It’s a fact that people are healthier when involved in positive relationships. That said, the psychotherapeutic methods of choice theory and reality therapy teach that personal choices and behaviors influence our ability to connect with others and build meaningful relationships. Negative behaviors lead to damaged and even broken relationships. Bad choices include destructive behaviors like physical, mental and substance abuse, controlling others and even criminal activities. Counselors use choice theory and reality therapy to encourage better choices, habits and behaviors that help their clients develop happier, more fulfilling lives.
First conceptualized by the late American psychiatrist Dr. William Glasser, choice theory provides the foundation upon which reality therapy was built. Psychotherapists began seeing promising client results with reality therapy beginning in the mid-1960s. As time passed, an increasing number of counselors began incorporating reality therapy and choice theory into their counseling sessions. But how exactly do they work, and what are the potential benefits for clients? Let’s take a closer look now.
Choice Theory Starts with Our DNA
According to Dr. Glasser, our lives are based upon our behaviors; ones that for the most part we are able to control. Furthermore, every person is genetically-wired to satisfy 5 basic human needs:
- Sense of belonging
- Freedom & Fun
Of those, love and sense of belonging are the most influential. Dr. Glasser postulated that there are seven caring habits that we all share: supporting, trusting, encouraging, listening to, accepting, respecting and being able to negotiate differences with, others. Juxtaposed with those are a like number of negative, or “deadly”, habits. Those include criticizing, blaming, complaining to/about, nagging, threatening, punishing and bribing/rewarding to control, others.
Negative habits damage relationships. Those eventually lead to disconnecting from someone in your life, and possibly from people in general. When an individual feels disconnected, or that they don’t belong in relationships, destructive behaviors can follow, such as crime, violence, mental illness, addictions, spousal and child abuse, poor job and school performance, and more. Helping a client identify bad habits, while equipping them to positively control their behaviors and improve their ability to cultivate relationships, is the key to choice theory. Reality therapy is the clinical method used to get there.
How can Reality Therapy Help Clients?
Reality therapy teaches that most of life’s problems stem from an inability to connect with others and build positive relationships. Counselors that practice reality therapy methods focus on these key points when working with clients:
Human problems come from unfulfilled interpersonal relationships. Clients are urged to forget about their past and instead concentrate on the present.
Avoid using excuses for behaviors and ignore symptoms and complaints as much as possible.
Concentrate on negative behaviors, and how those can be changed. Clients are encouraged to express what they think and believe. Discussing how to change one’s feelings, mental and physical well-being- all by focusing on things within a client’s control- is important.
Clients develop skills to avoid blaming, criticizing or complaining in their relationships.
Clients are encouraged to be non-judgmental and non-coercive while choosing better behaviors to promote healthy relationships. This important concept originates from choice theory.
Clients are taught to avoid excuses that interfere with their ability to enjoy positive relationships.
Specific relationship issues are identified. What people in the client’s life are involved, and how can they reconnect with them using positive behaviors? If a given relationship is damaged permanently, the client is encouraged to cultivate new ones.
Clients learn to formulate a series of doable action plans in the event one falls short. Progress and success are discussed.
During reality therapy sessions, it is of the utmost importance that both counselor and client practice a high level of patience. For most people that are having relationship problems, it took a while to develop their negative habits. As a result, the road to happiness requires time spent and hard work, but the rewards are truly unlimited for both client and counselor.