Research Paper By Lizette Dubay
(Health, Wellness and Fitness Coach, UNITED STATES)
Introduction: The Power to Choose
…choose life so that you and your children may live… Deuteronomy 30:19 (NIV 2011)
Regardless of worldview, the pursuit of wisdom drives humans to find peace of mind and become more powerful in creating their own life or quality of existence. From ancient books like The Bible, there is suggestion of the power of an individual to choose his own life. How often does one feels powerless in a given environment or circumstance to do just that?
Choice Theory, developed by William Glasser, PhD, describes his method for a client to become empowered to choose his or her own life. In essence, Choice Theory teaches the client to recognize a condition of powerlessness as the result of a choice. This raises awareness of what could be changed, and invites creativity to make these changes. Much of this empowerment results as the client understands his responsibility in creating the condition in which he finds himself. He can clearly see the choices he has made that created the current outcome and can then choose different actions to create a different, and hopefully more satisfying, outcome. With continued choices, the client learns to what extent a different life can be created.
What is Choice Theory?
In the 1960s, Dr. Glasser began using a therapy in his practice called Reality Therapy in contrast to the conventional methods. According to Dr. Glasser the methods of conventional psychology addressed what he termed as external control psychology. External control psychology refers to controlling one’s external environment. He recognized the traditional methods failed to bring about real solutions and positive change for clients despite months or years of weekly therapy sessions. He observed the conventions of psychotherapy demanded patients or clients dwell on past experiences with the theory these deep past wounds must be healed prior to progressing. It seemed to Dr. Glasser the more time one spent dealing with these past hurts, the more deeply rooted one became in the past, making it almost impossible to progress or move forward.
The problem, Dr. Glasser noticed, is the past cannot be changed. He recognized there is no power in spending time in a place or time you cannot affect. He began using what he called reality therapy to take his clients out of past-dwelling and start examining the parts of themselves, their conditions and their environments they had the power to affect and change based on the choices they make. Choice Theory developed out of the practice of Reality Therapy, giving him a method or technique he could teach to others. The following sections describe major aspects of Choice Theory.
Shifting Terms: Nouns to Verbs
Choice Theory defines terms and identifies key components of the goal of Reality Therapy. The basic concept in Reality Therapy is responsibility of the individual. The client must recognize where her responsibility lies in creating her behavior and thus affecting her relationships. Once she recognizes her personal responsibility, she can recognize what she has the power to change, and finally exercise her power of choice. Choice Theory and Reality Therapy differentiate between behavioral conditions resulting from poor choices and lack of responsibility and physiological abnormalities that require psychiatric treatment. Psychiatric or medical treatment is needed for conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as contrasted with disorders appropriate for the application of Reality Therapy and Choice Theory, such as depression, anxiety, anger disorders and obsessive compulsive behavior. In contrast to psychiatric diagnoses, Dr. Glasser viewed these latter behavior disorders as chosen actions rather than conditions. He re-defined these conditions with verbs rather than nouns. For example, depression is depress-ing or choosing to depress; anxiety is anxiet-ing or choosing to “anxiet”; anger disorder is anger-ing or choosing to anger. Once he redefined these disorders as verbs or actions, clients were more clearly able to recognize their personal responsibility for creating them and could then more readily understand they can choose to change this behavior by repeatedly choosing different actions. These new actions affect not only the outward behavior but also the accompanying thoughts, emotions and physiology. Glasser coined the term total behavior to include all four components.
Total Behavior Explained
Dr. Glasser uses the term total behavior to describe the way one behaves to include not only the thoughts that influence the behavior and the actions that characterize the behavior, but also the emotion that surrounds the action (whether as an influence and/or a result) and the physiology that occurs in the body (based on the action, thoughts and emotions or that cause any or all of these). These four components of total behavior can each be a cause and effect of each of the other aspects. One can control his thoughts and his actions and thus affect both emotion and physiology. How often are emotions caused by dwelling on certain thoughts? Change the thought and likely the emotion will change as well and the physiology that accompanies it which will very likely change one’s choice of action.
Quality World Explained
Essential to providing a complete explanation of Choice Theory and Reality Therapy is describing the concept of quality world. Each individual has one. It is the vision of one’s world when one is happy. As long as an element of the quality world is perceived as something necessary for happiness or potential happiness, that element will remain in one’s quality world. An example might be a job that one perceives has a future that will lead to happiness, or it may be a relationship that is perceived as essential for continuing on a path to happiness. The job or the relationship is an element of that individual’s quality world. Once the individual perceives an element no longer serves the vision of happiness, it is danger of being removed from his quality world. For instance, if a man perceives his wife is keeping him from achieving his dream lifestyle of moving to Tahiti, he may remove her from his quality world and jeopardize the marriage. Those who practice Choice Theory recognize the importance of remaining in another’s quality world to continue in a satisfying relationship. An individual with this level of awareness will make choices that influence another to maintain him in the other’s quality world.
The Role of Relationships: Satisfying vs. Unsatisfying
According to Dr. Glasser, all behavior disorders result from reactions or responses to unsatisfying relationships. Behaviors like depress-ing anger-ing, anxiety-ing result from one’s expectations not being met though an unsatisfying relationship or lack of a satisfying relationship. Unsatisfying relationships result when an individual’s greatest need is not met by another despite the expectation of such. Dr. Glasser identifies five basic needs: freedom, control, love and belonging, and fun. While most individuals have a measure of all these needs, usually one or two are dominant and obviously clash directly with one or more of the others. For instance a person with a high need for power will sometimes violently clash with another with a high need for freedom. Relationship compatibility can largely be discerned by knowing each individuals highest need. When the expectation is that the other(s) in a relationship is responsible for meeting one’s greatest need, and it appears to a person this does not happen, resulting actions may include depress-ing, anger-ing, anxiety-ing, obsess-ing, compuls-ing, etc. As long as an individual believes someone else is responsible for this choice of action and cannot recognize his choice in the action, he cannot be empowered to change the situation. Reality Therapy is the technique Dr. Glasser developed and uses to apply Choice Theory.