Dr. Glasser did not agree nor accept the Freudian approach to psychoanalysis. For Freud, the needs of his clients were unfulfilled in the so-called neurosis of sex and aggression. We note that Dr. Glasser’s Reality Therapy (1965) distanced him from Freud and the book became a best seller, considered as a revolutionary idea of its time. Glasser did pay the price over the years with this publication; however, over time, Glasser was accepted and even presented at the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conferences in his later years.

First R – Therapy toward Reality

The first R is for Reality Therapy to lead patients toward reality, toward grappling successfully with the tangible and intangible aspects of the real world, and might accurately be called a therapy toward reality, or simply Reality Therapy (RT, p. 6). The needs in 1965 were not as we know them today. Glasser explains fulfilling the physiological needs are rarely the concern of psychiatry. He states, “Psychiatry must be concerned with two basic psychology needs: the need to love and be loved and the need to feel that we are worthwhile to ourselves and to others. Helping patients fulfill these two needs is the basis of Reality Therapy (Reality Therapy, p. 9).

Second R – Responsibility

In addition, there was no theory or theoretical base until Control Theory in 1985, which was renamed Choice Theory in May 1996. It is crucial to understand that the system or ‘control’ system, not yet developed, was not stating what is RIGHT or WRONG from Glasser’s view but rather that the individual, through the process of Reality Therapy, would make choices to change behaviors through ‘self-evaluation’ and become Responsible: thus, the second R.

Even in the early stages, Glasser recognized that what a person might want was intertwined with standards, values, morals, and beliefs if an individual wished to live in society. Glasser elaborates further on Responsibility by saying, “Children want to become responsible, but they won’t accept discipline and learn better ways unless they feel the parents care enough to show them actively the responsible way to behave (RT, p. 20).  

Dr. Glasser speaks of ways for the therapist to engage and become involved with the patient by building a relationship with the person. It is through this supportive relationship that the patient trusts the therapist and is willing to examine behaviour to become aware it is not getting the patient what he wants. Self-evaluation is used to describe the way of helping the patient make the changes to get closer to what he wants. This aspect has not changed over the years and forms the first part of the process of Involvement and Process which we still call Reality Therapy to this day.

Dr. Glasser dispensed with the notion of mental illness and calling a patient irresponsible, and provided details of that irresponsibility. Reality Therapy helps the patient function in a different way notwithstanding his misfortunes in the patient’s past. The therapist assists the patient to deal in the present without making excuses or having others make excuses for him because of his mental illness. This may be a painful process depending on the level or awareness the patient brings to each session. Self-evaluation is the realization that present behaviour is not working or helping the patient get what he wants. He may want to change, say he wants to change; however, the patient needs to face the real world with a new behaviour that can move him closer to his goal. Otherwise, the patient simply gets the same results over and over again. As important as confronting reality is, Glasser states on page 74 of Reality Therapy:

. . . The patient must learn to fulfill his needs in the real world he has learned about, and we must teach him how whenever we can. Once involvement is gained and reality is faced, therapy becomes a special kind of education, a learning to live more effectively [better ways to behave], that is better and more quickly achieved if the therapist accepts the role of teacher.

Third R – Right

Dr. Glasser stresses from the outset in Reality Therapy that it is a ‘necessity to have a good relationship with a responsible person in order to fulfill one’s needs . . . “(RT, p. 61 & Chapter 1). My concern is with some of the interpretations of the third R, that of Right and the notion of right versus wrong. I believe the key is what Glasser stated in the above quote, that he was interested in having the therapist help the client ‘self-evaluate’ and do what the person decides to do in view of his beliefs, culture, society, and the values the client holds. Teaching the ideas in Reality Therapy may be helpful but, in my estimation or bias, if you will, the instructor or person explaining the ideas needs to be responsible in describing the evolution of Reality Therapy and the emphasis that Dr. Glasser placed on the theory. It may not be used as an excuse to use Glasser concepts in any belief system that promotes ‘the end justifies the means.’ If we follow the development of the ideas from the early 60’s through to 2013 at the time of his passing and, in the recent six [6] years, we are bound to offer, as instructors, a global view of how choice theory and reality therapy have evolved over time.

Even in this early stage, Dr. Glasser speaks about the patient discovering more effective ways to lead a need-fulfilling life. Glasser is not imposing what is Right or Wrong. Yes, there are universal values; however, the therapist is the teacher who questions and offers examples from his own experience to help his patient make decisions, and the freedom of making choices. Reality Therapy is a profound, dynamic process of therapy/counselling, an intervention that Dr. Glasser indicated could be applied in any setting: prison, schools, and leadership. As a result, we see in Reality Therapy Dr. Glasser planting the seeds of many ideas that he nurtured over the years, revisited, and revised.

Third R Relationship to Religion/Spirituality

This brings me to the question of spirituality and whether this is an extra need. I, as a Christian, can say that Dr. Glasser’s work fits so nicely within the framework of my faith; however, this is a facile way of approaching this topic. I can cite examples of external control practices and violence in examples of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. I accept the words of a friend and colleague, Mona Dunkin, CTRTC, Faculty Member of WGI, Trainer, and Personal Success Coach, from her article THE GREATET OF THESE IS LOVE, from the Spring 2019 Journal on Spirituality:

The concepts of Choice Theory™ and Reality Therapy™ 

belong to all religions, and to none. The teaching is not

for everyone,yet it is not against anyone.

 So, although some instructors may not want to dwell on individual faiths and cultures, it is important that we not use the third R as a reason to embrace the Glasserian ideas because they state we must do what is right. What is right? And from whose point of view or perception? I believe that Dr. Robert E. Wubbolding in his book, Reality Therapy (Page 39), from the Theories of Psychotherapy Series, edited by Jon Carlson and Matt Englar-Carlson, clarifies Glasser’s view:

Choice theory as articulated by William Glasser places faith and spirituality as behaviours chosen to satisfy needs. On the other hand, he allows for faith as a need but not one of his formulations. He emphasized that anyone instructing others about choice theory is free to add needs to the basic five, but it should be emphasized that the additional needs are beyond the original theory (Glasser, 2008).

We must take the third R in the context of the time it was written (1965) and may refer to it but not in isolation. It was Dr. Glasser’s early thinking on helping people self-evaluate; however, choice theory as we know it today, was not thought about until 1996 and Control Theory based on the work of Dr. William Powers was not modified and used by Dr. Glasser until 1985, around the time he was speaking of the Quality School albeit based on earlier works on education, Schools Without Failure (1969) and Every Student Can Succeed (2000). Development of Glasser’s ideas pays tribute to him and also honours the integrity and chronology of his work. To present his ideas in isolation is a disservice to the participants and/or clients in our charge as faculty.


Dr. William Glasser spoke about the 3R’s in his book, REALITY THERAPY: A NEW APPROACH TO PSYCHIATRY. Note to the Paperback Edition, 1975 by William Glasser Inc.  New York: Harper & Row. It is important to realize that the hardcover edition was published in 1965 and the section added ten years later is contained in the Note in which Dr. Glasser speaks to the ideas that had seemed to be so radical in 1965 and his call for training. In the interval, Dr. Glasser had written THE IDENTITY SOCIETY, MENTAL HEALTH OR MENTAL ILLNESS, and SCHOOLS WITHOUT FAILURE. It is imperative in citing the 3R’s, to provide the progress in Dr. Glasser’s thinking as he continued to publish. It is a reminder to remain ‘au courant’ or ‘current’ and updated in the progression of his ideas.

Glasser’s Photo from www.glassercanada,ca

Book image mofified from https://wglasserbooks.com/books/

This post was published in the Journal with some modifications to Journal formatting.


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