Reality therapy is a practical method based on theory and research. It aims at helping people take better charge of their lives. To help clients make such changes, the counselor focuses on realistic choices, especially those touching on human relationships. It is first necessary to establish a safe therapeutic environment similar to that espoused in most theories, although choice theory offers some unique ways to accomplish this. The WDEP system details the specific reality therapy procedures used to help accomplish these goals.
Goals of Counseling and Psychotherapy
The goal of reality therapy is to help clients fulfill their needs. Consequently, the counselor or therapist helps clients explore current behaviors and choices related to belonging, power, fun, and freedom. More specifically, the precise wants related to each need are examined so as to help clients fulfill their specific objectives or their wants. Therefore, assisting clients to make more effective and responsible choices related to their wants and needs is the aim of the counselor. These choices are seen as motivated by current needs and wants, not by past traumas, unresolved conflicts, peer pressure, or previous training.
The Process of Change
To understand how change can occur in a client's life, one needs to understand the following principles in the theory and practice of reality therapy.
Choice theory, the theoretical basis for reality therapy, rests on the principle that the human brain functions like a control system – for example, like a thermostat – seeking to regulate its own behavior to shape its environment so that the environment matches what it wants. Therefore, human behavior springs from current inner motivation and is neither an attempt to resolve past conflicts nor a mere response to an external stimulus.
Emphasis on Choice
One of the goals of counseling and psychotherapy for the practitioner of reality therapy is to help clients make positive choices. Therefore, it is useful to see behavior as a result of one's choices, to treat it as such, and to talk to clients as if they have choices. Although no human being has total freedom to make better choices easily, it can still be helpful to see even severe emotional disturbance as a person's best choice for a given period of time. The work of the counselor is to reveal more choices to clients and to help clients see that better choices are possible.
Control of Action
To bring about change, one needs to recognize the component of one's total behavior over which a person has the most control. Therefore, choice is the action element. Although some people have an amazing amount of direct control over their physiology (some can choose to stop bleeding when they are cut), people seen in counseling and psychotherapy can rarely change their blood pressure, their ulcer condition, or their headaches by an act of will. People can rarely change their feelings of depression, guilt, anxiety, or worry merely by choosing to do so. And although they have some control over their thoughts, it is still not easy for them just to begin thinking differently from the way they have in the past.
Because people have the most control over the action element, helping them change their actions is more efficacious than helping them think differently or helping them feel better. It is more productive to help spouses choose to talk politely to each other than to help them feel better about each other. Increasing self-esteem is possible if a client chooses to act in ways that are different from ways in which he or she has acted previously.
Importance of Relationship
The specific procedures of the WDEP system are based on the establishment of an empathic relationship. As is abundantly clear from research, the relationship between the client and the counselor is critical in effecting change. Reality therapy offers specific interventions aimed at helping clients make more effective choices, and these are most effective when a genuine relationship has been established. Counselors who use reality therapy effectively use many of the same skills and possess the same qualities as other counselors: empathy, congruence, and positive regard. Reality therapy offers specific ways, some unique to reality therapy and some incorporated from general practice, for establishing and maintaining a therapeutic relationship (Richardson & Wubbolding, 2001). Britzman (2009) stated, "Lifelong relationships based on mutual respect, integrity and love are one of the strongest predictors of happiness" (p. 20).
Reality therapy developed out of a desire to see change happen in clients rather than have clients merely gain insight and awareness. Contributing to the efficacy of reality therapy is its emphasis on present orientation, choice, action, and the counseling relationship.