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8 Reality therapy Exercises & Activities to do with your Clients

Reality Therapy was initially developed in the 1960s by William Glasser and has grown in popularity with mental health professionals since then. Another notable influence on this therapeutic approach is Robert Wubbolding (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). Keep reading to learn 8 Reality Therapy Exercises and Activities you can do with your clients.

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Reality Therapy differs from other therapeutic approaches because it focuses on the process, more so than the outcomes and results (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). Reality Therapy draws from both cognitive and behavioral strategies during its use.

Reality Therapy initially incorporated Control Theory into it by believing that our brains naturally control our behaviors and emotions so that we can meet our basic needs (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). However, in the mid-1990s, Glasser determined that this was not the best viewpoint, and that the true underlying theory was Choice Theory (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). In Choice Theory, it is believed that the choices we make regarding our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors impact our quality of life (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). In line with this belief, Glasser believed that choice theory is more beneficial for clients when compared to the use of psychotropic medications for mental health illnesses (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

Reality Therapy recognizes the role that a child’s environment will have later in life. As an example, Glasser believed that the best way to raise children was in a loving environment that provided them with opportunities to experience freedom, power, and fun in an age-appropriate, and healthy manner (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). Additionally, Glasser believed that adults have the ability to overcome difficulties and challenges that stem from childhood by working to address their basic needs that were not met at a younger age (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

An important belief of Reality Therapy is that we are all born with 5 basic needs. This includes belonging, power and achievement, fin and enjoyment, freedom and independence, and survival (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). While we each have the same basic needs, Reality Therapy recognizes that there are differences in the ways that we work to meet these needs. There are also individual differences regarding how we each view the importance of these basic needs. Within the Reality Therapy approach, mental health struggles are believed to be the result of unmet needs (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

Reality Therapy has four main elements that can be remembered with the acronym WDEP. This includes Wants, Direction and Doing, Evaluation, and Planning. Reality Therapists tend to focus more on what their clients are doing rather than why they are acting as they are (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

Reality Therapists often describe a client’s symptoms as verbs in an effort to help their clients take responsibility for their behaviors and emotions (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). These therapists tend to use “what” questions frequently, and “why” questions sparingly (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

Mental Health Concerns That Can Benefit from Reality Therapy Exercises

Reality Therapy is a great example of a therapeutic approach that can be applied to a variety of settings and a variety of presenting concerns. If we are to look at clinical uses, Reality Therapy can be used in individual sessions, group sessions, and family therapy. Additionally, Reality Therapy has been used in schools, correctional institutions, and rehab programs (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

Reality Therapy is a popular approach in addiction counseling and can also be used for clients who are living with depressive symptoms, low self-esteem, victims of bullying, domestic violence victims, and families experiencing conflict (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

Reality Therapy Exercises

Reality Therapy exercises can be an effective tool in each element of Reality Therapy. Examples of Reality Therapy activities include:

  1. An informative Reality Therapy exercise would be to simply explore your client’s perspective of the principles associated with Reality Therapy. As an example, control theory believes that every aspect of our lives is within our control. Spend time exploring your client’s reactions to this belief and if they feel it is realistic and applicable to their life. Clients who have experienced discrimination, and those who have disabilities may have a hard time agreeing with this belief of Reality Therapy. You can then explore the differences found within choice theory, and explore your client’s reactions to this approach.\
  2. Learning new ways to navigate challenges and difficult situations can be challenging for clients who have been reacting to these situations in their own way their whole life. A useful Reality Therapy exercise would be to review TherapyByPro’s Solution Worksheet in session. This worksheet can help you walk your client through the process of finding a realistic and attainable solution for their current challenge. This worksheet may help them gain a different perspective on their challenge in some respects, which can help them work to find a healthy solution. This worksheet can also provide clients with a good refresher on how they can work to solve a problem outside of the session.
  3. Introduce your client to the concept of their 5 basic needs as viewed in Reality Therapy. Spend time exploring how your client feels their needs are being met at this time, and which areas could use some improvement. Explore how their behaviors work to improve their ability to have their needs met, and how they may be hindering their ability to do so. TherapyByPro offers a comprehensive Needs Assessment Worksheet that can be used to guide this session if you or your client benefits from the use of worksheets in session.
  4. Clients may find themselves experiencing distress when they find themselves unable to achieve their goals or reach the expectations that they have set for themselves. As clinicians, we can work with them to explore this experience and determine if the goals and expectations that they have are unattainable or unrealistic. As an example, not allowing the proper amount of time that it can take to reach a goal can make it feel as though we failed when the truth is that we needed a bit more time to accomplish our task. TherapyByPro offers a Expectations vs. Reality Worksheet that can help clients effectively evaluate their current goals and expectations so that the appropriate changes can be made so that they are realistic and attainable. 
  5. A journaling Reality Therapy exercise that could be beneficial is for your client to spend time writing about how their relationships impact their well-being. As an example, do their current friendships provide a sense of support and connection? Do they find themselves feeling down or self-conscious when interacting with anyone in their life? Encourage your client to explore the positive and difficult effects they experience in their different relationships. Once they have completed this step, your client can then identify two changes that they could make that would improve their interactions with others. These changes should work towards improving the positive impact of their relationships. This can be done as a homework assignment and brought into your client’s next session.
  6. Reality Therapy recognizes the role that relationships have on our quality of life. Each relationship we have is unique and often evolves over time. This Impact on Others Worksheet can be used to explore how a client’s actions and behaviors affect others in various areas of our life, such as work and family. By working through this sheet, your client may find patterns within their relationships, both good and bad. This allows them to see where changes could be made to improve the quality of their relationships.
  7. An important topic to review with the use of Reality Therapy, is how to set goals that are realistic and plausible. Clients may have ideas of goals that they want, however, there may be some gaps in their planning. The acronym SAMICCC can be used to help clients remember components that should be considered when setting goals. Goals should be simple, attainable, measurable, immediate, controlled, they are committed, and consistent. Plans and goals can be and should be, modified, to reflect any changes that your client experiences after the initial goal have been planned. SAMICCC worksheet can be used to guide the evaluation of your client’s goals.
  8. For clients who find themselves overwhelmed with a problem or challenge they are facing, an effective Reality Therapy activity would be to break their problem down into digestible pieces. The problem as a whole may feel overwhelming and scary, so when it is broken down into smaller pieces clients may find their associated distress reduced which would allow them to tackle the problem. TherapyByPro offers a Reframing the Problem Worksheet that can be used to guide this process and act as a reminder for clients outside of your sessions.  

Final Thoughts On Choosing the Right Reality Therapy Exercises for your Clients

Thank you for reading this resource on 8 Reality Therapy exercises and activities to do with your clients. If you find that your clinical approach tends to heavily rely on the importance of your therapeutic alliance, you may find that Reality Therapy is a good approach for you to utilize in your clinical work. Reality therapists are engaging, share their perceptions, and ask for feedback from their clients. This approach uses teamwork to help clients look at their actions and work to different choices.

As with other therapeutic approaches, it is important to ensure that you have the proper training and experience with new strategies and interventions in your clinical work. This can be attained with the proper use of training, supervision, and continuing education courses.

TherapyByPro is an online mental health directory that connects mental health pros with clients in need. If you’re a mental health professional, you can Join our community and add your practice listing here. We have assessments, practice forms, and worksheet templates mental health professionals can use to streamline their practice. View all of our mental health worksheets here.

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Resources:

  • Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W. (2010). Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: Systems, Strategies, and Skills (3rd ed., pp. 338–358).  Pearson Education, Inc.
Kayla Loibl, MA, LMHC
Author: Kayla Loibl, MA, LMHC

Kayla is a Mental Health Counselor who earned her degree from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She has provided psychotherapy in a residential treatment program and an outpatient addiction treatment facility in New York as well as an inpatient addiction rehab in Ontario, Canada. She has experience working with individuals living with a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.

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