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This article is about choice theory in psychology and education. For choice theory in economics, see rational choice theory.

The term choice theory is the work of William Glasser, MD, author of the book so named, and is the culmination of some 50 years of theory and practice in psychology and counseling. Choice Theory posits that behavior is central to our existence and is driven by five genetically driven needs, similar to those of Abraham Maslow:

  • Survival (food, clothing, shelter, breathing, personal safety and others)

and four fundamental psychological needs:

  • Belonging/connecting/love
  • Power/significance/competence
  • Freedom/responsibility, and
  • Fun/learning

Choice Theory posits the existence of a "Quality World" in which, starting at birth and continuing throughout our lives, we place the people who are important to us, things we prize, and systems of belief, i.e. religion, cultural values and icons, etc. Glasser also posits a "Comparing Place" in which we compare the world we experience with our Quality World. We behave to achieve as best we can a real world experience consistent with our Quality World.

Behavior ("Total Behavior" in Glasser's terms) is made up of these four components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology. Glasser suggests that we have considerable control or choice over the first two of these, and little ability to directly choose the latter two. As these four components are closely intertwined, the choices we make in our thinking and acting greatly affect our feeling and physiology.

The source of much unhappiness are the failing or failed relationships with those who are important to us: spouses, parents, children, friends & colleagues. The symptoms of unhappiness are widely variable and are often seen as mental illness. Glasser believes that "pleasure" and "happiness" are related but are far from synonymous. Sex, for example, is a "pleasure" but may well be divorced from a "satisfactory relationship" which is a precondition for lasting "happiness" in life. Hence the intense focus on the improvement of relationships in counselling with Choice Theory—the "new Reality Therapy".

Choice Theory posits that most mental illness is, in fact, an expression of unhappiness and that we are able to learn how to choose alternate behaviors that will result in greater satisfaction. Reality Therapy is the Choice Theory-based counseling process focussed on helping clients to learn to make those choices.

The Ten Axioms of Choice Theory

1. The only person whose behavior we can control is our own.
2. All we can give another person is information.
3. All long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems.
4. The problem relationship is always part of our present life.
5. What happened in the past has everything to do with what we are today, but we can only satisfy our basic needs right now and plan to continue satisfying them in the future.
6. We can only satisfy our needs by satisfying the pictures in our Quality World.
7. All we do is behave.
8. All behavior is Total Behavior and is made up of four components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology
9. All Total Behavior is chosen, but we only have direct control over the acting and thinking components. We can only control our feeling and physiology indirectly through how we choose to act and think.
10. All Total Behavior is designated by verbs and named by the part that is the most recognizable.

Choice Theory in Classroom Management

William Glasser’s Choice Theory is the theory that we all choose how to behave at any time, and cannot control anyone’s behavior but our own. Glasser also believed in the importance of classroom meetings that are held for communication and solving problems. In the classroom it will be important for teachers to “help students envision a quality existence in school and plan the choices that lead to it."[1] For example, Johnny Walker is an 18-year-old high school senior and plans on attending college to become a computer programmer. Glasser suggests that Johnny should be learning as much as he can about computers instead of reading plays by Plato. This concept is called quality curriculum; which consists of topics students find useful and enjoyable. Under Glasser’s strategy, the teacher would hold discussions with students when introducing new topics and ask them to identify what they would like to explore in depth. As part of the process, students need to explain why the material is valuable in life.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b Charles, C.M. (2008). Building Classroom Discipline. (9th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education.

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