Reality Therapy: A Comprehensive Guide to Transforming Lives

Written by:

published on:

Updated on:


Note: Your support drives Find-A-Therapist. We earn a commission if you purchase services through our ads.

Looking for a therapist?

Reality therapy is a therapeutic approach based on choice theory, which posits that humans are driven by five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun.

Reality therapy aims to help clients evaluate the choices they make in relation to these needs and work towards more fulfilling lives.

Instead of focusing on a client’s past or unconscious processes, reality therapy emphasizes present behavior and decision-making.

The therapist’s role is to create a supportive and trusting environment where the client can examine their choices, identify more effective ways to meet their needs, and ultimately take control of their destiny.

The Principles of Reality Therapy

Reality theory

Reality therapy is a counseling approach that focuses on helping individuals take responsibility for their actions and make more effective life choices.

The principles of reality therapy are closely tied to choice theory, which emphasizes the importance of personal controlpowerfreedomfun, and belonging.

In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the seven key principles of reality therapy.

Focus on the presentReality therapy encourages individuals to concentrate on their current situations and experiences rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

By addressing present issues, individuals can make meaningful changes in their lives.
Personal responsibilityA fundamental aspect of reality therapy is the belief that individuals are responsible for their own actions.

Counselors using this approach help their clients understand the consequences of their choices and empower them to take control of their lives.
Establishing relationshipsReality therapy emphasizes meaningful and satisfying connections with others.

This often involves examining interpersonal interactions and addressing barriers that might be preventing individuals from experiencing a sense of belonging.
Fulfilling basic needsAccording to choice theory, individuals are driven by five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun.

Reality therapy seeks to help individuals meet these needs in a balanced and healthy way.
Evaluation and planningThroughout the therapy process, individuals are encouraged to assess their current behaviors and choices.

They then work together with their therapists to create plans for positive change.
Commitment to actionReality therapy is a practical, action-oriented approach. Individuals are encouraged to set goals and take concrete steps to achieve them.
Emphasis on controlIt is essential for individuals to recognize that they have control over themselves and their actions.

Reality therapy assists clients in understanding and embracing the natural consequences of their choices.

In summary, reality therapy aims to empower individuals by helping them understand their behaviors, fulfill their basic needs, build meaningful relationships, and take responsibility for their actions.

By focusing on the present and embracing personal control, individuals can make more effective decisions and lead happier, more satisfying lives.

Reality Therapy in Action

Reality-based therapy

Reality therapy is a practical approach to helping individuals take control of their lives by focusing on the present and making choices that lead to more satisfying relationships and personal fulfillment.

This therapeutic method utilizes the WDEP system, which stands for wants, doing, evaluation, and planning.

These elements form the basis of the therapy process and drive individuals toward achieving their goals.

Therapy Process

In the therapy process, the therapist and client work together to establish a trusting relationship.

The therapist helps clients identify their wants and needs and encourages them to take responsibility for their actions.

They collaborate in evaluating the client’s current actions and determining if these actions are bringing the client closer to fulfilling their wants and needs. If not, the therapist assists the client in developing a plan to make necessary changes.


One vital aspect of reality therapy is the evaluation of the client’s current behavior. This is done by focusing on the following questions:

  1. What am I doing?
  2. Is it helping me get what I want?
  3. What can I do differently?

These questions allow the client to take an honest look at their actions, analyze their effectiveness, and decide on potential adjustments.

The evaluation process serves as a foundation for making changes that align with the individual’s desires and objectives.

Taking Action

Central to reality therapy is the idea of taking action. Clients are encouraged to actively engage in behaviors that help them achieve their goals.

By emphasizing action over mere insight, reality therapy fosters tangible progress and enables clients to experience positive outcomes in their lives.

In summary, reality therapy in action involves a collaborative process between therapist and client.

It utilizes the WDEP system to identify wants, assess current actions, evaluate their effectiveness, and develop plans for change.

Through a focus on action and personal responsibility, clients can work toward fulfilling their goals and improving their overall well-being.

Application of Choice Theory in Reality Therapy

Reality therapy

Choice theory is a central component of reality therapy. Developed by psychiatrist William Glasser, the choice theory posits that individuals have control over their behavior and can make better choices to achieve happiness.

In reality therapy, therapists apply choice theory principles to help clients take responsibility for their actions and steer clear of unproductive habits.

One of the key aspects of choice theory is the concept of WDEP, an acronym for wants, doing, evaluation, and planning.

These four steps guide reality therapists in their sessions, helping clients identify their needs, evaluate their current actions, and devise strategies for satisfying their desires.

WantsClients are encouraged to clarify what they want in life, including interpersonal relationships, self-esteem, and personal fulfillment.

Therapists facilitate discussions on the clients’ desires, which helps set goals for therapy.
DoingNext, clients explore their current actions and whether they are effective in achieving their wants.

The therapist assists the client in analyzing the consequences of their choices, revealing the connection between their behavior and satisfaction.
EvaluationClients engage in self-evaluation, considering if their current behavior aligns with their wants.

This step is crucial for determining if clients need to make different choices.
PlanningLastly, the therapist and client collaborate on creating a plan for positive change.

This often involves brainstorming ideas, discussing potential challenges, and setting achievable milestones.

Throughout the reality therapy process, therapists emphasize the importance of making conscious and responsible choices.

They help clients recognize that they have the power to change their lives by making better choices.

Incorporating choice theory into reality therapy allows therapists to empower clients by emphasizing their agency.

As clients learn about their own inherent ability to make better choices, they can work towards greater self-awarenessautonomy, and, ultimately, personal satisfaction.

Through the application of choice theory in reality therapy, clients gain the knowledge and tools necessary to make positive changes in their lives, leading to a healthier, more fulfilling existence.

Approach to Emotional Needs

Approach to emotional needs

Reality therapy is a practical and action-oriented counseling approach that addresses emotional needs by helping individuals attain their basic needs in a more balanced and fulfilling way.

One of the core principles of reality therapy is the belief in the existence of five basic human needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun.

These needs are universal and must be met for a person to experience psychological well-being and life satisfaction.

Basic Needs

The concept of basic needs is central to reality therapy. Every individual is driven to meet these needs through their behaviors and interactions with others.

Love and belonging are particularly crucial since humans are social creatures and require strong relationships and connections to others in order to thrive.

Respect is another important aspect often addressed in reality therapy, as it entails recognizing and valuing the worthiness of oneself and others.

Through reality therapy, clients are guided to examine their current behaviors and evaluate their effectiveness in satisfying their emotional needs.

They become aware of how their choices might be impacting their relationships, their personal development, and overall satisfaction.

The therapist helps clients focus on their needs rather than dwelling on past failures or blaming others for their problems.

Success Identity

Clients are also encouraged to develop a “success identity” by setting realistic goals for themselves, planning concrete actions to achieve those goals, and taking responsibility for their behaviors.

By doing so, individuals learn to make healthier choices that align with their emotional needs and provide a greater sense of satisfaction in their lives.

Reality therapy empowers individuals to adopt new behaviors and attitudes that align with their five basic needs by incorporating various techniques such as role-playing, self-evaluation, and solution-focused questioning.

Ultimately, this leads to increased emotional well-being and a more balanced, satisfying life.

Applications in Different Settings

Glasser reality therapy

Reality therapy is a versatile therapeutic approach that has been applied successfully in various settings.

This section will discuss some of these applications, focusing on three main areas: familycommunity, and relationships.


In a family setting, reality therapy can be used to address conflicts among family members, including communication issues and behavioral problems.

The therapist helps the members to identify their needs and set realistic goals to fulfill these needs, fostering a more harmonious family atmosphere.

By focusing on the present moment and what each individual can control, reality therapy empowers family members to take responsibility for their actions and repair damaged relationships.


Moving to the community level, reality therapy has been found beneficial in educational and correctional settings.

In educational settings, teachers and counselors can use the principles of reality therapy to promote positive choices among students, manage classroom behavior, and facilitate self-reflection.

Additionally, the therapy has been applied in correctional institutions to support inmates in taking responsibility for their actions, identifying their unmet needs, and planning a more constructive future.


Relationships can also benefit from the use of reality therapy. Couples facing difficulties may find relief through the therapy’s focus on personal responsibility and identifying needs within the relationship.

By addressing each partner’s unmet needs and fostering open communication, a stronger bond can be forged.

This also applies to friendships and other interpersonal relationships, where reality therapy can help enhance communication, set boundaries, and resolve conflicts.

Overall, reality therapy demonstrates broad applicability, providing a practical framework for addressing diverse challenges in various settings, from families to community centers and relationships.

Applications in Clinical Issues

Reality therapy

Reality therapy has a wide range of applications in addressing clinical issues such as addiction, anxiety, and relationship difficulties.

This therapeutic approach emphasizes personal responsibility, choice, and present-focused action, helping clients overcome their challenges and achieve a healthier state of mind.


One of the primary applications of reality therapy is in the treatment of addiction.

It helps individuals by emphasizing the importance of personal choices and taking responsibility for their actions.

Counseling professionals employ reality therapy techniques to guide clients in recognizing the consequences of their substance use and aid them in developing healthier coping strategies.

Anxiety Disorders

Another area where reality therapy has shown success is in treating anxiety disorders.

Therapists use this approach to help clients identify the underlying causes of their anxiety, such as unmet needs or unrealized goals.

By focusing on the present and cultivating healthier, more realistic perspectives, individuals can work towards overcoming their anxiety challenges.

Relationship Difficulties

Reality therapy has also been effective in addressing relationship difficulties. This approach encourages open communication and personal responsibility in relationships.

Couples can learn to express their needs, desires, and expectations clearly and take responsibility for meeting their partner’s needs as well. This results in healthier relationships and improved communication.

Benefits of Reality Therapy

Choice theory therapy

Reality therapy is a practical counseling method that focuses on helping individuals take control of their lives through understanding and changing their behaviors, choices, and actions.

In this section, we discuss the various benefits of reality therapy.

Fostering Personal Responsibility

One significant advantage of reality therapy is that it promotes personal responsibility.

By highlighting the connection between choices and consequences, individuals learn to take ownership of their actions and develop a sense of accountability.

This focus on responsibility empowers clients to make more informed choices moving forward, ultimately leading to an increased sense of control over their lives.

Promoting Solution-oriented Strategies

Another benefit of reality therapy is its emphasis on solution-oriented strategies.

Instead of dwelling on past issues, reality therapy looks at present behaviors and helps individuals develop practical action plans to achieve their desired goals.

This approach encourages clients to focus on what they can do in the present to improve their situations, fostering an optimistic outlook and increasing motivation for positive change.

Building a Supportive Therapeutic Relationship

In addition to addressing behaviors and choices, reality therapy places great importance on the client-therapist relationship.

A warm and trusting relationship between the therapist and the client is crucial for the success of therapy.

This trusting environment helps clients feel supported and understood, which is essential for facilitating open communication and fostering growth.

Offering Adaptability

Reality therapy

Lastly, reality therapy has proven to be effective in various settings and diverse populations. It has been applied successfully in group counseling.

With its flexible and practical approach, reality therapy can be tailored to address specific needs and issues, making it highly adaptable across different contexts.

Final Thoughts

Reality therapy has shown promise in various settings and for different populations.

For instance, it was found to be effective in increasing the teachers’ happiness when implemented in group sessions. Similarly, students’ happiness was also positively impacted through group reality therapy interventions.

In addition to promoting happiness, this therapeutic approach has exhibited efficacy in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression in patients with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) when applied in a group setting.

While more research is needed to explore the full potential of reality therapy in different contexts, it is evident that this intervention can yield substantial positive results for individuals struggling with mental health issues.

As a non-intrusive and easy-to-implement therapeutic approach, reality therapy could serve as a valuable supplement to traditional treatments and play a significant role in the holistic care of patients.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the key principles of reality therapy?

Reality therapy is based on choice theory, which asserts that individuals have control over their behavior and are responsible for the consequences of their actions.

This therapeutic approach emphasizes the importance of building a strong therapeutic relationship, focusing on the present, and setting realistic goals.

The therapist helps the client evaluate their current behavior, develop a plan for change, and commit to taking action.

What are the primary goals of reality therapy?

The main goals of reality therapy include helping clients take responsibility for their behavior, build better relationships, and make more effective choices.

Therapists aim to empower clients by teaching them how to evaluate their actions, develop an actionable plan, and commit to implementing changes that align with their personal values and needs.

This approach emphasizes problem-solving and encourages clients to focus on present actions rather than past experiences.

How does reality therapy differ from other therapeutic approaches?

Reality therapy stands apart from other therapeutic approaches in several ways. This method emphasizes present behavior rather than delving into the client’s past, and it focuses primarily on the individual’s sense of personal responsibility and control.

Additionally, therapists using reality therapy aim to build a trusting relationship with clients rather than adopting a detached or clinical demeanor.

Finally, reality therapy encourages practical, actionable solutions and promotes rapid change rather than dwelling on analysis or introspection.

In what types of situations is reality therapy most effective?

Reality therapy is often effective in situations where clients need to take responsibility for their behavior and make lasting changes in their lives.

This approach can be helpful in dealing with issues such as addictionrelationship problems, and behavioral issues, as it helps clients develop more effective coping strategies and enhance their decision-making abilities.

Moreover, reality therapy is particularly well-suited for individuals who prefer a practical, solution-focused approach to change rather than a deep analysis of their thoughts and emotions.

Additional Resources

Prioritizing our mental well-being is paramount in today’s fast-paced world. The digital age has redefined therapy and psychiatric care, making support more accessible than ever. To guide you towards a healthier state of mind, we’ve partnered with pioneering names in mental health.
Note: We collaborate with top-tier mental health companies and we earn a commission if you purchase services through our ads.

Online Therapy

Discover a path to emotional well-being with BetterHelp – your partner in convenient and affordable online therapy. With a vast network of 30,000+ licensed therapists, they’re committed to helping you find the one to support your needs. Take advantage of their Free Online Assessment, and connect with a therapist who truly understands you. Begin your journey today.

Relationship Counceling

Whether you’re facing communication challenges, trust issues, or simply seeking to strengthen your connection, ReGain’s experienced therapists are here to guide you and your partner toward a healthier, happier connection from the comfort of your own space. Get started.

Therapist Directory

Discover the perfect therapist who aligns with your goals and preferences, allowing you to take charge of your mental health. Whether you’re searching for a specialist based on your unique needs, experience level, insurance coverage, budget, or location, our user-friendly platform has you covered. Search here.

About the author

Eliana Galindo
Eliana is a dedicated psychologist from Colombia who has gained extensive experience and made significant contributions in child development, clinical psychology, and rehabilitation psychology. Her work as a rehabilitation psychologist with disabled children has been transformative and compassionate. In the child development field, she creates nurturing environments through assessments, interventions, and collaboration with families. In clinical psychology, she supports individuals overcoming mental health challenges with empathy and evidence-based approaches. Inspired by her experiences, Eliana is motivated to write about mental health, aiming to raise awareness and advocate for a compassionate and inclusive approach to well-being.

You might also be interested in


In some articles, we include products we think are useful for our readers. When you buy through these links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you.

Information on our website is for educational and informational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as a substitute, nor does it replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a mental healthcare professional.

Online Therapy, Your Way

Discover the ease of starting therapy with BetterHelp. Complete the assessment and connect with a licensed professional therapist online.
Note: We earn a commission if you purchase services through our ads.