William Glasser was one of the most renowned American psychiatrists who dodged the theory of chemical imbalances to come out with his choice and reality theory that claimed that destructive behaviours displayed by humans were a part of unconscious choices that they eventually choose to. He further added that the choice of an individual is the result of the comparison that he makes from a quality world that he presumes should be and the reality that he faces. Though controversial, his theories have been famous in the world of psychiatry for the personal responsibility and personal transformation that he put in them. What’s more, he did not limit his theories to a single branch and instead applied them to broader social issues such as education, management and marriage. Unlike other conventional psychiatrists, he believed that displaying a certain behaviour may be the result of unhappiness that a man faces and not necessarily the outcome of a mental disorder as claimed by others. His theories though debatable attracted the attention of a large number of teachers, drug counsellors, personal therapists and general public.
Childhood & Early Life
William Glasser was born on May 11, 1925 to Ben and Betty Glasser in Cleveland, Ohio. His father was a watch and clock repair person.
A shy young man, he took it upon himself to seek good education to attain a better job so as to elevate his family from the modest means.
After completing his preliminary education, he attended the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland to attain his BS degree in chemical engineering. Attaining his degree in 1945, he set out to work in the field.
Unhappy with his career, he returned to Case Western University the following year i.e., in 1946 to study psychology. However, he was drafted into the army and had to let go off his studies. He was stationed at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.
Relieved from his duties in 1947, he returned to the university and continued his studies. He earned an MA in clinical psychology in 1949 and MD in psychiatry in 1953.
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He then completed his medical internship at UCLA and psychiatry residencey at the Veterans Administration Hospital, eventually becoming a board certified in 1961.
It was due to his anti-Freudian beliefs that he was rusticated from VA Hospital. He then took up a position at the Ventura School for Delinquent Girls, where he began teaching reality therapy. It was during this time that he met psychiatrist GL Harrington who became his mentor.
Meanwhile in 1956, he set up a private psychotherapy practice in Los Angeles which he maintained until 1986. It was during the 1970s that he was exposed to the control theory system by the works of William T Powers through which he developed a reality therapy and choice theory. The revelations, however, are controversial for their take on choice and behaviour rather than chemical imbalances and mental illness.
During his life, he authored and co-authored various influential books on mental health and counselling. The books even gave details on improvement of schools, teachings and advocated a public health approach to mental health.
In 1995, he came up with his first book, ‘Reality Theory’ in which he asserted that people could find happiness by choosing to behave in a manner that would improve their relationships and enhance their happiness quotient in life. Selling more than 1.5 million copies, the book became a foundation for a series of how-to books about resolving emotional and mental problems by accepting responsibility for them.
He then wrote the book, ‘Choice Theory’ in which he depicted that how humans choose everything they have and feel, including unhappiness. He proposed a strategy that helped patients and students to shift their view of reality fundamentally. He focussed on how there comes a change from controlling behaviour by coercion to controlling behaviour in an atmosphere of love, friendship and trust.
After years of clinical practice, he realized that most people were unhappy in their lives and that with the relationships they shared with people. As such, he began to develop his theories to emphasize that humans have an innate need to control their situations and it is due to this need that results in forceful behaviour.
He did not believe in the fact that forceful behaviour was a result of chemical imbalance. Instead, he claimed it to be the result of unconscious choice. He claimed that the unhappiness resulted from comparison of real-world to quality-world that one dreams of results in stress and failure of relationships.
His teachings and theories were adopted by schools fervently. He advocated teachers to abandon ranking and grading system and instead help children to take in responsibility of their own behaviour and academic record.
In 1967, he founded the Institute for Reality Therapy, which was renamed the Institute for Control Theory, Reality Therapy and Quality Management in 1994 and eventually became the William Glasser Institute in 1996. Located at Tempe, Arizona, the institute aims at teaching people choice theory.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married his first wife Naomi who died in 1992. He later tied the nuptial knot with Carlos.
He breathed his last in his home on August 23, 2013 due to respiratory failure which was caused by pneumonia. He was survived by his wife, two children, nine grandchildren and two great grand-children.
He was an American psychiatrist who developed the reality and choice theory.