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 Choice Theory Psychology

Dr. William Glasser explains Choice Theory and Reality Therapy

Choice Theory In Mental Health- William Glasser, MD

Dr. Glasser speaks up for mental health by presenting information from his popular books; Warning, Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health and Counseling with Choice Theory: The New Reality ...

 Peter Breggin talks to Bob Wubbolding about William Glasser, Choice Theory and Reality Therapy.

The Dr. Peter Breggin Hour - 9/18/13

William Glasser, Choice Theory and Reality Therapy

00:00 / 57:34

Although choice theory psychology underlies our philosophy and practice of hypnosis (see below), we also offer life coaching sessions on how exclusively to apply choice theory psychology, i.e., without hypnosis. 

Choice Theory Psychology

  • Choice theory psychology was developed by Dr. William Glasser (1999) as a means to explain the workings of reality therapy (Glasser, 1965). Originally known as control theory, the idea was renamed both to distinguish it from the perceptual control theory of William T. Powers, with whom Glasser worked to develop the model of the brain as a control system (1984), and to indicate the central premise of the theory, that all behaviors are chosen behaviors and one’s choices are determined by one’s perceived reality of the immanent situation.

  • Choice theory psychology is a cognitive behavioral approach that is based on the premise that all behaviors are composed of four components: thinking and doing (over which one has direct control) and emotions and physiology (over which one has indirect control through manipulation of thinking and doing) and are termed total behaviors.

  • The theory also posits that all total behaviors are one’s best attempt at the moment to fulfill five genetic needs that are known as basic needs. The basic needs are composed of the physiological need of survival and the four psychological needs of love, power, excitement and autonomy. These basic needs are the ultimate motivators of human behavior as all total behaviors are attempts to fulfill these genetic basic needs. Basic needs are represented by individual wants and it follows that all total behaviors are attempts to get one closer to what one wants which will fulfill basic needs.

  • Choice theory rests on ten axioms:

1. The only person whose behavior we can control is our own.

2. All we can give another person is information.

3. All long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems.

4. The problem relationship is always part of our present life.

5. What happened in the past has everything to do with what we are today, but we can only satisfy our basic needs right now and plan to continue satisfying them in the future.

6. We can only satisfy our needs by satisfying the pictures in our Quality World.

7. All we do is behave.

8. All behavior is Total Behavior and is made up of four components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology

9. All Total Behavior is chosen, but we only have direct control over the acting and thinking components. We can only control our feeling and physiology indirectly through how we choose to act and think.

10. All Total Behavior is designated by verbs and named by the part that is the most recognizable.

  • Choice theory psychology is the basis for Reality Therapy, Quality Education and Lead Management.

  • Dr. Mottern is Reality Therapy Certified and has practiced choice theory psychology since 1993.

  • For more information on choice theory psychology, please go to the William Glasser Institute.

Choice Theory and Hypnosis

  • Choice theory psychology shares with hypnosis the concept of subjective phenomenological experience being central to the concept of situational reality. Choice theory psychology posits that no one can make anyone do anything they don’t choose to do. Hypnosis operates from the same basic premise. The clients are always in control of their thinking and behavior. While clients may be led or guided through a hypnotic experience, they choose to participate in the experience. This is the truth of the old hack about the patient who tells his doctor, “I wasn’t really hypnotized, doc. I was just going along with what you said.” In essence, all clients are just going alone with what is suggested to them. From a choice theory perspective, they will do this because they believe that it will get them closer to what they want and thereby fulfill the basic needs. The efficacy of a hypnotic suggestion will be directly related to the ability of the suggestion to elicit changes in behavior, affect or physiology that move the clients closer to what they want and the fulfillment of their basic needs. Suggestions that do not move subjects closer to achieving their wants and fulfilling their basic needs will be quickly discarded.

  • Hypnosis is understood to work on the subconscious level of mind. While the conscious mind is occupied, the subconscious mind caries out various activities which may include higher mental processes (Bargh, & Ferguson, 2000). Indeed, Bargh and Morsella (2008), building on the work of researchers before them, have suggested that “action precedes reflection” (p. 77) and assert the primacy of the subconscious as a source of behavioral impulse. This is congruent with choice theory psychology which understands both cognition and behavior to be mutually dependent. In this understanding, cognition does not necessarily imply conscious thought. Indeed, hypnosis is understood from a choice theory perspective to be accessing the subconscious to directly affect behavior and indirectly affect emotions and physiology. The procedures that lead to change in the practice of reality therapy are built upon the idea that behavioral change can reciprocally influence cognition, which is an alternative way of describing the relationship between the role of the subconscious in behavior and corresponding behavioral results on cognitive adaptation. Wubbolding (personal communication, 2008) stresses the importance of changing behaviors by using the metaphor of the suitcase. Cognition, emotion and physiology are the bag while behavior is the handle by which the bag is carried.


Bargh, J. A., & Ferguson, M. J. (2000, November). Beyond behaviorism: On the automaticity of the higher mental processes. Psychological Bulletin, 126(6), 925-945.

Bargh, J. A., & Morsella, E. (2008). The unconscious mind. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(1), 73-79.

Glasser, W. (1965). Reality therapy: A new approach to psychiatry. New York: Harper Collins.

Glasser, W. (1984). Control theory: A new explanation of how we control our lives. New York: Harper & Row.

Glasser, W. (1999). Choice theory: A new psychology of personal freedom. New York: Harper Collins.

Mens sana in corpore sano - A sound mind in a sound body

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