror to their own behavior and asking if it is the best, most effective method for getting what they want. If the answer is no, then they generally experience enough discomfort to consider some alternatives.
The final step in the Reality Therapy process is to assist the helpee to formulate a plan to do something more effective. This is best accomplished by helping the person focus on those things that are within his or her control: his or her own thoughts and actions. We don’t help a depressed person by saying, “Cheer up!” People cannot directly control their feelings, but they can directly control their actions and thoughts. Similarly, people like to focus their time and attention on what others could and should do to help them get what they want but attempting to control others is generally a fruitless and harmful activity. Helping people to focus on changing their own behavior and thoughts is the main goal of Reality Therapy.
Of course there are many subtle nuances to the process. I have only provided a thumbnail sketch of the process, but you can easily see a variety of applications as mentioned in the introduction to this article. If you are interested in further training in the subject, please go to https://www.realitytherapycentral.com