Reality therapy: An Accommodative Approach



Reality therapy has been used nearly in every kind of setting, including groups, hospitals, prisons, marriage and family therapy. An increasing amount of research evidence validates the effectiveness of reality therapy. For example, Honeyman (1990) studied the effects of reality therapy group treatment on addicts. He concluded, “A measure of concurrent validity, Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) profiles of the 24 clients revealed a general reduction in symptom behavior indicating that clients are in more control of their lives at the time of discharge” (p. 58). 

One of the reasons I choice reality therapy is the fact that it is based on universal needs, and its multicultural approach that is adjustable. Additional reasons include its emphasis on actions, thoughts, and feelings as within the clients’ control rather than trying to control others; setting attainable plan of action to achieve goals the clients’ want and need; empowering clients to improve their present and future; honest evaluation of clients’ present choices and behaviors that may need change to achieve goals, and helping clients to have their basic intrinsic needs met. Even though reality therapy is more humanistic than theocentric, it does not allow for ethical neutrality-it views certain behaviors as wrong. This element appeals to me. 

The purpose of this paper is to explore the possibility of accommodating reality therapy to Christian values and practice of counseling. To accomplish that purpose, the paper will briefly compare other approaches to therapy that are similar to reality therapy, for the purpose of eclecticism. Additionally, the major players in the development of reality therapy will be briefly looked at. The paper will further delineate the “WDEP” System or key procedures in the practice of reality therapy, and components of reality therapy that are compatible with biblical teaching, which can be accommodated, followed by a conclusion.  

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A Comparison of other Approaches to Therapy Similar to Reality Therapy

Person-centered therapy, developed by Carl Rogers, is designed to facilitate the expression and clarification of feelings and to build self-esteem. One of the tenets of person-centered therapy is that each person has a deep capacity for significant and positive growth when provided with the right environment and relationships. Person-centered therapy is not focused on solving, but on helping clients know who they are authentically and to become fully functioning persons. The three qualities Rogers asserts are essential to the healing relationship are unconditional positive regard for the client, congruence—acting honestly with the client, and empathic understanding—accurately sensing the feeling state of the client. All are similar to the biblical teaching on love.  While reality therapy is therapist led, person-centered therapy is client initiated—the therapy goes wherever the client wants to go, as she/he is trusted to lead in the therapy and is free to discuss whatever subject they want.

Behavior modification therapy, which follows the techniques of B. F. Skinner, avoids exploring the past and focuses on using certain learning principles to teach new behaviors. This approach is also similar to reality therapy, but different in that behavior modification does not address the inner control of the clients as reality therapy does.

Cognitive therapy uses reasoning to modify beliefs and attitudes, and to improve logic. Victor Frankl’s “logotherapy” and Glasser’s “reality therapy” are both forms of cognitive therapy. Both belief thinking and action are important to change. However, in reality therapy, clients restructure their thinking. The new popular form is “rational emotive therapy,” developed by Albert Ellis.  Reality therapy has been compared to rational emotive therapy. Both share the belief that outside forces do not cause stress, depression, anxiety, and other disturbances. The major difference is that reality therapy emphasizes human needs as the sources of human behavior.

Existential therapy, like reality therapy, focus primarily on the client’s perception in the here-and-now; what the person can ultimately become. The present and the future are emphasized.

Even though there are many areas of differences, Adlerian therapy is also similar to reality therapy. In Adlerian therapy, individuals take responsibility in making choices that help them determine their own destiny, and provide meaning and direction for them. While Adlerian asks how a client uses heredity and environment, instead of how heredity and environment shape the client, reality therapy is in agreement with this question. Reality therapy, however, extends the question by asking how an individual makes better choices to fulfill the five basic needs without infringement on the rights of other people who seek to fulfill their wants and needs.

The reason for mentioning other approaches to therapy that may have some similar components to reality therapy is because sometimes a therapist/counselor may have to become eclectic-choosing the best theoretical approach based on a client’s attributes, presenting issues or needs. This is what I hope to be able to do in practice.  However, at this point, reality therapy is the school of therapy that appeals the most to me.

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The Major Players in the Development of Reality Therapy

Reality therapy, first known as control theory and later referred to as choice theory, was developed by William Glasser, also known as the father of reality therapy. Glasser’s theory is that people who are behaving in inappropriate ways do not need protection for their behavior. Rather, what they need is help to admit their inappropriate behavior, and then learn to replace them with appropriate ones and act in a more productive way. Reality therapy focuses on the here-and-now of the client and how to create a better future. The focus is not on the past, but if the client should bring up the past the focus is on successful behaviors of the past, including that of childhood. According to Glasser, the individual controls the environment, not the other way around.  Glasser believes that dwelling on past failures can reinforce a negative self-concept, what is known in reality therapy as “failure identity.” Reality therapy emphasizes choices, and taking action and control of one’s own life—the only thing one can control. 

According to Corey (2013) “The essence of reality therapy, now taught all over the world, is that we are responsible for what we choose to do. We are internally motivated by current needs and wants, and we control our present behavioral choices” (p. 334). Our behavior is our best attempt to control our world to satisfy our wants and needs. Clients seek to discover what they want and need. The question, then, is whether what they are presently doing (their choice of behavior), is bringing them nearer to, or further away from achieving what they want and need.

The eight steps used in reality therapy are designed to establish therapist/client alliance. Building a good relationship, examining current behavior, evaluating behavior whether it is helpful of not, committing to a plan, evaluating results without punishment or excuses, accepting logical and natural consequences, and not getting discouraged, are the bedrocks of reality therapy. Therapy process is sketched out using five questions: (1) what are you doing? (2) Is it what you want? (3) If not; what might be some other things you could try? (4) Which idea would you like to try first? (5) When would you like to start?

Reality therapy exhibits constructive supportive behaviors—help clients feel comfortable about who they are as they seek to accomplish planned goals, by encouraging them to choose behaviors that supplement or replace what is missing in their lives. These types of therapist behaviors best fit the needs of clients seeking affiliation, preference for structure, and desire for control.

Robert Wubbolding, a teacher and practitioner of realty therapy and choice theory, explains various concepts of this theory that are captivating and interesting to comprehend. Wubbolding (2011) presents several principles of the reality therapy that can guide patients and therapists in understanding the human behavior as aligns to the choice theory.

One such principle is the fact that human beings have the sole responsibility for the behavior that they possess or exhibit (Nelson-Jones, 2010). As such, neither the society nor history decides the kind of behavior that a human being should have. Human beings are rational, and they can decide for themselves, as long as they are sane, as to what kind of behavior is logical or illogical. In so doing, they should not rely on external factors to guide their behavior.

Similar to this first principle, a second one comes up that, according to Wubbolding (2011), people are in a position to change and live lives that are more effective than the ones they previously lived. Glasser (1990) supports this principle by indicating that the behavior of human beings is not static. Through reality therapy, an individual can be made to see the kind of behavior that they have. The behavior may be inappropriate. If the individual can be made to see and agree to the fact that their behavior is inappropriate, then they can take the required steps towards changing for the better.

There is a tendency of human beings to blame the world and its state for their lack of change (Glasser, 1999). For example, a corrupt police officer may say that they will continue to collect bribes as long as the police system is corrupt, and will only change to a good police officer when corruption is rooted out of the police force. This kind of perception is negated by the reality therapy when Wubbolding (2011) insists that people should not stay in the state that they are in while waiting for the rest of the world to undergo a preferable change. Instead, they should change as soon as they realize the need to, and what they want to become, without being influenced by external forces.

Robert Wubbolding’s contribution to the reality therapy also includes the creation of an understanding as to why people choose certain behavior or make some of the choices they make. He argues that what an individual wants is the highest contributor to their choices. As such, they try to mold their environment to fit their needs and satisfy their desires. Wubbolding (2011) identifies these needs as pertains human beings. He states them as a need for survival, love or belonging, achievement, independence and enjoyment. When such needs are in play, an individual’s mind will get into action by trying to drive a person’s behavior in a manner suggesting that they intend to fulfil this need. 

Wibbolding’s contribution to the reality therapy interests me in that it guides an individual to an adequate planning for a life that is effective and possibly fulfilling. By understanding one’s needs and behavior, an individual can take control of their future and life as a whole, putting in place measures that will enable them achieve whatever goals they have in mind as they seek to meet one of the needs mentioned above (Sharf, 2015).

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“WDEP” System: Procedures in the Practice of Reality Therapy

As previously stated concerning the process of therapy, WDEP System is based on establishing a friendly, empathic, and hopeful environment to help clients take control of their life by helping them to identify attainable wants, and satisfaction. What is true of the process is also true of the environment that is created for therapy. 

W= wants, needs and perceptions (are explored)

D=direction and doing (What are you doing, how you see for yourself now and future?)

E=self evaluation (e.g. is what you are doing helping you, etc.?)

P=planning (what is your plan)

How can these be used with a client?

Key procedures in reality therapy practice that assist clients explore their needs include helping them realize that any kind of behavior that they have, regardless of whether it is painful to them or not, is a choice that they made. In so doing, a client can understand that they have the responsibility of making choices, and as long as they realize they realize what they need in their lives, then they can choose appropriate behavior (Nelson-Jones, 2010).

Another procedure is assisting the client clarify the kind of world that they would like to live in (Sharf, 2015). In so doing, the client gets to draw a picture, be it virtual or mental, of the kind of life that they would like to live. This world that they need to achieve is based on the five needs explained in the concepts of reality therapy and can be achieved through the attainment of certain behaviors through the choices made by the clients. As soon as they can figure out what they want, then they can align their needs as those are what they want.

The reality therapy also has a procedure for evaluating one’s actions and behavior with regard to what they would like to achieve, or the needs that they have and look forward to fulfilling. Through this evaluation, the client can actually self-validate their needs and their achievability. In so doing, they can identify how what they are currently doing will contribute to the fulfillment of their needs, or whether they will actually need to change their attitude and behavior to achieve their desires. The achievement of a need does not have to be immediate. All that is required is the identification of the achievability if that goal, even if its fulfillment is long-term.

To further assist a client explore their needs, it is important to guide them through an action plan on changing behavior so that these needs can actually be fulfilled. This action plan should, as per its name, be actioned and not just get written down for the sake of it. In this manner, it is important to obtain a form of commitment from the client to explore their needs and work towards satisfying them. This commitment to an action plan psyches up a client towards choosing behavior that is favorable to them and the achievement of their goals and needs.

The client’s plan, however, should have a guiding perspective in that it should be attainable, simple, measurable, consistent and immediate. In as much as reality therapy involves allowing the client realize the negative or positive aspects of their behavior by themselves, it is important to enable them understand that time is critical in their satisfaction of needs. If they delay in changing their behavior, then their needs will persist until they are ready to, and actually do take action to fulfill their needs (Nelson-Jones, 2010).

To effectively guide a client on the realization, evaluation and satisfaction of their needs, a therapists practicing the reality therapy needs to implement a follow-up strategy as part of the therapy procedure. This follow-up ensures that the client maintains consistency in pursuing their needs and in maintaining the newly acquired appropriate behavior. Through this follow-up, the therapist guides the client into properly exploring their wants and needs.

The basic needs and feelings in reality therapy are similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Survival, Love/Belonging, Power, Freedom, and Fun-Enjoyment), but different in that only Survival and Love/Belonging are in both sets. Reality therapy needs are not in a hierarchy; rather, they are balanced to satisfy all five basic needs. Maslow (2017) presents motivation in human beings as a major driving factor in their lives. In his explanation, human beings are driven by needs, with some taking precedence over others hence forming the famous hierarchy of needs. Through Abraham Maslow’s explanation, human beings seek to attain the most basic needs. Once these are fulfilled, people move to the next important needs and the motivation proceeds step by step through psychological needs and finally to the needs of self-fulfillment (Pichere & Cadiat, 2015).

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs presents needs that create motivation in individuals if not fulfilled, which are the in the first four levels of the hierarchy. The longer these needs are deprived, the more an individual wants to attain them. Once these needs are satisfied, an individual is motivated to attain a higher level of needs (Maslow, 2017).

The reality therapy’s five genetically encoded needs are, (1) Survival-Self preservation– physiological: All humans struggle to stay alive and reproduce, (2) Love/Belonging: Need to give love and receive love, (3) Power-Inner control: The need for accomplishment, success, respect, and control, (4) Freedom-Independence: Ability to make choices, to be constructively creative, and (5) Fun-Enjoyment: The inherent reward for learning, playing, laughing, etc. When we feel dreadful, it means one or more of these five needs are unfulfilled.   

McNamara (1997), as cited by Wubbolding (2013), also added intra-need conflicts, in that “the need for survival can include the motivation to be safe and the urge toward growth” (p. 17).

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Accommodating Reality Therapy to Christian Values and Practice of Counseling

As can be seen from the preceding, there is shared beliefs/values congruence. Using this system helps to identify and challenge clients’ assumptions underlying their beliefs and actions/behaviors, and to actively conceive and explore alternatives to their current ways of thinking, behaving and living.

Reality therapy can be used in conjunction with Scriptures in the following ways. Survival. Genesis 1: “…Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” (English Standard Version).  Unless otherwise noted, the rest of the references are from the same above version of the Bible. Love. With the intrinsic and instrumental view of humanity, loving and needing involvement are scriptural. Genesis 2:18 declares, “…It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fir for him.” 1Corinthians 8:1 says: “…Love builds up.” 1Corithians affirms: “…The greatest of these is love.” God made humans in His image to love and beloved.  

Love is the atmosphere in which all gifts and relationships flourish. Without love everything is an irritating meaningless sound (1Corinthians 13). Love always believes the best about people, hopes in the most hopeless of people, perseveres and never gives up on people, because if it does, it gives up on the power of change. One of the tenets of reality therapy is that counselors/therapist never quits on a client. Love always corrects in a way that is in the best interest of people. Even though confrontational, in reality therapy, therapists bring to the awareness of clients by exploring what they are doing or how they are behaving, that keeps them from achieving what they want and need. The purpose of corrective action is to rid of behaviors that keep clients further away from achieving their goal. 

Love does not keep record of wrongs (does not reach back to the past to bring things up), but it does not justify wrong behavior, because it rejoices in the truth (1Corinthians 13). In reality therapy, the past is not explored; if it is brought up, only successful past is entertained. The apostle Paul, speaking about his life said: “…Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press pm toward the goal…” (Philippians 3:13b & 14a). God, reminding a people who have had a negative past experience, and are resentful said: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). God is a God of plan. Reality therapists engage in didactic pan with clients to bring about their wants and needs. Hence, Proverbs 20:18 says, “Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war.” 

Resentment prevents us from enjoying life, which is one of the intrinsic needs of every person.  Resentment nullifies all the joy and happiness we could otherwise experience in life. When we are resentful, we cannot enjoy our families (significant people in our lives), or jobs, or anything else. Resentment, however, is not caused by the actions of other people; it is caused by our reaction to their actions. It is an inside job that will harm all our relationships. This is an accommodative nuance to reality therapy. 

Love is not rude, but courteous (1Corinthians 13). To improve all relationships, we must treat everyone with courtesy (a behavior that replaces rudeness), which hinders one from the need to belong or connect with meaningful people in our lives. Love is not selfish—does not demand it own way and seek to control others. Love is not easily angered (1Corinthians 13). Anger is a symptom. It is a response to the interpretation of hurt, frustration or fear. According to Corey (2013), it is Glasser’s believe “that to speak of being depressed, having a headache, being angry, or being anxious implies passivity and lack of personal responsibility, and it is inaccurate…It is more accurate to think of people depressing or angering themselves rather than being depressed or being angry” (pp. 337-338). 

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Power.  Again, in Genesis, man (a generic term denoting both male and female) was told to “subdue” the earth, “and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:27-28). This mandate includes exploring, and developing the earth’s resources creatively to benefit everyone. It does not mean to exploit the earth, creatures and people.

Freedom.   God made us with freedom to make choices, but not to use our freedom to infringe on other people’s freedom. Fun. As can be seen in Genesis, God made us to enjoy His creation—to enjoy life. 

We are created social beings. We are created not only for God but also for other people. The responsibility for procreation is further developed in the Genesis story as we see Isaac blessing Jacob and commanding the he (Jacob) “become a company (community) of peoples” (Genesis 28:3). We become humans, not in isolation, but in society. Humans are created in the image of God. Hence, they have inestimable and intrinsic worth/value. Psalm 8:5 concludes humans are “made a little lower than heavenly beings [angels].” 

Some of the components of reality therapy are accommodative and compatible with scriptural principles, and can be used by Christian therapists/counselors with clients who may have similar worldviews or who are open to exploring these accommodative elements in their therapeutic journey. Based on clients’ presenting issues, which reality therapy approach purports to include all of the five basic intrinsic needs of all humans, regardless of their problems, the above is a delineation of how I intend to use reality therapy as in an accommodative process.


This paper has explored the possibility of accommodating the reality therapy to Christian values and the practice of counseling. In so doing, it has compared other approaches to therapy that are similar to reality therapy, for the purpose of eclecticism. These include person-centered, behavior modification, cognitive, existential and

Adlerian therapies, with the identification of their similarities and differences when compared to the reality therapy. Further, the paper has outlined major players in the development of reality therapy, including Wubbolding and Glasser. It has also delineated “WDEP” in the practice of reality therapy, as well as helpful procedures and has identified the components of reality therapy that are compatible with biblical teaching and that can be accommodated, hence bringing forth my interest and intention of using the reality therapy in practice.

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  1. Corey, G. (2013) Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy (9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  2. Glasser, W. (1990). Reality therapy: A new approach to psychiatry. New York: Harper & Row.
  3. Glasser, W. (1999). Choice theory: A new psychology of personal freedom. New York: HarperPerennial.
  4. Honeyman, A. (1990). Perceptual Changes in Addicts as a Consequence of Reality 
  5. Maslow, A. (2017). Theory of Human Motivation. S.l.: www bnpublishing com.
  6. Nelson-Jones, R. (2010). Theory and Practice of Counselling and Therapy. London: Sage Publications.
  7. Pichère, P., & Cadiat, A.-C. (2015). Maslow’s hiararchy of needs. Namur: 50minutes
  8. Sharf, R. S. (2015). Theories of Psychotherapy & Counseling. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
  9. therapy based on group treatment. Journal of Reality Therapy, 9, 53-59.
  10. Wubbolding, R. E. (2013). Reality therapy for the 21st Century. Routledge.
  11. Wubbolding, R. E., & American Psychological Association. (2011). Reality therapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
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