William Glasser (May 11, 1925 – August 23, 2013) was an American psychiatrist. 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.
He was also notable for applying his theories to broader social issues, such as education, management, and marriage, to name a few. He 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 in Cleveland, Ohio, to Ben Glasser, a watch and clock repairman, and his wife Betty. He attended Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where he earned his BS in chemical engineering in 1945. After a short career as an engineer, Glasser returned to Case Western in 1946, but was drafted into the army during his first semester 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 psychiatryin 1953.
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. L. Harrington, an older psychiatrist who openly disbelieved the Freudian model of mental illness, who Glasser credits as his "mentor". Glasser set up a private psychotherapy practice in Los Angeles, which he maintained until 1986.
He completed his medical internship and psychiatric residency at UCLA and the Veterans Administration Hospital, respectively, and became board certified in 1961. Glasser authored and co-authored numerous and influential books on mental health, counseling, and the improvement of schools, teaching, and several publications advocating a public health approach to mental health versus the prevailing "medical" model. 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.
Glasser authored and co-authored numerous and influential books on mental health, counseling, and the improvement of schools, teaching, and several publications advocating a public health approach to 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 Quality Management in 1994 and later the William Glasser Institute in 1996. The institute is located in Tempe, Arizona, and has branch institutes throughout the world.
Outside of the United States, the William Glasser International (WGI) has active independent national organizations in many countries including Canada, Croatia, Slovenia, Ireland, the UK, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Central and South America, Australia and New Zealand. Neither WGI nor its affiliate organisations confer titles such as "counsellor" or "therapist" in their basic courses. In Europe however, an advanced course can lead to the European Certificate in Psychotherapy.