Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Tribute to a Peer: William Glasser MD

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 28, 2013

Dr. William Glasser



“Glasser was the developer of reality therapy and choice theory. His ideas, which focus on personal choice, personal responsibility and personal transformation, are considered controversial by mainstream psychiatrists, who focus instead on classifying psychiatric syndromes, and who often prescribe psychotropic medications to treat mental disorders. Glasser was also notable for applying his theories to broader social issues, such as education, management, and marriage, to name a few. Glasser notably deviated from conventional psychiatrists by warning the general public about the potential detriments caused by the profession of psychiatry in its traditional form because of the common goal to diagnose a patient with a mental illness and prescribe medications to treat the particular illness when, in fact, the patient may simply be acting out of unhappiness, not a brain disorder. Glasser advocated the consideration of mental health as a public health issue.”,0,654300.story


Dr. Glasser was on the ball, and yet, he was not mainstream. He and I part company about the importance of past experience, but we join forces in advocating for understanding the individual, as opposed to pushing them into a checklist. We also join forces in understanding that learning and education, like psychotherapy, come out of caring relationships, which are not suitable for metrics. We again join forces in understanding that the individual can help himself, despite overwhelming trauma and neglect, provided that he has the helping hand of caring mentors. We also agree that the environment contributes to mental health, and as such, mental health is a public health issue. Work hours, quality of education, and quality of child care, are examples in which our society can improve the mental health of large populations. I just wish he did not call his treatment “reality therapy” as that dismisses the important concept that “reality” is subjective. What would I call his therapy? “Working therapy” to imply that the work of wellness is effortful, but rewarding. This would push back the notion that there are quick fixes to deeply disturbing mental worlds. Maybe this would not be good branding, but setting expectations is a good first step.



6 Responses to “Tribute to a Peer: William Glasser MD”

  1. Jon said

    From both what you write and what I read of Dr. Glasser it seems that you only disagree with him on two points – the importance of past experiences and nomenclature. The first is significant. How important is what has happened in the past to make us what we are today? The second “reality therapy” verses “working therapy” can more subtlety effect the mindset of change. Whatever the differences, from my limited understanding, I think both of you are advocating sensible and realistic approaches to surviving and thriving in this complex world.

  2. Shelly said

    So I had to look up “choice therapy” to see what you were talking about and it seems to make alot of sense. Can you expand a little on what is “working therapy?” Is it as you described, an approach to wellness and embracing everything that has to do with gaining a healthy lifestyle (eating right, exercising, enough playtime, balancing work and down-time, etc…)? I definitely agree with you that one’s past experiences shape one’s outlook on life–how could they not? However, with internal work, can it not change? Once one becomes aware of how these past experiences shape one’s outlook, one can consciously do the exact opposite of what these tendencies tell them to do, can one not?

    • “Working Therapy” is my wish to re-name “Reality Therapy” or “Choice Therapy”. I like his ideas, but not his nomenclature. I almost agree with you. Understanding one’s unconscious assumptions in the world, based on past experiences (ie, thinking ‘that teacher hates me’ based on a difficult relationship with one’s parent), makes one more open to the possibility that there are many ways to interpret a situation, and so with this thoughtfulness comes maturity and flexibility, allowing one to live a more peaceful and centered life. Thanks.

      • Shelly said

        Given your example, “that teacher hates me based on a difficult relationship with one’s parent,” would it ever be possible that the teacher, in fact, does indeed hate that student? Does it always mean that the student has difficulties with relationships with a parent? Or transference with a therapist? Teachers and therapists are people too and they are not always impartial (much as they always like to think that they are).

        • Yes. A difficult relationship, of any sort, brings up the issue of the past versus the present. There maybe issues in the present which have nothing to do with past relationships, and likewise, there may be issues in the past that have nothing to do with the present. Of course, it could be a weaving of both past and present. Considering these dimensions is the tricky question, which at the very least, should be open for discussion.

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