Posts tagged “psychiatry

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!


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


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.


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.

I will miss you, Bill.

Bill Glasser, as we were watching a basketball game together.

Bill Glasser, as we were watching a basketball game together.

William Glasser passed away yesterday, August 23, at 6:30 PM. He died peacefully in the loving arms of his wife, Carleen. He was 88 years old.

I anticipated this day, his being gone, but it didn’t prepare me for the loss that I feel. He became more than a mentor to me. His ideas appealed to me at a deep level and ultimately changed the paradigm from which I view the world. That he and I were able to spend so much time together talking about his life and his views will always mean a great deal to me. In some ways, the biography that came out of those visits takes on even greater meaning now.

To a great extent, The Better Plan blog exists because of him. Scripture and other spiritual writers like Ellen White pointed toward a human behavior model of internal control, yet for some reason it was Bill Glasser that alerted me to the importance of the internal control model. It was my agnostic friend Bill Glasser that, in his own unique way, encouraged me to take another look at what Scripture and Ellen White have been saying all along. It was Bill who put me on the trail of the better plan.

For me, a light has gone out today. I feel a little bit more alone, a little bit more on my own. Grief is like that. It has its own agenda, it’s own clock. In time, the grief will lessen and I will see more clearly the many lights that his message ignited. Many besides me were affected by his ideas. As the creator of reality therapy and the architect of choice theory, Glasser meant a lot to a lot of people. That really is where I want my focus to be. Instead of dwelling on the light that has gone out, I want to think about the many lights that will begin to shine brighter. And by many lights I mean you and me and the potential of our modeling lives of strength and freedom.

In the coming days and months there will be time to say more. For now I am of the mind to reflect on Glasser’s effect on my life and cherish the time I had with him. My heart goes out to those who are especially feeling his passing–his immediate family and his close circle of friends and colleagues. We will miss him and there’s no getting around it.

I hope the media takes note of his passing and reminds people of what Glasser stood for and what he accomplished during his career. I would appreciate it if you would let me know if you see or hear something on the news or in the print media regarding William Glasser.  I feel blessed to have called him my friend.

Heredity loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger, BUT . . .

Ruth Rittenhouse Murdoch

Ruth Rittenhouse Murdoch

After graduating from Pacific Union College in 1977 I headed to Andrews University to get a Masters degree. While there I had the privilege of taking classes from Ruth Murdoch, a retired professor who by then was an icon in education and psychology. (The large elementary school in Berrien Springs had already been named after her.) On a day that she was scheduled to give a presentation, it just so happened that my father-in-law was visiting us and attended the talk with me. He had been attending psychiatry meetings in Chicago and drove up to Andrews to say to hi.

Her presentation was about the nature vs. nurture question and at one point in the talk she stated that “heredity loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.” It was a catchy phrase that emphasized her point well. (So catchy that I still remember it 35 years later.) Although it was not necessarily a discussion format I noticed that at this point my father-in-law, Charles Lindsay, was raising his hand. I hadn’t been a part of the Lindsay family that long (Maggie and I had been married only a few months then) yet I had heard of Charles legendary antics. At that moment I could only wonder what he had in mind as Dr. Murdoch stopped her presentation and acknowledged him.

“I think heredity is important,” Charles began, “and I think environment is super important, too, but I also think that the power of choice can overrule both of them.” Dr. Murdoch affirmed the point Charles had made and went on with her talk, but I don’t think  I went with her, so to speak, because what Charles said made a real impression on me.

At this time in my life, early 1978, I had not even heard of William Glasser (although I would read Schools Without Failure for one of my MA classes in April of that year), yet there was something in me, the very young version of me, that resonated with the theme of choice and freedom. I would learn later that it was in early 1978 that the power of choice began resonating with Glasser, too, as it was then that he started working with William Powers. Powers introduced Glasser to control theory and mentored Glasser as the new ideas took hold. It would be a few years down the road before control theory would take hold of me, too, 14 years to be exact. As a young principal I read The Quality School in 1992 and I have been on a distinct journey ever since.

Charles and Rae Lindsay (circa 1995)

Charles and Rae Lindsay (circa 1995)

Charles Lindsay, a psychiatrist and to me an icon in his own right, said something very significant that day. Our heredity may be flawed and our environment might have been troubled, but we need not be captives of dysfunction. Our power to choose can be a part of overcoming a painful or frustrating past. I say “part of” because I believe Jesus was right when He said that without Him we can’t do anything. (John 15:5) And Steps to Christ reminds us that “Education, culture, the exercise of the will, human effort, all have their proper sphere, but here they are powerless. They may produce an outward correctness of behavior, but they cannot change the heart; they cannot purify the springs of life. There must be a power working from within . . that power is Christ.” (SC 18) Our power of choice does have an important role in our lives, but it can only go so far. Real heart change comes when our choices are tied into the Holy Spirit’s leading and power.

Heredity is important, and environment is important, but the power of choice can overrule them both.

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