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Counseling Profession Loses a Friend and a Legend of Counseling

by Amber McLaughlin | Aug 28, 2013
On August 23, 2013 Dr. William Glasser died peacefully in his home surrounded by his wife Carleen and his son Martin. He had been in a state of declining health for several years and had been retired for four years.

He will always be remembered for founding reality therapy. His groundbreaking book Reality Therapy, published in 1965 created a stir among professional people. This book was the result of his experience and research in a mental hospital and a correctional institution. He described how he believed people chose their behavior and could therefore alter it. Even though he was a psychiatrist the psychiatry profession did not readily accept his work. But counselors, social workers and educators welcomed it enthusiastically and began implementing it in schools, clinics and in correctional institutions.

For 50 years Dr. Glasser traveled throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia lecturing to large groups of professional people and others who wished to assist their clients more effectively or who wished to improve their own lives. As time went by he added a theoretical basis to the practical delivery system. He called the theory “choice theory” and described it as the train track for the train, reality therapy. One provides direction and the other is the vehicle or the methodology for helping individuals become more in control of their lives.

In 1974 he developed a certification process in reality therapy. Since that time, thousands of people have taken training programs and been certified in reality therapy through the William Glasser Institute. At the present time this program exists in over 20 countries and on six continents.

In his many books, lectures and conversations he always stressed the importance of human relationships as central to effective mental health. As a visionary he wanted to teach his system to the world. As a practical service provider he always demonstrated his system in his teaching by asking members of the audience to present him with difficult situations. He frequently said, “Give me your toughest clients” and immediately related to them with empathy, firmness and most of all with his eye-twinkling humor.

Reality therapy and its theoretical basis choice theory are now represented in most counseling textbooks and are taught in counseling courses. His system has gained respect and prestige as a scientifically proven methodology applied to persons from cultures around the world.

He was a frequent presenter at ACA conferences delivering keynote addresses. He especially enjoyed talking to students and practitioners in the exhibit hall while spending hours each day answering questions and autographing books. In 2004 he was pleased receive the Legend in Counseling Award for his development of reality therapy presented by the American Counseling Association.

At the 1990 International Conference of the William Glasser Institute, the Silver Anniversary of the publication of Reality Therapy, the superintendent of the Ventura School, Bea Dolan, sent the following touching tribute to Dr. Glasser emphasizing human relationships:

“We at the Ventura School started every treatment program the department had: citizens’ advisory groups, ward advisory committees, small and large group counseling, off-campus services, etc. And what did we get – each other! A reward beyond compare.”

Quite recently, a woman approached him at his home and begged him for advice for how to deal with her 3 year-old son. He paused for a long time and then reached deep down inside his soul and gave her 2 suggestions: “Always treat him as if he is good.”  And “Set up circumstances where he can only succeed.” These wise words could serve as his suggestions for all counselors. They represent for us a worldview, an attitude toward clients and his perception of all human beings. These two sentiments transcend a particular counseling system in that they summarize his legacy.

From a personal point of view, we feel a deep sense of loss. Our relationship with him is exemplified by his visit to us after Bob’s heart surgery. He came from Los Angeles to Cincinnati, Ohio to check on my health and as he said, “I wanted to see with my own two eyes that you are healing.” We considered him friend, family, mentor, colleague, visionary. Rest in peace, good friend.

Bob and Sandie Wubbolding