Reality Therapy

by | Therapy type

Reality Therapy was developed under the theoretical basis of choice theory. Choice Theory suggests that we are responsible for our choices, as we have control over our behaviours. Reality therapy is solution oriented as it encourages changing one’s own behaviour to achieve desired goals.

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This therapy suggests that people experience distress when their basic psychological needs are not met. These needs are:

  • Power: Sense of achievement, recognition
  • Freedom: Independence, personal space
  • Fun: Achieve laughter and enjoyment
  • Survival: Food, warmth, shelter, sexual activity
  • Love and belonging: To belong to a family, or community

According to Reality Therapy, the most important need not met by most clients is the need for love, a sense of belonging.  This need can be met by forming meaningful relationships with others. 

Reality therapy focuses on clients’ current challenges. An adage of reality therapy is that the past may contribute to present challenges, but the past is never the problem. To fulfill the five basic needs, reality therapy suggests that living and planning in the present is needed. This approach is applicable to counselling, social work, crisis intervention, corrections and rehabilitation. Reality Therapy is popular in alcohol and drug abuse centres.


Reality Therapy was founded by William Glasser, based on his belief that problems are created because of the way we behave. Holding people responsible enables them to change their maladaptive patterns. Furthermore Glasser rejected the notion of formal diagnosis, as he claims that the diagnosis absolves people from responsibility for their actions. Glasser contributed to this therapy, by identifying the five basic needs of human. He theorised that the need for love was the most important.

Wubbolding is another main figure in reality therapy, because of his conceptualisations of the WDEP system (explained below).


The goal of reality therapy is to assist clients to find ways to fulfill their needs, especially to aid them to connect people they value. Reality therapists also help clients make more responsible choices.


WDEP System

The WDEP system is used to explore clients’ wants, choices to do something, enabling them to self evaluate choices, and design plans for improvements. This assists them to explore their basic needs. This worksheet is designed based on the four components: Wants, Direction and Doing, Self Evaluation, Planning and Action.


Reality therapists help clients explore their wants from the counselling process. This could be wanting something from herself, family, friends or work. This exploration of wants continues throughout the counselling sessions. Examples of questions the therapist asks clients are:

  • If you were the person that you wish you were, what kind of person would you be?
  • What stops you from making the choices you make?
  • What is it you want that you don’t seem to be getting from life?
  • What do you want from counselling?

Direction and Doing

The therapist and client discuss the client’s current behaviours and direction in life. Examples of questions the therapist asks clients are:

  • When you act this way, what are you thinking/feeling?
  • How do your actions affect you?

Self Evaluation

Clients evaluate their wants, actions and perceptions. Therapists are tasked to assist clients to conduct explicit self evaluations. Through this, clients gain awareness about their choices and develop effective plans. Examples of questions the therapist asks clients are:

  • Is your behaviour helping or hurting you?
  • Is what you are doing now what you want to be doing?
  • Is what you want attainable?

Planning and Action

Once clients determine what they want to change, they are ready to explore more helpful behaviours and formulate an action plan. The plan enables clients to gain more control over their lives, and increases responsibility for their actions. To devise a good action plan, Wubbolding suggests the acronym SAMIC3: simple, attainable, measurable, immediate, involved, controlled by the planner, committed to, and consistently done. Examples of questions the therapist asks clients are:

  • What are you prepared to do that will take you in the direction you want to go?
  • Are you committed to this plan?
  • Is it in your control?

What to Expect

Clients of reality therapists can expect to be challenged by their therapists about their wants, and current behaviours. Clients are also likely to talk about present issues and current behaviour, spending little time talking about the past. There is also an emphasis on actions, rather than feelings and thoughts. 

Critiques on Reality Therapy

Reality therapy does not explore underlying causes and reasons for behaviour. Insight is not gained into these repressed conflicts. This is crucial because previous traumatic experiences are not addressed and could be the basis for unmet needs. It also might not be suitable for clients wanting to improve their self esteem, or explore their self concept.
To see therapists specialised in this field, visit

Janna was our in-house blog writer and therapy specialist. She has supported The Therapy Platform users towards successful therapy experience. She is about to complete Master of Counselling. 

Janna Lim

Therapy Specialist


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