Review “Choice Theory”.

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“Choice Theory” by William Glasser M.D.

Dr Glasser gained much international prominence through his book “Reality Therapy” published in 1965.

A book about counseling, it pioneered a movement now widely followed. The present day style of counseling is no longer aloof and mysterious and not about constantly re-living the past but the here and now.

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People all over the world blame someone or something for their misery.

His idea is that we choose the misery we complain about, in fact all the misery we feel, we choose. He tells us that other people can neither make us happy or miserable. All we can get from them or give to them is information, and we choose all our actions and thoughts and almost all of our feelings as well as much of our physiology.

He says that we are much more in control of our lives than we realize. Unfortunately, much of that control is not effective. For example you choose to feel upset with your child, then you choose to yell and threaten and things get worse not better.

We can take more effective control through the use of Choice Theory making better choices as you relate to your children and everyone else.


Choice Theory is about relationships – relationships with others and ourselves.

The best way to learn Choice Theory is through focusing on why we choose the common miseries that we believe just happen to us.

When we are depressed he states we believe that we have no control over our suffering and that we are the victims of an imbalance in our neuron chemistry hence we then take drugs like Prozac. He says little of this belief is true. We have a lot of control over our suffering.
He says the seeds of almost all of unhappiness are planted early in our lives when we begin to encounter people who have not only discovered what is right for them – but also unfortunately what is right for us.
Armed with thinking that has dominated us for thousands of years these people feel obligated to try to force us to do what they know is right.


Choice Theory challenges this ancient I-know–what-is-best-for-you tradition.
This book is an attempt to answer the all-important question that almost all of us ask ourselves when we are unhappy: How can I figure out how to be free to live my life the way I want to live it and still get along with the people I need?

Dr Glasser says that in forty years of psychiatric practice, it has become apparent to him that all unhappy people have the same problem: They are unable to get along with the people they want to get along with.

A New Psychology!!

To begin this goal he says we need a new psychology that can help us get closer to each other than we are able to do now.
The psychology must be easy to understand so it can be taught to anyone who wants to learn it and easy to use.

`We believe that other people can actually make us feel the way we feel or do the things we do’.

He explains the simple premise of the external control psychology the world uses is: Punish the people who are doing wrong, so they will do what we say is right; then reward them, so they keep doing what we want them to do. This premise dominates the thinking of most people on earth.

What makes it so prevalent is that those who have the power – agents of government, parents, teachers, and business managers, religious leaders – who also define what is right or wrong – totally support it.
We accept this control, but almost no one is aware that this controlling, coercing, is creating the widespread misery, that as much as we tried, we have not been able to reduce.
Coercion has been around so long it is considered common sense.

We also do not see how widespread misery really is because, again guided by common sense, a lot of us think that misery is caused mainly by poverty, laziness, or how the powerful treat the powerless.the best books to help with depression

But in the affluent Western world, there is no shortage of miserable people who are well off, hardworking and powerful.

The failure of children and parents to get along well may be more extreme among the poor and powerless, but it is hardly exclusive to that group.

Although more students in poverty areas refuse to make the effort to learn than students in affluent areas, this failure is more related to how students and teachers get along with each other than to the fortunes of those who attend.

Glesser says that he has noticed that there is a high rate of divorce among successful academics, with successful professionals and business leaders close behind.

The Concept of Total Behavior.

Behavior is defined as the way of conducting ourselves but expands on the word way. This word is important in understanding Choice Theory.
He says there are four inseparable components that together make up the “way” we conduct ourselves.

• The first is activity; when we think of behavior, most of us think of walking, talking or eating.
• Second component is thinking; we are always thinking something.
• Third component is feeling: whenever we behave, we are always feeling something.
Fourth component is our physiology: there is always some physiology associated with all we are doing, such as our heart pumping blood, our lungs breathing, and functioning of our brains.

Because all these components are working simultaneously, Choice Theory expands the single word behavior to two words – “Total Behavior”. Total because it always consists of the four components, acting, thinking, feeling and the physiology associated with all our actions thoughts and feelings.

As you sit reading these words you are choosing to sit, move your head and eyes so in effect this is your activity. You are also thinking about what you are reading; otherwise you couldn’t understand what is written.
When you say you are doing something you are almost always describing a particular combination of acting and thinking.

You are always feeling something but probably not feeling much right now but at least you either agree or disagree or thinking about the claim that you choose the misery you are feeling and that thinking is always accompanied by some sort of feeling.best books help depression

There is always a physiology associated with your choice to act, think and feel – your total behavior.

After introducing the concept of  Total Behavior he then goes on to explain what he means when he says you choose your feelings, both good and bad.

People would say that they are not aware that they are choosing their bad feelings, but they just happen and would say, “if I had a choice I definitely would not choose unhappiness”.
Glasser says that if this statement were true it would make no sense to see a psychotherapist. If you couldn’t do anything about how you feel what would be the point about taking about your life and problems?

His explanation is that why you believe you have no control over what you feel is because you have no direct control over what you feel in the same way that you have direct control over your acting and thinking.
For instance you would not tell someone who is depressed to ‘cheer up’ as no one can directly choose to feel better.
It’s not the same as choosing an active behavior like tennis or a thinking behavior like chess.

By accepting the concept of Total Behavior’ and that all four components are inseparable, you find that although you don’t have direct control over how you feel, you have a lot of indirect control not only of how you feel but even over a great deal of your physiology.

He gives the example of the Total Behavior of beating your head against the wall.

Wouldn’t it be fair he says, that you are choosing to suffer the pain associated with this acting and thinking choice?
Or if you are miserable you may choose to drink until you feel better. But you have to choose to think and act to get the alcohol into your bloodstream. The drink can’t get there on it’s own, and you don’t believe you will feel good until it does?

Choosing to Depress.

When Glasser talks of someone choosing depression and misery he doesn’t say they are choosing it directly, what they are choosing directly is the acting and thinking components of a ‘Total Behavior’ called depression or choosing to depress.

If you have suffered from depression you know that your whole body slows down and you become lethargic and no energy. This is a Total Behavior where the feelings and physiology were integrated.

Choice Theory teaches us that depression is a way we choose as it seems to give us better control over our lives than anything else what we could have thought of at that time, even way back as a child.
He guides you to change what you want and your behavior.

Dr. Glasser presents several clinical cases where results were outstanding using his method of therapy.

He goes on to show how every person has a quality world with three main components.
1. People we care for.
2. Things we consider important.
3. Our own ideas and concepts about life.

The combination of these factors will make us happy or unhappy depending upon our own choices.

This is a book about happiness and how and where to find it and how relationships are at the core of that happiness.

Unsatisfying or disconnecting relationships are the source of almost all crime, addiction and mental illness along with marital, family and school failure.

Choice Theory teaches us a psychology that is non-controlling and gives us the freedom to sustain the relationships that lead to healthy productive lives.

  • Pros: Lots of psychotherapy covers thinking or feeling or doing but never mention physiology. Dr Glasser does!
  • This is teaches you not to just change how you change your thinking and how you feel, but taking action and changing what you have been doing.
  • Dr Glassers theory is a more holistic approach.
  • To learn to change your relationship with yourself is life changing.
  • This book gets to the heart of the issue and what is at stake.


  • Cons: Dr Glasser ideas on how we ‘choose’ mental health are quite radical along with his idea of the non use of drugs such as Prozac.
  • Through mentioning the concept that underlying our problems are our relationships early in the book, this might throw the reader off course in thinking it is primarily about relationships and not part of a bigger concept on happiness and depression and other related emotional issues.
  • Significant others in your life i.e. partner, husband, boss, teacher, law enforcers, Mother, Father etc – will not have read this book so it could be hard at times to implement on a daily basis into your life.
  • People suffering from depression could see this book lacking in sympathy and causing guilt of over their depression.


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