Reality Therapy Techniques: Interested in Making Changes in their Lives

reality therapy techniques

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Reality therapy techniques were originally developed by the founder of reality therapy, Dr. William Glasser, who noticed that many of his clients were not happy even though their basic human needs were met. He developed the theory that maintaining close relationships with others was an important need that had been overlooked in psychology at the time. Glasser developed reality therapy based on choice theory. Glasser’s idea was that behavior and our lives are the result of our individual choices.

According to choice theory, we can only control ourselves and our own choices and changing behavior patterns and choices can bring about desired change and help people fulfill unmet needs and move toward their goals or solve problems in their lives. Although reality therapy is not currently widely used, reality therapy techniques can offer benefits to people interested in making changes in their lives.

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1. What Is Reality Therapy?

Reality therapy is designed to help people set goals, solve problems, and resolve unmet needs. The therapeutic techniques were developed by psychiatrist William Glasser in 1965. Reality therapy recognizes that certain human needs must be met for a person to enjoy life satisfaction and healthy functioning. These include the need for survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun.

The process starts with determining what the individual wants in life and what actions have been taken to move toward that goal. Once this has been established, reality therapy techniques can be used to focus on positive changes in actions and behaviors that can bring you closer to achieving your goal. In reality therapy, the therapist evaluates the person’s current course of action and works with him or her to plan a future course of action to bring them closer to solving a problem or reaching a goal.

Through reality therapy, people learn to set goals and make plans to ensure that their unmet needs are fulfilled. Reality therapy techniques are designed to root people in the reality of their present situations and make responsible choices to help them move closer to their goals.

2. What Are the Benefits of Reality Therapy?

When you enter into reality therapy with a therapist, there is no excuse for failure. If the plan developed in therapy doesn’t produce results, a new plan of action is formulated until positive results are seen. It takes a commitment to assessing your current behaviors and sticking to the new plan. For this reason, therapy may be most beneficial when practiced with a trained therapist.

However, you can derive benefits from reality therapy techniques on your own, as well as with a therapist. The key is to keep trying and not to give up. You must focus entirely on the present without getting stuck in the past and commit to moving on and moving forward.

3. How Does Reality Therapy Work?

There are four core concepts to reality therapy: action, behavior, control, and concentration on the situation. The action is the action undertaken by the individual.

Behavior refers to how people interact with their environment, including thoughts and emotions. Thoughts are what a person thinks about what happens in social and professional surroundings. Emotions describe how you feel about it. The feelings that manifest to other people are behavior. Bringing about a change in thinking can be effective for altering negative and destructive behaviors. In reality therapy, the therapist offers different ways that specific situations may be perceived to help the client bring about this change.

Control is the aspect of nature that causes people to need to exercise control over their environment. This need for control can lead to unhealthy obsessions or turn to self-harming activities. Reality therapy techniques can help you find more constructive ways to take control of your life.

Concentration on the present situation emphasizes the importance of moving on from past mistakes and letting go of any regret or remorse that may be attached to past behavior or actions. Reality therapy techniques help people focus on the present time and taking steps toward positive change in the present to move toward their goals in the future.

It should be noted that there are critics of this type of therapy and the choice theory that it is based on. Critics of choice theory accept the impact that choices play in our lives but disagree with the idea that we are in complete control or that outcome relies entirely on our choices. Current psychological theories note the importance of other factors, such as culture, social environment, biology, and upbringing.

4. Why Should I Use Reality Therapy Techniques?

Are you struggling with a problem or reaching a goal? Do you need help setting goals or resolving a problem? Reality therapy techniques can be helpful in assessing how choices and actions are moving you toward or away from the life you want. These reality therapy techniques can help you decide what you want, evaluate your current situation, consider how you can implement change to produce results, and make a plan to achieve your goal.

How We Reviewed

In recommending reality therapy techniques, we began by researching choice theory and the work of Dr. William Glasser in this area. We assessed the techniques to find those that would be most widely applicable and that people could incorporate into their daily lives to gain the greatest benefit.

What We Reviewed

  • How to Change 101
  • Expectations versus Reality
  • The WDEP System

How to Change 101


How to Change 101 is the most basic of the reality therapy techniques. The process of initiating change is broken down into six steps, each with its own steps. The first step is to acknowledge the points of view of others, your concerns and problems, and what may have worked in the past. Action language is used to avoid overgeneralization.

The next step is to agree on a vision or direction. Using action language, you create a picture of the future and come to a consensus about that future. Possibility talk is used to open the individual up to the idea of change.

Acknowledge the barriers that are present and identify resources that may help you overcome any internal and external barriers that may have stopped you from changing in the past. During this step, you identify patterns of action in the past that have not worked to change your situation.

Based on what you have learned, you will create an action plan. The acronym for setting your goals is SMART, which stands for making goals that are Small and specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time oriented. You will then take action based on these goals and attempt to break thought patterns that are not helpful. You remain persistent until you have achieved your goal.

The final step is to celebrate any success or progress you have made toward achieving your goal. Rituals, celebrations, or awards can be used to celebrate milestones and goals that you have achieved. This technique can be used by anyone interested in making changes in their lives.


  • Changes thinking and behavior
  • Basic intervention with easy to follow steps
  • Taking action to implement change


  • Goals may be too ambitious
  • Requires consistent effort to follow the steps
  • Must commit to an actionable plan

Expectations versus Reality


An essential aspect of reality therapy is learning to manage expectations regarding achieving your goals. When goals are too ambitious, failure becomes more likely. For this reason, it is important to set goals that are realistic and achievable. The Expectations versus Reality technique can be used to identify what you want to change, how you want to change it, and setting realistic goals.

The first step is to define your reality. In this step, you will consider how your actions may have created your present situation, other things that happened that helped to create your reality, and your positive and negative experiences.

Once you have defined your reality, the next step is to change it. Consider what you can change at work, in your relationships, or in your current situation, as well as what you can’t change and your reaction to the aspects of your life that you may be unable to change. In this step, you will also identify the resources that are needed for you to make the desired change.

You will then define your expectations for yourself, your relationships, and the future. You will consider the origins of your expectations and whether they are achievable in your current situation.

The final step is to modify your expectations. It is important to consider how you can bring your expectations into alignment with your current reality without making them too low or unrealistic. You can then redefine your expectations of your work, relationships, and yourself so they are not too high or too low.


  • Provides information to help set actionable goals
  • Find the balance between expectations that are too high or too low
  • Take steps to get closer to the life you want


  • Goals must be realistic
  • May set yourself up for failure
  • Expectations may be set too low or not be achievable
  • May cause a loss of self-confidence

The WDEP System


The WDEP system is among the most fundamental reality therapy techniques. WDEP stands for the four components of this type of therapy: Wants, Doing or Direction, Evaluation, and Plan. This technique offers a method to determine what you want and what you are doing to reach that goal. It can be useful for determining if what you are doing is contributing to your goals and gives you a way to make a plan to achieve your goals.

Wants may include what you want and what you want to replace your current problem or situation. Your wants include the picture you have of a quality life, what you want to get out of counseling, and what the people in your life want for you.

The doing component is what you are currently doing. This may include what you are thinking, feeling, or specific actions that you are taking. You are asked to consider what you are thinking when you act a certain way, how you are feeling, and how your thoughts and actions may be affecting your health.

In the Evaluate step, you will consider if what you have been doing is helping you reach a goal. You will evaluate the direction you want to go, if the goal is achievable, and your own preparedness to put in the work needed, as well as your current commitment level and whether that is working or not.

The previous three steps provide the information you need for the final component: Plan. This requires you to consider what you are prepared to change that will take you in a new direction. You must be clear about what you plan to do and consider if it is achievable. Careful planning includes considering if you can start immediately, if it is something you actually can control, reaffirming your commitment, and considering how you will know when you have accomplished the goal.


  • Identify behaviors that need to change
  • Provides a solid plan for how to bring about change
  • Offers insight about how you can implement changes in your life


  • Won’t help without work and commitment
  • Places all responsibility on the individual
  • Doesn’t provide a clear path for making a plan

The Verdict

The ideas behind reality therapy and the choice theory on which it is based are controversial. Some people swear by reality therapy techniques and credit the methods and exercises with helping them bring about real change in their lives. Critics fault reality therapy for placing responsibility for problems exclusively on the individual and failing to take into account the many other factors that contribute to people’s problems.

The fact remains that too many people are profoundly unhappy despite having their basic needs met and struggling with implementing change in their lives. Reality therapy techniques can be beneficial for helping you set goals, evaluate your current plan to determine if it is moving you in the direction of your goals, and make a plan to implement the necessary changes and take actionable steps to achieve your goals.

These reality therapy techniques offer different specific advantages. Depending on your unique needs, one, two, or all of these methods may be useful in helping you solve problems in your life and achieve your goals.

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