On Saturday, May 11, William Glasser turns 88 years of age. Since 1960, when his first book, Mental Health or Mental Illness?, was published, and even before when he began to give presentations to youth authority staff around the state of California, Glasser has been a distinctive, ground-breaking voice in the fields of mental health and education. Books like Reality Therapy (1965), Schools Without Failure (1969), Control Theory (1985), The Quality School (1990), and Choice Theory (1998) appealed to millions of readers and offered clear, reasonable approaches for those working with the mentally distressed, for counselors and therapists, for social workers, and for educators. Some of his best work turned out to be for schools. Millions of students have benefitted from his non-coercive management approach, an approach that improved the lives of teachers as well.
I became friends with Glasser in 2000, which led to our working closely together, beginning in 2003, on what would become his biography. I read most everything he wrote, all of his 23 books and many of his journal articles, and interviewed family members, friends, and colleagues about his career, however it was the almost 60 interviews that he and I did together that formed the backbone for the book. The timing of our work turned out to be important, as he was still strong and sharp as we looked back into his long and impressive career. To pick his brain on important topics in such a personal setting is a privilege I shall always treasure. The book (I think there is a good possibility it will be called William Glasser: Champion of Choice) should be available in a few months.
Something significant occurred within the psychiatric community over the last couple of weeks and it reminded me, in a roundabout way, of Glasser’s basic message. The “something significant” was that the director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Dr. Thomas Insel, has come out against the long-awaited DSM-V. Rejecting the most recent version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), referred to as the bible of psychiatry, seems to admit what Glasser said for so many years, that it described symptoms, but didn’t define mental illness. People may act differently and even strangely, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their brain is diseased. Psychiatry and the psychiatric drug industry is desperate to discover the biological connection between behavior and disease in the brain, but as yet no connection has been determined.
A recently published book about how the DSM is compiled, The Book of Woe: The Making of the DSM and the Unmasking of Psychiatry (2013), states simply that “Psychiatric diagnosis is built on fiction and sold to the public as fact.” Gary Greenberg, the author of the book and a psychotherapist himself, reminds readers of what people like Glasser have been saying for a long time, that while the public seems to believe that psychiatric diagnosis is based on scientific data and comprehensive research there is still “not one biological test for a DSM disorder.”
My hope is that on this day, Glasser’s birthday, we will appreciate him for creating and refining such an empowering and hopeful explanation of how our brains work and why we behave the way we do. Rather than our being victims of a diseased brain, we can begin to take steps, however small, toward responsibility and happiness. For fifty years he has pointed the way to mental health, emphasizing the importance of the relationships with others in our lives and explaining the power and freedom of our choices. His ideas have meant a great deal to me personally and have added value to my life.
Thank you, Bill. May this day be special in every way!