What is Choice Theory?

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By William Glasser, M.D.

Choice theory is a new psychology developed by Dr. William Glasser when he realized that all his psychiatric work was based on people choosing what they do so he decided to call what he practices choice theory.

By learning to put choice theory to work in your life, you can improve your relationships with all the people who are important to you. You can also teach choice theory to someone else who then can use it to improve his or her important relationships. Since we are social beings, the need for satisfying relationships is encoded into our genetic structure. The more our genes are satisfied, the healthier we are. Therefore, improving our relationships is improving our mental health.

What he calls a psychology is a usual way of dealing with other people in certain situations. For example a car sales person will use a sales psychology when approaching people who come into the showroom. A mother will use a bedtime psychology when she has difficulty putting her children to bed.

Right now all over the world, people rich or poor, of all races, religions and political persuasion use an ancient world psychology which he calls external control when they have difficulty getting along with other people, especially people they want to get along well with, usually spouses, family, friends, teachers, fellow students, fellow workers and bosses. This occurs because we live in an external control world. Almost all of what is now wrongly called mental illness can easily be traced back to too much external control.

Even though people who use external control believe it will help them to get along better with the people they use it with, it actually does the opposite. External control will always increase the difficulty between the disagreeing parties. If it is continued it can destroy the relationship it was intended to help. Almost all people who divorce have no idea where their initial, strong, positive feeling for each other has gone. Choice theory teaches this early love was destroyed by one or usually both using external control as the marriage progressed.

External control is destructive because one or both parties will attempt to control the other so the other does what the controlling person wants. If it is used in a marriage, the partners use it on each and other and as they do the marriage goes rapidly downhill. If one partner gets control he or she may be happy but the other will be more miserable and increase his or her resistance. The actual resistance usually starts with anger but most often the anger is changed into depression, anxiety or any of the four hundred plus symptoms that are wrongly diagnosed as mental illness in a book called the DSM-IV. A better title for that book is the big red book of unhappiness. These unhappy people need each other but don’t know how to get along.

Choice theory is the opposite of external control: It is a self-control psychology. Those who practice it have learned that they choose everything they do. They learn they can control their own choices but they can’t control what anyone else chooses. Basically, choice theory explains that whenever we deal with any person we want to get along well with, we should be careful to replace any external control with choice theory.

Specifically, external control leads all who use it to practice the Seven Deadly Habitsthat destroy relationships. These are criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing or bribing or rewarding to control. Remember once the sentence is out of your mouth you can’t reach out and put it back in. Nor can you erase a look on your face or an upward out-ward roll of your eyes. Choice theory urges all of us to replace the deadly habits with the Seven Caring Habits: supporting, encouraging, listening, accepting, trusting, respecting and negotiating differences.

Keep in mind that the unhappiness caused by our not being able to get along with the people we want to get along with is the basic problem. But unhappiness is not mental illness. Our normal brains are perfectly capable of using external control to the point of suffering any symptom in the DSM-IV. While we may not be mentally healthy, we are not mentally ill. There is nothing wrong with the structure or chemistry of our brains. Learning to put choice theory to work in our lives can bring back happiness or mental health.   

For more info, If you would like to know more about Choice Theory, or take part in one of the workshops held by ACT SA | Association for Choice Theory South Africa, or take part in Choice Theory, Reality Therapy & Lead Management Training, you can CONTACT us with your query.

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