After years of focus on biological shifts and impact on the brain, increasing study is again being focused on perception and reality (Horowitz, 2012). Major mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, impair views of reality. Past traumas, such as individuals who have undergone systemic abuse and trauma, can also impact views of reality. Even for those without illness or traumatic experiences, life experience, associations, and upbringing can shape personal perceptions. Those experiences can impact how situations are processed and understood, whereas an unbiased spectator would view the situation differently (Horowitz, 2012).

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Dr. William Glasser, the founder of reality therapy, worked extensively with patients with severe mental illness, such as paranoid schizophrenics, in examining perceptions of reality (Wubbolding, 2015). He found that many of these patients spent years in intensive therapy without making any improvements. Instead, they wallowed in the same state of illness. Glasser sought to improve this continuum of care and came up with an alternative approach to therapy that focused on a solution-oriented approach (Wubbolding, 2015). This approach has significant implications in how people process and perceive reality.

Glasser identified a new approach called choice theory or reality therapy. Reality therapy is based on the concept of discussing a patient’s current behavior, without focusing on their past or childhood. Rather than focusing on external influences, reality theory focuses on internal perceptions of reality and responses (Bradley, 2014). Reality therapy places responsibility on the individual and on personal choices. The cornerstone of choice therapy and reality therapy is the idea that all human behavior is intentional, and at some level, people are aware of their motivations and actions (Wubbolding, 2015). Glasser believed that while past traumas or experiences may impact behavior or thought processes, they do not completely control behavior and can be overcome. Individuals choose their behavior and responses based on the information they have received; in this concept, reality is what is chosen rather than being a universal, constant experience. Other people or incidents cannot make an individual feel or act a certain way (Bradley, 2014). Understanding this can make an individual view the situation from a less personal, emotional viewpoint, allowing them to evaluate it more objectively.

  • Bradley, E. (2014). Choice theory and reality therapy: An overview. International Journal of Choice Therapy and Reality Theory. 34(1), 6-13.
  • Horowitz, R. (2011). The contours of identity: Relational dynamics in the psychotherapy of long-term mental illness. Clinical Social Work Journal. 40(1), 95-105.
  • Wubbolding, R. (2015). The voice of William Glasser: Accessing the continued evolution of reality therapy. Journal of Mental Health Counseling. 37(3), 189-205.