Summary Chart: Reality Therapy/Choice Theory

Human Nature

Human beings, born with five basic needs, choose behaviors that are purposeful and designed to satisfy survival, belonging, power, freedom, and fun. The motivation originates from a here-and-now urge to satisfy one or more of these sources of behavior. The most important motivation is to establish relationships with other human beings.

Major Constructs

Emanating from the five basic motivators are specific wants or desires. When these are not fulfilled, people choose specific actions that are accompanied by cognition, feelings, and physiology. These four elements comprise total human behavior. These behaviors are aimed at gaining input from the world around and are seen as choices. The input is called perception. People behave in order to have the perception that their wants are satisfied and their needs fulfilled. Human beings have control only over their own choices, not the behavior of others.


The goals of reality therapy are twofold: process goals and outcome goals. The reality therapist helps clients examine their own behavior, evaluate it, and make plans for change. The outcome is more satisfying relationships, increased happiness, and a sense of inner control of their lives. The plans are thus aimed at satisfying specific wants as well as the five motivators connected to their wants.

Change Process

Effective change occurs when clients feel connected to the counselor, that is, when there is a genuine therapeutic alliance. Experiencing an effective relationship with the counselor leads to change if the counselor is skilled in helping clients clarify their wants, evaluate their behavior, and make effective plans. Clients learn that no matter what difficulties they encounter, they always have choices.


The WDEP formula summarizes the various interventions made by therapists. They help clients identify and clarify their specific wants, including what they want from the counseling process. Therapists assist clients to describe each aspect of their total behavior and evaluate the attainability of their wants and the effectiveness of their actions. They then help clients formulate realistically doable plans for fulfilling wants and satisfying needs.


Reality therapy has been used with clients seeking help with decision making, facing developmental issues, dealing with crises, coerced into counseling, and with severe psychiatric diagnoses. The system is described in simple language that can lead to the misconception that the process is easy to implement. Another limitation is that reality therapy does not emphasize insight into problems. Consequently, clients seeking insight rather than change are less inclined to benefit from reality therapy.

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