Dr. Sam Gladding, chair of the Department of Counseling at Wake Forest University and former president of the American Counseling Association, has written the following review of Glasser’s biography for psycCRITIQUES, a publication of the APA. His assessment may be especially interesting to those of you who have read the book.
Theories evolve, but by the time they become chapters in books, they appear to have been developed and are mostly, if not fully, presented as complete. Furthermore, little attention is traditionally given to the theorists behind the ideas. In fact, most theory chapters, and even some excellent books (e.g., Corey, 2013; Sharf, 2012), only briefly describe the theorists behind the theories. Such brevity most likely has to do with word-count limitations and space considerations. Thus, most theory books will mention general facts and turning points in theorists’ lives but not a lot more. For example, a turning point in William Glasser’s life was his initial deep friendship with his mentor psychiatrist friend, George L. Harrington. However, what happened after the friendship grew cold? How did the break with Harrington affect Glasser and the development of reality therapy theory?
What is usually left out of most books and book chapters on the lives of prominent theorists is what motivated them to conceptualize human behavior and psychological interventions in the way they did. Timing and the matter of luck in the generation of ideas are seldom mentioned, such as Glasser’s fortunate naming of his theory reality therapy, which quickly became popular. Likewise, who influenced theorists inside their families and in their family life is usually not considered even though it is often quite relevant. As the late radio news commentator Paul Harvey would have asked, “What about the rest of the story?”
For those who want more complete information about psychological theorists, Jim Roy’s biography William Glasser: Champion of Choice is an enlightening, exciting must-read. Roy gives the most complete and up-to-date examination yet of Glasser and his personal and theoretical evolution.
For many older mental health professionals, Glasser is associated closely with the titles of his second and third books, Reality Therapy (1965) and Schools Without Failure (1969).
After all, it was these books that launched him from a state and regional maverick psychiatrist to a nationally known, famous, and at times feisty theorist. For those who have more recently entered the mental health professions, Glasser’s works Counseling With Choice Theory (2000) and Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health (2003) may seem more relevant.
The story of William Glasser starts in Cleveland, Ohio, where he transformed himself from a chemical engineer to a medical school graduate and evolved as he moved west to become a University of California, Los Angeles-educated psychiatrist. Roy explains how Glasser and his theory grew in detail, especially after Glasser settled in Los Angeles and began working at the Ventura School for Girls, the only job he could get after his fellow psychiatrists shunned him for not following the mores of psychiatry.
The exciting aspect of Roy’s work is that he includes the setbacks in Glasser’s life as well as his triumphs. For instance, Roy relates how Glasser was ignored by the psychiatric community because of his opinions about mental health and mental illness and how his isolation affected him. He also gives readers insight into Glasser’s family life and his relationship with his first wife, Naomi, and their children. Glasser wrote most of his initial books by hand on planes because his commitment to his family kept him from doing so at home. Roy also describes how Glasser overcame shyness and an avoidance of public speaking. He paints a picture of the kindness and toughness of Glasser as a therapist, a humanitarian, and as a champion for what he believed in: mental health.
Roy does not gloss over what made Glasser who he was and why his theory changed over time, for example, his embrace of choice theory as the underpinning of reality therapy. The fascinating aspect of the book is Roy’s direct reporting of events in Glasser’s life and his insights into how Glasser developed. Roy’s prose is crisp and interesting, especially surprising because he initially wrote this work as his doctoral dissertation. Roy did his homework by reading all of Glasser’s books, as well as his numerous articles. In addition, Roy interviewed Glasser 46 times over five years. He was as meticulous in his own way as Ernest Jones, the biographer of Sigmund Freud, was in his. However, Roy did not know Glasser for as long or as intimately as Jones knew Freud.
The Appeal and Limits of the Book
This book will have an appeal to numerous audiences. First, psychological theorists will find the text fascinating because they will be able to read about a modern theorist struggling to organize his ideas in a coherent and unique way. Adversity and affirmation are parts of Glasser’s life that Roy opens up to readers. Second, schoolteachers, personality theorists, and disciples of choice theory will find a treasure trove of information that will enliven their respect for Glasser and make them appreciate what he did even more. A lesser man would have done lesser things. Glasser stands as a role model because of his commitment to his ideas and achieving results. Finally, readers in the general public who enjoy biographies will find Roy’s text fascinating because it tells an engaging story about a famous man and how he became who he was. The book traces the steps taken by Glasser to rise from obscurity at a school for delinquent girls to notoriety as a defender of mental health.
Overall, the strengths of William Glasser: Champion of Choice are its readability and its attention to detail. This book is a developmental history of an unlikely psychiatrist becoming eminent internationally against formidable odds; Glasser influenced psychology and psychiatry, but he also made major contributions to humanity. The weakness of the book is that Roy’s story of Glasser is retrospective and subjective because much of it was related by Glasser himself, who was 78 when the interviews started. Although it appears that most of what Glasser says is brutally honest, few dialogues of Glasser’s discussions with his contemporaries are provided except in summary form. Therefore, it may be that some events in Glasser’s life, like his break with his mentor, Harrington, were more painful and troubling than what Glasser conveyed to Roy.
Nevertheless, this book is enlightening and exciting. It gives inside information that helps explain a complex man and his thinking more thoroughly. It helps the reader appreciate the battles Glasser fought and often won on his way to becoming prominent. Finally, the book brings Glasser to life as an advocate for the betterment of humanity, especially for those in less-than-the-best positions to speak for themselves, such as children, prisoners, people who are lonely, and individuals experiencing mental distress.
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