8 Reality Therapy Activities and Exercises to do with Clients in Therapy

Reality Therapy, a therapeutic approach developed by William Glasser in the 1960s, has gained widespread popularity among mental health professionals and has also been influenced by Robert Wubbolding (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). Keep reading to learn 8 Reality Therapy Activities you can do with your clients in therapy sessions.

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Reality Therapy distinguishes itself from other therapeutic approaches by placing greater emphasis on the process rather than solely focusing on outcomes and results (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

Initially incorporating Control Theory, which suggested that our brains naturally regulate our behaviors and emotions to meet basic needs, Reality Therapy later shifted to the concept of Choice Theory, highlighting the impact of our choices on our quality of life (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). This shift in perspective led to the belief that the choices we make regarding our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors play a significant role in influencing our overall well-being. Glasser, the developer of Reality Therapy, considered Choice Theory to be more beneficial for clients compared to relying solely on psychotropic medications for mental health illnesses (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

Reality Therapy recognizes the role that a child’s environment plays in shaping their future. Glasser advocated for raising children in loving environments that provide opportunities for age-appropriate freedom, power, and enjoyment (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). Such nurturing environments are believed to have a positive impact on a child’s development. Additionally, Reality Therapy acknowledges that adults have the potential to overcome difficulties and challenges stemming from their childhood experiences by actively working to address their unmet needs (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). By focusing on meeting these unmet needs, individuals can make progress in their personal growth and well-being.

An important principle of Reality Therapy is the recognition that all individuals are born with five fundamental needs: belonging, power and achievement, fun and enjoyment, freedom and independence, and survival (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). While these basic needs are universal, Reality Therapy acknowledges that individuals may differ in how they seek to fulfill these needs and in their personal perceptions of their importance. Within the Reality Therapy framework, mental health challenges are seen as a result of unmet needs (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

Reality Therapy incorporates four key elements encapsulated by the acronym WDEP: Wants, Direction and Doing, Evaluation, and Planning. In this approach, therapists tend to focus more on their clients’ actions and behaviors rather than solely exploring the reasons behind them (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

To foster responsibility and self-awareness, Reality Therapists often describe their clients’ symptoms using verbs, encouraging them to take ownership of their behaviors and emotions (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). They also tend to rely on “what” questions more frequently and use “why” questions sparingly, aiming to guide clients toward practical insights and actions (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

Why Reality Therapy?

Reality Therapy is chosen for several compelling reasons:

  1. Practical Problem-Solving: Reality Therapy focuses on practical problem-solving and helping individuals make effective choices to meet their needs and goals.
  2. Emphasis on Responsibility: It encourages individuals to take personal responsibility for their thoughts, behaviors, and choices, fostering a sense of control and empowerment.
  3. Effective for a Range of Issues: Reality Therapy is versatile and can be applied to a wide range of mental health and life challenges, including relationship issues, addiction, anxiety, and more.
  4. Goal-Oriented: It is goal-oriented, helping individuals set and work toward achievable objectives that align with their values and needs.
  5. Positive Therapeutic Relationship: Reality Therapy emphasizes building a positive therapeutic relationship characterized by empathy, support, and collaboration.
  6. Focus on the Present: It encourages individuals to focus on the present moment and make choices that lead to a more satisfying and fulfilling life.
  7. Choice Theory: Reality Therapy is based on Choice Theory, which asserts that individuals have the power to choose their actions and that these choices impact their quality of life.
  8. Customized Treatment: It can be tailored to the unique needs and circumstances of each individual, ensuring that therapy is relevant and effective.
  9. Enhanced Problem-Solving Skills: Reality Therapy equips individuals with improved problem-solving and decision-making skills, helping them navigate life’s challenges more effectively.
  10. Resilience Building: It fosters resilience by teaching individuals to adapt to changing circumstances and make choices that promote their overall well-being.
  11. Long-Term Benefits: Many individuals who complete Reality Therapy report lasting improvements in their mental health and life satisfaction.
  12. Transdiagnostic Application: While initially developed for specific issues, Reality Therapy can be adapted to address a broader range of concerns, making it suitable for clients with diverse issues.
  13. Cultural Sensitivity: It can be applied with cultural sensitivity, respecting diverse cultural perspectives and values.
  14. Collaborative Approach: Reality Therapy involves collaboration between the therapist and the client, with both working together to identify and address challenges.
  15. Solution-Focused: It is solution-focused, helping individuals identify practical solutions to their problems and develop an action plan for change.

Reality Therapy is particularly well-suited for individuals seeking practical solutions to life’s challenges, those looking to improve their decision-making skills, and those interested in taking greater control of their lives. It offers a straightforward and empowering approach to therapy that emphasizes personal responsibility and choice. Keep reading to learn Reality Therapy activities to try with your clients.

Mental Health Conditions That Can Benefit from Doing Reality Therapy Exercises

Reality Therapy is a great example of a therapeutic approach that can be applied to a variety of settings and a variety of presenting concerns. If we are to look at clinical uses, Reality Therapy can be used in individual sessions, group sessions, and family therapy. Additionally, Reality Therapy has been used in schools, correctional institutions, and rehab programs (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

Reality Therapy is a popular approach in addiction counseling and can also be used for clients who:

  • Are living with depressive symptoms
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Are victims of bullying
  • Are domestic violence victims
  • Families experiencing conflict (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010)

Reality Therapy Activities to Try With Clients

Reality Therapy activities can be an effective tool in each element of Reality Therapy. Here are 8 Reality Therapy activities you can try with your clients:

  1. Clients may find themselves experiencing distress when they find themselves unable to achieve their goals or reach the expectations that they have set for themselves. As clinicians, we can work with them to explore this experience and determine if the goals and expectations that they have are unattainable or unrealistic. As an example, not allowing the proper amount of time that it can take to reach a goal can make it feel as though we failed when the truth is that we needed a bit more time to accomplish our task. TherapyPatron.com offers a Expectations vs. Reality Worksheet that can help clients effectively evaluate their current goals and expectations so that the appropriate changes can be made so that they are realistic and attainable.
  2. A journaling Reality Therapy exercise that could be beneficial is for your client to spend time writing about how their relationships impact their well-being. As an example, do their current friendships provide a sense of support and connection? Do they find themselves feeling down or self-conscious when interacting with anyone in their life? Encourage your client to explore the positive and difficult effects they experience in their different relationships. Once they have completed this step, your client can then identify two changes that they could make that would improve their interactions with others. These changes should work towards improving the positive impact of their relationships. This can be done as a homework assignment and brought into your client’s next session.
  3. An informative Reality Therapy exercise would be to simply explore your client’s perspective of the principles associated with Reality Therapy. As an example, control theory believes that every aspect of our lives is within our control. Spend time exploring your client’s reactions to this belief and if they feel it is realistic and applicable to their life. Clients who have experienced discrimination, and those who have disabilities may have a hard time agreeing with this belief of Reality Therapy. You can then explore the differences found within choice theory, and explore your client’s reactions to this approach.\
  4. Learning new ways to navigate challenges and difficult situations can be challenging for clients who have been reacting to these situations in their own way their whole life. A useful Reality Therapy exercise would be to review TherapyPatron.com’s Solution Worksheet in session. This worksheet can help you walk your client through the process of finding a realistic and attainable solution for their current challenge. This worksheet may help them gain a different perspective on their challenge in some respects, which can help them work to find a healthy solution. This worksheet can also provide clients with a good refresher on how they can work to solve a problem outside of the session.
  5. Reality Therapy recognizes the role that relationships have on our quality of life. Each relationship we have is unique and often evolves over time. This Impact on Others Worksheet can be used to explore how a client’s actions and behaviors affect others in various areas of our life, such as work and family. By working through this sheet, your client may find patterns within their relationships, both good and bad. This allows them to see where changes could be made to improve the quality of their relationships.
  6. Introduce your client to the concept of their 5 basic needs as viewed in Reality Therapy. Spend time exploring how your client feels their needs are being met at this time, and which areas could use some improvement. Explore how their behaviors work to improve their ability to have their needs met, and how they may be hindering their ability to do so. TherapyPatron.com offers a comprehensive Needs Assessment Worksheet that can be used to guide this session if you or your client benefits from the use of worksheets in session.
  7. An important topic to review with the use of Reality Therapy, is how to set goals that are realistic and plausible. Clients may have ideas of goals that they want, however, there may be some gaps in their planning. The acronym SAMICCC can be used to help clients remember components that should be considered when setting goals. Goals should be simple, attainable, measurable, immediate, controlled, they are committed, and consistent. Plans and goals can be and should be, modified, to reflect any changes that your client experiences after the initial goal have been planned. SAMICCC worksheet can be used to guide the evaluation of your client’s goals.
  8. For clients who find themselves overwhelmed with a problem or challenge they are facing, an effective Reality Therapy activity would be to break their problem down into digestible pieces. The problem as a whole may feel overwhelming and scary, so when it is broken down into smaller pieces clients may find their associated distress reduced which would allow them to tackle the problem. TherapyPatron.com offers a Reframing the Problem Worksheet that can be used to guide this process and act as a reminder for clients outside of your sessions.

Final Thoughts On Choosing the Right Reality Therapy Activities for your Clients

Thank you for reading this resource on 8 Reality Therapy activities and exercises to do with your clients in therapy. If you find that your clinical approach tends to heavily rely on the importance of your therapeutic alliance, you may find that Reality Therapy is a good approach for you to utilize in your clinical work. Reality therapists are engaging, share their perceptions, and ask for feedback from their clients. This approach uses teamwork to help clients look at their actions and work to different choices.

As with other therapeutic approaches, it is important to ensure that you have the proper training and experience with new strategies and interventions in your clinical work. This can be attained with the proper use of training, supervision, and continuing education courses.

TherapyPatron.com helps mental health professionals better serve their clients. Our (editable, fillable, printable PDF) therapy worksheets can help you streamline your practice, effectively deliver different types of therapy, and support your clients be the best version of themselves.

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  • Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W. (2010). Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: Systems, Strategies, and Skills (3rd ed., pp. 338–358).  Pearson Education, Inc.
Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC
Author: Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC

Kayla is a Mental Health Counselor who earned her degree from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She has provided psychotherapy in a residential treatment program and an outpatient addiction treatment facility in New York as well as an inpatient addiction rehab in Ontario, Canada. She has experience working with individuals living with a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.

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