William Glasser

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William Glasser
Glasser at the 2009 Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference
Born (1925-05-11)May 11, 1925
Cleveland, Ohio
Died August 23, 2013(2013-08-23) (aged 88)
Los Angeles, California
Residence United States of America
Nationality American
Fields Psychiatry
Institutions California State University, Northridge
William Glasser Institute
Institute for Reality Therapy
Alma mater Case Western Reserve University
University of California, Los Angeles
Known for developed reality therapy and choice theory
Notable awards Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, University of San Francisco, American Counseling Association Professional Development Award, American Psychotherapy Association Master Therapist

William Glasser (May 11, 1925 – August 23, 2013) was an American psychiatrist.

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 as "illnesses", 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.

Early life and career[edit]

Glasser was born May 11, 1925, in Cleveland, Ohio, to Ben Glasser, a watch and clock repairman, and his wife Betty. He attended Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where in 1945 he earned his BS in chemical engineering. After a short career as an engineer, Glasser returned in 1946 to Case Western, but instead, during his first semester, was drafted into the US Army and stationed at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. He returned to Case Western in 1947, earning his MA in clinical psychology in 1949 and his MD in psychiatry in 1953. He completed his medical internship and psychiatric residency at UCLA and the Veterans Administration Hospital, respectively, and became board certified in 1961.[1][2][3][4]

After being "thrown off the staff" at the VA hospital due to his anti-Freudian beliefs, Glasser took a position as staff psychiatrist at the Ventura School for Delinquent Girls, where he began teaching ideas that became the basis for reality therapy.[1] During this time, Glasser met G. L. Harrington, an older psychiatrist who openly disbelieved the Freudian model of mental illness, whom Glasser credits as being his "mentor".[3]

Glasser set up a private psychotherapy practice in Los Angeles, which he maintained until 1986.[2]


Glasser authored and co-authored numerous and influential books on mental health, counseling, school improvement, and teaching, and several publications advocating a public health approach to or emphasis within mental health versus the prevailing "medical" model.

Glasser founded the Institute for Reality Therapy in 1967, which was renamed the Institute for Control Theory, Reality Therapy and Lead Management in 1994 and later the William Glasser Institute in 1996 in Chatsworth, CA. The institute is now located in Tempe, Arizona, and has branch institutes throughout the world.

By the 1970s Glasser called his body of work "Control Theory". By 1996, the theoretical structure evolved into a comprehensive body of work renamed "Choice Theory", mainly because of the confusion with perceptual control theory by William T. Powers, developed in the 1950s.

Reality therapy organizations[edit]

In the United States, the Glasser Institute was originally organized with regional groups in New England, the Sunbelt, the Northwest, the Midwest, the Southeast, and the West Coast.

In Nashville, USA, in July 2010, William Glasser Association International (WGAI) was established with an interim governing board charged with setting up the organization to coordinate worldwide activities and conferences, the first of which was in 2012 in Los Angeles. This board eventually became incorporated in California, USA under the new name of "William Glasser International" (WGI) and is the umbrella body recognised by William Glasser to represent his ideas around the world. The members of the WGI Board are elected by members.

Outside of the United States, William Glasser International (WGI) has active affiliate organizations in many countries including Canada, Croatia, Slovenia, Ireland, the UK, Finland, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Central and South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Neither WGI nor its affiliate organisations confer titles such as "counsellor" or "therapist" in their regular certification courses. In Europe however, there are two special courses offering by the European Institute for Reality Therapy. One leads to obtain the title Reality Therapy Psychotherapist including the European Certificate in Psychotherapy and the other to obtain the title Reality Therapy Counsellor.

For example, The Institute for Reality Therapy UK (IRT UK), with its own administration executive, co-ordinates the faculty workshops and practicums in the United Kingdom on behalf of WGI, leading up to and including Reality Therapy Certification (RTC). The IRT UK strives to promote and develop choice theory, reality therapy, and lead management in the UK, offering guidance and support to its membership made up of a body of like-minded individuals, committed to their own personal and professional advancement. Support is offered by a team of training and practicum supervisors. Members of the institute subscribe to the 'ethos' that Choice Theory, Reality Therapy, and Lead Management guide and support their relationships both on a personal and professional basis, and that Reality Therapy should be taught with integrity and adherence to fundamental concepts as described by Glasser and others who write, teach, and are associated with WGI.


Glasser died at his home in Los Angeles on August 23, 2013, in the company of his wife, Carleen, and others.[5] Glasser's obituary reported the cause of death as respiratory failure stemming from pneumonia.[1] The William Glasser Institute website referred to Glasser's death as "a massive shock to all", despite him having been "in poor health for some time".[6]


With co-author Carleen Glasser[edit]


  • Therapeutic Crisis Intervention, 1998, Adrian Gorman


Chapters in books edited by others[edit]

  • Chapter 4: Reality Therapy: An Explanation of the Steps of Reality Therapy, in What Are You Doing?, 1980, edited by Naomi Glasser ISBN 0-06-011646-3
  • Several chapters (not numbered), in The Reality Therapy Reader 1976, edited by Thomas Bratter and Richard Rachin, ISBN 0-06-010238-1
    • p38 "Youth in Rebellion: Why?"
    • p50 "A Talk with William Glasser"
    • p58 "The Civilized Identity Society"
    • p68 "How to Face Failure and Find Success"
    • p92 "Notes on Reality Therapy"
    • p345 "Practical Psychology G.P.s Can Use"
    • p359 "A New Look At Discipline"
    • p382 "Roles, Goals and Failure"
    • p465 "What Children Need"
    • p490 "The Role of the Leader in Counseling" (co-authored with Norman Iverson)
    • p498 "Discipline as a Function of Large Group Meetings" (co-authored with Norman Iverson)
    • p510 "A Realistic Approach to the Young Offender"


External links[edit]