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Nancy S. Buck, Ph.D.
Nancy S. Buck Ph.D.

William Glasser, M.D., 1925-2013

Dr. William Glasser, the world-famous psychiatrist, has died.

Dr. William Glasser, the world-famous psychiatrist, author, and creator of Reality Therapy and Choice Theory Psychology, has died. Dr. Glasser passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles on August 23, 2013, in the presence of his wife and family. He was 88 years old.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on May 11, 1925, Dr. Glasser reached international fame in 1965 when his groundbreaking book, Reality Therapy, challenged the traditional approach to psychiatry at the time and ever since. As an increasing number of people wished to learn his methods, he founded the Institute for Reality Therapy, now called William Glasser International.

Today his ideas on therapy, education, management, and personal well-being are taught throughout the world, with international conferences every two years. He wrote a total of 27 books as well as publishing many articles.

Dr. Glasser first taught Reality Therapy and went on to develop Choice Theory Psychology. More than 84,000 people around the world have participated in his training seminars. He was among the first to question and doubt the existence of the mental diseases described in all editions of the DSM, and the subsequent use, overuse, and abuse of powerful, mind-altering medications.

Today, Choice Theory Psychology and Reality Therapy are practiced in schools, private counseling, prisons, for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations, parenting, mental and physical rehabilitation, divorce and child custody mediation, personal and business coaching, and so much more. In fact, war-torn Slovenia honored Dr. Glasser stating his ideas and practices helped so many people heal in their country following their conflict.

There are many countries in the world that have branches of the William Glasser Institute under the umbrella organization of the William Glasser International.

Dr. Glasser has been honored for his outstanding achievement and work in a variety of organizations, including the American Counseling Association. Most recently, he received a proclamation honoring his “lifetime achievements and meritorious service to humanity by the state of California.”

As a memorial tribute to my teacher and mentor, I am reposting my Happy Birthday post from May 2013:

Today, May 11, 2013, is the celebration of Dr. William Glasser’s 88th birthday. This innovative and groundbreaking psychiatrist has much yet to teach us. Dedicated to continual improvement, growth, and learning, his ideas, work, and words are even more relevant today than at the beginning of his career.

Following in the tradition of Alfred Adler, he has long been dedicated to teaching our children how to develop their own healthy relationships with self and others, believing healthy, loving, and strong relationships are the core of happiness and mental health.

Every school teacher, educational professional, counselor, and psychologist is at least familiar, if not conversant, with Dr. Glasser’s work based on his pioneering and controversial (at the time) books: Mental Health or Mental Illness (1962), Reality Therapy (1965), and Schools Without Failure (1975). But if you haven’t read or studied his more recent books and work lately, it is worth your time to take another look.

“He’s a classic who has stood the test of time,” says one school principal in Boulder, Colorado. “He’s like the Beatles. You can listen to their tunes today, and they are just as relevant, meaningful, and insightful. That’s Glasser.”

Early criticism directed to Glasser consisted of comments such as: there is no theory to support his work; he is successful because he is charismatic and is the therapeutic tool; his ideas are too simple. Forty years later, there are some modalities (Solution-Focused Brief Therapy) that proudly claim that they are a-theoretical.

There are thousands of educators, clinicians, parents, social workers, clergy people, business leaders and owners, and more who are fully trained in the practice of Reality Therapy and the theoretical foundation of Choice Theory Psychology. Glasser’s ideas are embraced and practiced by people on every continent around the world who are apparently just as charismatic as Dr. Glasser. They are following his ideas, having abundant success, and personally leading more effective and satisfying lives of happiness.

It’s time for the critics to take a fresh look at Glasser and his ideas. One reason Glasser’s ideas are ripe for criticism may result from him focusing his work and practice toward the general public, eschewing academic channels or the conventional AMA and elite psychiatric associations. Rather, he gives lectures to schools, the general public, and counseling associations.

Following a similar path to Adler, Glasser advocates a public health approach to mental health versus the prevailing medical model of mental illness and the heavy reliance on powerful, brain-altering medications that mask symptoms and still fail to lead to good mental health and happiness.

Children and schools have remained one of his primary targets for intervention and prevention. He is not shy in declaring our present use of external control psychology and pedagogy in schools as leading to severe consequences. In fact, he predicted Columbine years before this tragedy occurred: “The problem with trying to control students in schools externally is that teachers don’t carry guns, but students do. One of these days, a child is going to bring a gun to school. A massacre and tragedy will result.”

He states that the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual), known as the bible for those dealing with insurance companies and people needing mental and emotional help, is a list of the many creative ways human beings have of dealing with their unhappiness. The recent controversy within the mental health community dealing with the imminent release of the DSM-V is simply more voices added to Dr. Glasser’s own skeptical doubt of the validity of this manual.

Glasser’s Choice Theory Psychology states that when a person is unable to meet his needs for safety, love, power, fun, and freedom responsibly and respectfully, he will be unhappy—not mentally ill. All of the subsequent ways this unhappy person attempts to meet his needs unsuccessfully and ineffectively demonstrate the power of these genetic needs as well as the unlimited creativity of the human system.

Glasser is now concentrating much of his writing and work on the all-important healthy, loving, and connected relationships. He states that most people’s unhappiness stems from their attempts to meet their need for love and belonging by trying to control their partner or significant other. The ever-increasing numbers of divorced and divorcing couples in our culture are more than enough evidence of Glasser’s words. People don’t seem to understand how to develop and maintain loving and connecting relationships with one another without one or both parties trying to change and control the other.

Reality Therapy and Choice Theory Psychology helps people learn how to meet all of their needs responsibly and respectfully, including the all-important intimate, loving, and connecting relationships. The good news is that there is hope. Couples can learn to have loving, connecting, and satisfying relationships without needing (or trying) to control the other.

School children can have safe and connected relationships with their classmates and teachers so that quality learning and work can occur without anyone needing (or trying) to control another. And parents can raise happy, responsible, and respectful children without needing (or trying) to control their children. This is my work.

I started studying Reality Therapy and subsequent Choice Theory Psychology while I was still an undergraduate studying nursing. In fact, it was my father, an elementary school principal who was an avid follower and practitioner of Glasser’s ideas and who introduced me to Reality Therapy. I needed to read a book for my psych nursing class. Dad had the book, which was relatively short with big print, thus meeting my criteria as a college student. Amazingly I have been following and learning from Dr. Glasser ever since.

Dr. Glasser and Choice Theory Psychology have been the foundation for my personal and professional life. For more than 30 years, I have been able to create a mentally healthy and happy life, no matter what changes, curveballs, or circumstances are occurring in my life.

So Happy Birthday, Dr. Glasser! And thank you sincerely. Your courage, curiosity, and conviction to question, contemplate, learn, and shake up the status quo has impacted and improved my life and the lives of thousands of others. You have changed the world for the better!

If you want to learn more about Dr. Glasser and his work, please visit, or read any one of the more than 30 books he has authored written especially for you.

About the Author
Nancy S. Buck, Ph.D.

Nancy S. Buck, Ph.D. tackles the tough topics facing families today. She is a developmental and author of Peaceful Parenting and Why Do Kids Act That Way?