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What is Choice Theory?

There are many theories about behavior, but some educators and therapists are “choosing” choice theory over other motivational practices. What is choice theory, how does it differ from cognitive behavior analysis, and how does it impact clients?

Related resource: Top 15 Best Applied Behavior Analysis Online Programs

What is Choice Theory

Choice Theory is a type of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy that emphasizes the individual’s control over his or her own feelings and actions and teaches the concept that all behavior is chosen. It was created by Dr. William Glasser. The theory states that all human behavior is driven by the desire to satisfy five basic human needs: the need to be loved and accepted, the need to be powerful, the need to be free, the need to have fun and the need to survive. Conflict arises because humans can only control their own behavior.

The Ten Axioms

We have already seen the first axiom: humans can only control their own behavior. The second is that all we give or get from others is information. Number three is that all long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems. Axiom four is that we must have at least one satisfying relationship. The others are:

• The past has a lot to do with who we are, but it does not hold us prisoner.

• We are driven by the five genetic needs.

• We satisfy these needs by building “quality worlds.”

• All behavior consists of four components: acting, feeling, thinking and physiology.

• Recognizing that we all control our own behavior brings us freedom.

• We only have “direct control” over acting and thinking, but we can gain indirect control over feeling and physiology through these.

How it Works

Teaching clients to alter their actions and their thinking can affect the way they feel and the way their bodies respond to stress. Education provides a wonderful example of this. Students frustrated over their inability to conquer certain concepts and gain specific skills may be taught to reframe their thinking about what constitutes a quality world for them.

Other therapies concentrate on past behaviors and ask the clients to work through “triggers for the behavior so that they can avoid them in the future. According to an article in Psychology Today, Choice Theory and its component, Reality Therapy, do not spend time on the past. They ask clients to concentrate on the present ( the reality) and ask them to envision changes they might make in their behavior that would help them get what they want out of their lives ( or the perception they have of their quality worlds).

The concept of Total Behavior is also involved. That is the concept that people can do little to directly change their physiology ( such as anxiety attacks) or their feelings, but direct changes to thoughts and actions cause indirect alterations in those areas.

Choice Theory encourages people to build relationships that create “quality worlds” to build cooperation and connection with others.

Client Impact

Since all behavior is aimed at satisfying the five basic genetic needs, showing a client how behavioral or thought changes can achieve that goal is an incentive for positive change. The example mentioned earlier of frustrated students is an excellent one. Since humans can control only their own behavior, the role of the teacher changes from an authoritarian figure to someone showing students how studying and working hard and following the teacher’s instructions can help them achieve their perception of what their quality world looks like.

Behavior modification has many faces and some work in situations where others would be ineffectual. Choice Theory is one that has been shown to work well with adults and children in a family or individual situations and in the treatment of addictions.