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Glasser was the developer of reality therapy and choice theory. His ideas, which focus on personal choice, personal responsibility and personal transformation, are considered controversial by mainstream psychiatrists, who focus instead on classifying psychiatric syndromes as “illnesses”, and who often prescribe psychotropic medications to treat mental disorders. Glasser was also notable for applying his theories to broader social issues, such as education, management, and marriage, to name a few.
Glasser notably deviated from conventional psychiatrists by warning the general public about the potential detriments caused by the profession of psychiatry in its traditional form because of the common goal to diagnose a patient with a mental illness and prescribe medications to treat the particular illness when, in fact, the patient may simply be acting out of unhappiness, not a brain disorder. Glasser advocated the consideration of mental health as a public health issue. Glasser was born May 11, 1925, in Cleveland, Ohio, to Ben Glasser, a watch and clock repairman, and his wife Betty.
He attended Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where in 1945 he earned his BS in chemical engineering. After a short career as an engineer, Glasser returned in 1946 to Case Western, but instead, during his first semester, was drafted into the US Army and stationed at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. He returned to Case Western in 1947, earning his MA in clinical psychology in 1949 and his MD in psychiatry in 1953. He completed his medical internship and psychiatric residency at UCLA and the Veterans Administration Hospital, respectively, and became board certified in 1961.
After being “thrown off the staff” at the VA hospital due to his anti-Freudian beliefs, Glasser took a position as staff psychiatrist at the Ventura School for Delinquent Girls, where he began teaching ideas that became the basis for reality therapy. During this time, Glasser met G.
Harrington, an older psychiatrist who openly disbelieved the Freudian model of mental illness, whom Glasser credits as being his “mentor”. Glasser set up a private psychotherapy practice in Los Angeles, which he maintained until 1986.
Glasser authored and co-authored numerous and influential books on mental health, counseling, school improvement, and teaching, and several publications advocating a public health approach to or emphasis within mental health versus the prevailing “medical” model. Glasser founded the Institute for Reality Therapy in 1967, which was renamed the Institute for Control Theory, Reality Therapy and Lead Management in 1994 and later the William Glasser Institute in 1996 in Chatsworth, CA.
The institute is now located in Tempe, Arizona, and has branch institutes throughout the world. By the 1970s Glasser called his body of work “Control Theory”. By 1996, the theoretical structure evolved into a comprehensive body of work renamed “Choice Theory”, mainly because of the confusion with perceptual control theory by William T. Powers, developed in the 1950s.
In the United States, the Glasser Institute was originally organized with regional groups in New England, the Sunbelt, the Northwest, the Midwest, the Southeast, and the West Coast. William Glasser to represent his ideas around the world. The members of the WGI Board are elected by members.