Posts tagged “evolution of psychotherapy

The Rest of the Story: Part 2

Today’s blog continues where we left off in The Rest of the Story: Part 1. You’ll get more out of the story if you read Part 1 first.

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I began the presentation, and had only been going a few minutes when I noticed someone in the corner of my eye enter the room. There were no seats left and he edged along the wall to my left and sat down on the floor. When I realized that the person sitting on the floor was Jeff Tirengel, I was almost overcome emotionally, and even physically. Jeff and I had met 10 years earlier, when we were both completing the Glasser certification week training. We became friends and stayed in touch from then on. Although he possesses a wonderful, dry wit, he has a way of always bringing the conversation to the important. And as we talked about the important things in life we became close. As he sat there on the floor, though, I knew the rest of the story, as the late Paul Harvey would say. I knew that he was in a battle for his life, that he was hanging in there through tough chemotherapy that, while trying to kill the bad cells, was draining him of the good, too. That he would somehow muster up the strength, which he had in such small supply, and come to my talk .  .  . I can barely write about it even now without choking up.

I briefly described each of the chapters, occasionally reading excerpts from the manuscript. I pulled back the curtain and talked about how the whole thing began and how Bill and worked together. Pictures of Bill on the screen behind me, from childhood to adulthood, added to the story. The hour and fifteen minutes for the breakout went by quickly and I began to wrap things up. I had prepared more material than the breakout time would allow, but had presented what I could. I fairly frequently give breakout talks and trainings, so I know the drill, but I was not prepared for what happened next. Instead of people saying thanks and then heading off to supper, they started asking me when they could hear the information from the rest of the chapters that I was not able to get to. I got my wits about me and stammered that I would be open to that. One person wondered aloud if we could continue early the next morning before breakfast. Other suggestions were tossed back and forth and it was finally decided to continue that evening after supper. Instead of the classroom we were in at that moment we agreed to meet in the general area, a large open space surrounded by vendor tables.

When the breakout was over I went over to Bill. He tried to speak, but he was too choked up to get the words out. “I don’t know what to say,” he finally got out. I tried to lighten the moment (I’m not saying it was the right thing to do, but it’s what I did.) and said, “I couldn’t have done it without you, Bill,” in an obvious attempt at understatement. “Thank you,” he said quietly as he held my hand tightly. I became overcome, too, the two of us in a moment that only the two of us could understand. Jeff joined us, our hug simultaneously conveying congratulations and appreciation. After I returned home Jeff emailed a picture he had taken with his cell phone during the breakout. It shows me talking to the group with Glasser in his wheelchair in the background. The resolution is not very good, yet it will always be one of my most treasured photographs. Jeff was not in the picture, but to me, he is as much in the picture as Bill and I.

Jeff Tirengel's picture of me presenting during the first breakout session with Glasser in the background.

Jeff Tirengel’s picture of me presenting during the first breakout session with Glasser in the background.

I was drained, in a good way, as I headed to supper. I don’t remember eating much. Instead I got ready for part two of the presentation. As it turned out, more than twice as many people came to the next session. In spite of the late hour, Bill came to the next session, too. There was so much interest in Glasser’s life, the circumstances surrounding his career, and the evolution of his ideas. He was quiet throughout the evening, but I could tell he was taking everything in, the appreciation that people at the session had for him, the admiration, and the affection.

After the conference was over and I was driving back home to northern California it began to sink in. I had met or re-connected with so many wonderful people, learned important ideas from other breakout presenters, poured everything I had into my own breakout sessions, and, as I visited with others, even came upon more anecdotes for the ending of the biography, yet none of these things represented the most significant piece of the conference for me. It began to sink in that the most important part of the conference for me, the best reason for my attending the conference, was Glasser hearing and seeing the interest that others had in his story and hearing their thanks and affirmation for his efforts. I had been concerned for months and even years that he might pass away before I could put a physical copy of the book in his hands. Now, after the breakout sessions that he attended, I felt that he had experienced what readers would feel as they read his story. Somehow it felt to me that a ribbon had been placed on the package, so to speak, during those breakout sessions. He knew the book was coming and got a taste of the interest others had in the book’s content. I didn’t have a publisher yet, but at least I knew that Glasser knew it was coming and knew that people were looking forward to it.

Driving on Hwy 5 from Los Angeles to northern California can provide a lot of time to think.

Driving on Hwy 5 from Los Angeles to northern California can provide a lot of time to think.

As I drove up Hwy 5, the main north and south roadway artery from the southern part of California through Oregon and Washington all the way to the Canadian border, I had such a deep feeling of contentment as I reflected on my Glasser conference experiences. It struck me just how close I had come to not attending at all. I would have missed so much had I not attended. A bit of pride could have kept me from wanting to do the breakout at all. Discomfort at the thought of having to share a room with someone tempted me to pull the plug on the whole idea of attending the conference.

The good feelings I had, especially the feelings I had about Glasser attending the breakout sessions, were enough to fuel my contentment for quite a while. (Here comes the Paul Harvey “Rest of the Story” part.) But there’s more. In November, 2012, five months after the Glasser conference in June, I get a call from Carleen Glasser. I was just getting out of my car and about to head into Calistoga High School to observe a student teacher when her call came in. She said something about Barry Karlin and that I should call Jeff Zeig because he was interested in seeing the manuscript. For months I had been working on finding a publisher for the book, even exploring self-publishing options. Harper-Collins was a possibility, I thought, but they turned it down, even though they liked the manuscript a lot. It appeared there might be a possibility with Simon & Schuster, but that didn’t work out either. Queries to Beacon Press didn’t open any doors and I was really wondering what to do next. Then the phone rings and it is Carleen encouraging me to get in touch with Jeff Zeig. Zeig is the founder and CEO of the Milton Erickson Foundation, a highly respected organization in the field of counseling and psychotherapy. I did get in touch with Zeig and sure enough he was interested in seeing the manuscript.  He read it, along with others on their editorial board, and they decided they wanted their publishing company to print it. We have been working on the book together, especially with his editor, Suzi Tucker, ever since.

It turns out that Barry Karlin, who I met at the Glasser conference months before, contacted Jeff Zeig and let him know of the manuscript’s existence. Barry and I had good visits during the conference and I was impressed with how committed he was to the Glasser message. He attended my breakouts and was one of the voices that asked for the second breakout session later that evening. Barry and I departed the conference as friends. I sent him the manuscript and sought his comments on what he read. He really felt like the book needed to be published and on his own he contacted Jeff Zeig and the Milton Erickson Foundation. That contact ultimately led to the book being published within the next few months.

Once again, the details of the situation hit me. Had I not gone to the conference I wouldn’t have met Barry and he wouldn’t have become part of the manuscript and the publisher search. The Milton Erickson Foundation would probably never have come up on my radar screen. I knew that Jeff Zeig was the force behind the success of the Evolution of Psychotherapy conference, but I didn’t know that the Milton Erickson Foundation had a publishing house until Carleen and Barry told me about it. Barry taking the initiative made all the difference in the world.

So now you know how the biography came to be published. It’s a bit of a convoluted tale, but most good tales are. The moral of the story? Don’t let pride keep you from experiencing life. As far as this story is concerned, a little bit of pride would have scuttled everything.

Bill Glasser at the banquet, held on the last evening of the conference, June, 2012.

Bill Glasser at the banquet, held on the last evening of the conference, June, 2012.

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William Glasser: A Life to Celebrate

Bill and Carleen Glasser (2007)

Bill and Carleen Glasser (2007)

William Glasser passed away on August 23, 2013. He was 88 years.

As an every-man psychiatrist, Glasser was appreciated by people around the world for his views on mental health and his strategies for counselors and especially educators. A progressive before it was in fashion to be progressive, he rejected commonly held beliefs that blamed mental disease for people’s behavior and instead described methods whereby people could recognize their own role in returning to wellness.

Glasser’s ideas on mental health began to form in the late 1950s when he worked with veterans in a mental hospital in Los Angeles and with delinquent teenage girls in a prison school. He burst onto a national stage, though, when he published Reality Therapy in 1965, and then Schools Without Failure in 1969. Reality Therapy was like a psychiatric shot heard around the world and he began to receive a lot of attention, especially from those working within the helping professions — counselors, social workers, corrections officers, addiction clinics, and especially teachers.

Reality therapy went on to become one of the main talking therapy options that future therapists learned about in degree programs and established Glasser as one of the most well-known psychiatrists in the world. He believed that the concept that people suffer from a mental illness was actually a road block to effective treatment, rather than being a help. Glasser wanted to compassionately help people become stronger and more responsible. To that end, reality therapy emphasized the need for a warm, caring relationship between therapist and patient; was built on the belief that people are capable of becoming responsible for their behavior; focused on the present and future, rather than the past; focused on present, conscious thinking and behavior, rather than trying to discover “unconscious” thought patterns; and desired to teach patients ways to fulfill their own needs within an effective (personal) moral framework. It was a groundbreaking approach that ultimately led to many others also building on the site that he began.

School principals and teachers recognized something special in reality therapy that could make a positive difference in the lives of students and when Glasser received a large grant to improve public education in 1967 the Educator Training Center was established and he embarked on a lifelong quest to show educators the importance of providing a need-satisfying environment for students. Of his 23 books, five of them were exclusively school related.

Glasser came to be known for control theory, the theory that he felt explained why reality therapy was so effective. Control theory described how people are internally motivated and are always acting in a way that they think will best meet their needs, which may even include choosing to be miserable. He became known for his emphasis on the idea that the only person we can control is ourself. Mental health, or happiness, is maintained as a person learns to stop trying to control others behavior and instead learns how to form and keep good relationships with the important people in his life. Glasser liked the details of control theory, but not the label, and in 1996 he changed the label to choice theory, which he felt more accurately described the essence of his beliefs.

Glasser was a prolific writer and lecturer and leaves behind a body of work–23 books, multiple booklets, and many, many journal articles– that will provide support and challenge traditional approaches for years to come. Besides eight active regional organizations throughout the U.S., the Glasser Institute also has a presence in more than 20 countries on six continents. Australia is one of the countries that has especially embraced Glasser’s ideas.

Glasser became a board-certified psychiatrist in 1961, and while he was well known in the popular press, he was not embraced by his own field. Writing books like Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health (2003) may have something to do with that. Being progressive has a price. Yet, even though he was somewhat ignored within psychiatry, toward the end of his career he received a great deal of official appreciation. In 2003 Glasser received the Professional Development Award from the American Counseling Association for his significant contributions to the field of counseling. The following year the ACA conferred to him the Legend in Counseling Award for his development of reality therapy. In 2005, along with being one of the faculty for the esteemed Evolution of Psychotherapy conference, he was presented the prestigious Master Therapist designation by the American Psychotherapy Association. He received two honorary doctorates–one from the University of San Francisco in 1990 and the other from Pacific Union College in 2006.  And in May, 2013, Glasser was officially recognized by the California state senate for a lifetime of achievements and his meritorious service to humanity.

Glasser was preceded in death by his first wife, Naomi, and his son, Joe. He is survived by his wife, soul mate, and co-author, Carleen; and his daughter, Alice, and son, Martin; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; as well as his brother, Henry, and sister, Janet. He is survived, too, by the many who heard him talk and read his books and articles and who, in some small way, felt like they were his soul mate as well. To his loved ones and close friends, and to every one of his “survivors” — Here’s to a life of choice!

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What could be added to this tribute to make it even better? What did I leave out?

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Thank you to those of you who responded to the initial announcement of Bill’s passing away. Some very heartfelt and eloquent thoughts were expressed in those comments.

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If you haven’t, I hope you’ll take a moment and sign up to follow The Better Plan blog. It’s also easy to register for WordPress, which then allows you to click on the LIKE button of blogs you appreciate. I think this would be especially good for the blogs about Glasser’s passing away. WordPress is the biggest of all blog sites and a blog like this one being LIKED by a large number of people would alert  a huge blogging community to the life and work of William Glasser.

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