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Everything Counts

Resource: Reality Orientation

William Glasser (1925-2013)

"We are driven by five genetic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun."

 useful technique, philosophy, and intervention approach which can be used by parents, teachers, psychologists, counselors, and even football coaches to promote mental health, independence, and self-growth.

Glasser's Reality Therapy ("Reality Orientation") focuses on present behavior. The teacher functions as a model and confronts students in ways that help them face reality and fulfill basic needs without harming themselves or others. The heart of this approach is the acceptance of personal responsibility, which is equated with mental health.

The teacher focuses on what the student is able and willing to do in the present situation to change his or her behavior and on the means for doing so. This includes making a commitment to change, developing a plan for action, and following through with the commitment.

The teacher's central task is to encourage students to face reality and make value judgments regarding their current behavior. Behavior is the focus - not attitudes, insight, one's past, or unconscious motivation.

The basis of reality orientation is to help students fulfill the basic psychological needs, which include "the need to love and to be loved and the need to feel that we are worthwhile to ourselves and to others."

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  • Reality orientation's emphasis is on the strengths within the student and what s/he is able to do now to make constructive changes in the way they live.
  • Rejection of the concept of mental illness and does not deal with psychological diagnosis.
  • Focuses on the present, not the past.
  • Focuses on behavior rather than feelings and attitudes.
  • Emphasizes value judgments. It places central importance on the student's role in judging the quality of his/her own behavior in order to determine what is contributing to their failure in life. The teacher does not decide for the student - it is left to the student to decide what is important; the teacher does not "moralize." It is felt change is unlikely unless students make some determination of the constructiveness or destructiveness of their behavior.
  • Does not emphasize transference. Teachers are to be themselves - not play the role of the student's mother, father, counselor, etc.
  • Stresses the conscious, not the unconscious, aspects of personality. The emphasis is on what the student doing wrong, how his/her present behavior is not getting them what they want, and how they might plan for successful behavior based on responsible and realistic actions.
  • Eliminates punishment. Philosophy is that punishment aimed at changing behavior is not effective and punishment for failing to implement plans results both in reinforcing the student's "failure identity" (low self esteem) and in harming the therapeutic relationship.
  • Glasser advocates allowing the student to experience the natural consequences of his or her behavior.
  • Emphasizes responsibility. Glasser defines responsibility as "the ability to fulfill one's needs, and to do so in a way that does not deprive others of the ability to fulfill their needs."

The overall goal of reality orientation is to help the student achieve autonomy.

The teacher is not to be held responsible for the student's behaviors.

Reality orientation assists students in defining and clarifying their life goals (and educational goals). It assists them in clarifying the ways they are frustrating their progress toward these goals. The teacher helps students discover alternatives in reaching goals, but it is the student who decides his/her goals.

The basic job of the teacher is to become involved with the student and get him or her to face reality. When the teacher confronts the student, s/he is forced to decide whether or not to take the "responsible path." The teacher does not make value judgments or decisions, for to do so would take away the responsibility that belongs to the student. The teacher's task is to serve as a guide to help the student realistically appraise his/her own behavior.

The teacher is expected to give praise/encouragement when students act in a responsible way and to show disapproval when they do not. The teacher is expected to set limits; contracts are often an effective limit setting procedure. The teacher's ability to get involved with the students and get them involved in the process is considered to be paramount.


  • Reality orientation is based on the personal relationship and involvement of the teacher and student.
  • Planning is essential. Plans for action must be specific, concrete, and measurable. They need not be rigid; an endless number of plans can be applied to problem solving. If one plan does not work, it should be reevaluated, and other alternatives can then be considered.
  • Commitment is essential. It is in following through with plans that students acquire a sense of self-worth.
  • Reality orientation accepts no excuses. Instead of focusing on what went wrong and why, the teacher focuses on what the student intents to do to accomplish what s/he decided to do. The teacher needs to care enough for the student to make him or her "face a truth that s/he has spent his/her life trying to avoid: s/he is responsible for his/her behavior."


  • Use humor.
  • Confront the student and do not allow any excuses.
  • Engage in role playing with the student.
  • Help the student formulate specific plans for action.
  • Serve as a role model and teacher.
  • Set definite limits and structure the supportive environment/classroom ("milleau therapy").
  • Use "verbal shock therapy" (not to be confused with verbal abuse) or appropriate sarcasm to confront the student with his or her unrealistic behavior.
  • Get involved with the student in his or her search for more effective living.
  • Use contracts.


Corey, G. Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psycholotherapy (2nd Edit). Brooks/Cole Publishing Company: Monterey, CA: 1982. pp. 182-196

Resource: Reality Orientation​