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Feb 2014 by PCI College

The Journey of Dr. William Glasser, author of Choice Theory

DR. William Glasser challenged traditional psychiatry in 1965 with his ground-breaking book 'Reality Therapy'. Later renamed 'Choice Theory', his work is world-renowned and covered in several PCI College programmes. He had a long association with Ireland and credits Irish colleagues with the inspiration for renaming his approach as 'choice theory'.

Dr. William Glasser was born in Cleveland Ohio, USA, on 11th May 1925.  Dr. Glasser reached international fame in 1965 when his ground-breaking book, “Reality Therapy”, challenged the traditional beliefs of psychiatry at the time.  As an increasing number of people wished to learn his methods and to help train people in his approach he founded the “Institute for Reality Therapy” now called “William Glasser International” which was at one time chaired by Irish Guidance Counsellor, Brian Lennon.

Reality Therapy is a method of counselling which teaches people how to direct their own lives, make more effective choices, and how to develop the strength to handle the stresses and problems of life. The core of Reality Therapy is the idea that regardless of what has "happened" in our lives, or what we have done in the past, we can choose behaviours that will help us meet our needs more effectively in the future.

Dr. Glasser first came to Ireland in 1985 invited by the then President of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, Arthur Dunne, and the interest in his work has flourished since then. Dr. Glasser’s practical, common sense approach in Reality Therapy had an instant appeal for guidance counsellors keen to improve their professional skills, and he attributes his Irish colleagues with the inspiration for renaming his psychological approach, as “Choice Theory”.    

Dr. Glasser has always been very aware of the key role played by a guidance counsellor not only in counselling but in co-ordinating a school-wide approach to counselling. The Institute of Guidance Counsellors conscious of his great contribution to their work conferred an honorary fellowship on Dr. Glasser, something he treasured very much.  Bill Glasser, the man, also appealed to us with his relaxed personal style and had a generous appreciation for an Irish joke.  He enjoyed the Irish and we enjoyed him. 
Dr. Terry Lynch’s publication “Beyond Prozac” {2001} inspired Dr. Glasser to write a book about the dangers of the biochemical analysis of human distress. Later Dr. Lynch was invited to write the foreword to Dr. Glasser’s own book; Warning: Psychiatry can be Hazardous to your Mental Health {2003}.  Dr. Glasser wrote a total of 27 books as well as publishing many articles. A biography of Dr. Glasser by Jim Roy, “Champion of Choice” is due to be published in the autumn.

Dr. Glasser believed that “everyone who needs psychiatric treatment suffers from one basic inadequacy:  he is unable to fulfil his essential needs”.  He believed that whether a person in mental distress exhibited psychotic behaviours, anxiety or depression, that person was in fact opting for the best possible solution available to him or her.  He believed that, in general, these people do not have anything wrong with their brains or brain chemistry but do need to learn new ways of coping with their situations.  According to Dr. Glasser {2003} “these people may be a product of the past, but not victims of it because they have control of their present and future”.

The Reality Therapy he developed enabled people with personal distress to operate in the present in a caring relationship offered by the therapist and the main aim is to help the person find and learn new ways of dealing with life.  Thanks to the influence of others such as William Powers and W. Edwards Deming, Dr. William Glasser developed a new psychological theory he was to call “Choice Theory” and published this in 1998.  A core tenet of Choice Theory Psychology is that we cannot control others, only ourselves and most of our behaviours are chosen (though not necessarily consciously).  Dr. Glasser believed that many of the world’s problems at personal, social and even political levels derive from an often unwitting reliance on what he called “external control psychology”, the belief that we can control other people or that they can control us.

Such beliefs lead to a lot of human misery. Choice Theory Psychology provides a very good structure for helping people learn about personal wellbeing and in the last decades of his life it was this positive approach to mental health that dominated Dr. Glasser’s talks and writing.  

Having started his professional life working with delinquent girls, Dr. Glasser always kept a strong interest in both therapy and education.  In 1969 he published “Schools Without Failure” and went on to develop an approach, the Glasser Quality School model, based on Choice Theory, where the emphasis is on meeting students’ needs in a non-controlling way.  

Dr. Glasser claimed that poor relationships with students and a tolerance of inferior work made many schools unhappy and unsuccessful places. Schools that adopt the Choice Theory approach experience changes towards a very high level of academic achievement and a very low incidence of discipline problems. An Irish authored book, “In The Driving Seat” Responsible Behaviour – The Key to Happy Relationships Sr. B Gaffney, A. Martin, Sr. C Sweeney M. Taaffe {2006} has provided a useful tool for schools interested in positive mental health education. In Ireland Trim Youthreach in Co. Meath became a Glasser Quality School in 2009.

Today Dr. Glasser’s ideas on therapy, education, management and personal wellbeing are taught throughout the world with international conferences held every two years.

Around the world over 84,000 people in at least sixty countries have done basic training in Glasser’s ideas and 12,000 have completed full training.  In Ireland over four and a half thousand people have completed the basic training course.  Over a thousand students have completed training in Reality Therapy / Choice Theory, and they include guidance counsellors, teachers and psychotherapists. Dr. Glasser sees the counsellor's role as one of helping the client learn the principles of Choice Theory in his or her own life and to focus on their “internal control rather than external control psychology”.

On the 23rd of August 2013 Dr. William Glasser, passed away peacefully at the age of 88.   He had been in poor health for some time and died surrounded by his wife Carleen and family members in his Los Angeles home.  He lived all of his professional life in the Los Angeles area of California. His emphasis on personal responsibility for mental health problems helped sell millions of his books. He also advocated education reform. The Irish Guidance Counsellors have lost a great friend and mentor.

William Glasser International can be contacted through the Irish branch and for further information about The WGII Convention, Reality Therapy, Choice Theory and the Glasser Quality School see  A special tribute page for Dr. Glasser has been opened at

Gisela Oates
PCI College Lecturer & Executive Committee Member of the William Glasser Institute Ireland 

Click here to view Gisela's full profile

My own journey with Dr. Glasser

Dr. Glasser came to Ireland in July of 2005 for the annual Convention which also coincided with my Certification Week in UCD.  Dr. Glasser was celebrating three extraordinary milestones both in his personal and professional life. He was celebrating his 80th Birthday, he was celebrating 20 years of Reality Therapy / Choice Theory being in Ireland and Carleen and Dr. Glasser were also celebrating their 10th Wedding Anniversary.

I had the opportunity to partake in a role play with Dr. Glasser during that special week in UCD, which were both an honour and a privilege to be a part of.  Dr. Glasser was gracious enough to sign several of his books for the participants while they were completing their certification week. He patiently posed for the many photographs that followed this auspicious occasion, which are now treasured possessions.  I have only met Dr. Glasser once but he will always remain in my Quality World.

Gisela Oates

(the above article was adapted from the Winter 2013 edition of 'Reflections', the PCI College alumni magazine)

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