Tag Archives: Dr. Glasser

Emotional Realities

By Dr. Ken Larsen (Originally posted November 14, 2013)

One of the characteristics of mental health and happiness is getting our needs met in and through our relationships with caring other people.

Dr. Glasser describes these needs in a couple of ways.  One, from his first best selling book “Reality Therapy” he points out that we need to “Love and be loved, and to feel worthwhile to ourselves and to others.”

Later, when he wrote “Choice Theory” he listed our basic needs as “Survival, Love and belonging, Freedom, Power and Fun.”


One way I meet my fun needs is by learning.  Recently I was reading a book entitled “The Female Brain” by Louann Brizendine, MD.  One paragraph jumped out at me because it spoke to ways to grow closer to the ones we love.  Having a wife, three daughters, and five granddaughters, the more I can understand the female experience of life, the closer I can be in these very special relationships.

This is a quote from the book: “If she’s married or partnered with a male brain, each will inhabit two different emotional realities.  The more both know about the differences in the emotional realities of the male and female brain, the more hope we have of turning those partnerships into satisfying and supportive relationships and families.”

I highly recommend this book.

Glasser Quality School

by The Murray Leadership Team – Alex, Nik, Kay, Diana, and Charlotte Wellen

The Murray Leadership Team has been invited to start a blog telling how life at Murray High School, the first Glasser Quality Public High School in the world, helps students and teachers become better, happier people.

I’m Ms. Wellen.  I love my students so much.  That is one of the best things about teaching in a school based on Dr. Glasser’s ideas.  We are free, even encouraged, to share love with our students.  We can tell them we care about them, and they understand that we want what’s best for them and would do anything we could think of to help them learn in the best way possible for each of them.  They share their lives with me and we learn from one another every single day.

In our blog, we hope to share with you some specific examples of how our lives, and our happiness, are improving by what we’re learning at a Glasser Quality School.

First off, I’m Alex.  I’m sixteen years old and I’ve been at Murray for three years.  I decided to come to Murray instead of going to the big high school that my middle school fed into.  That school was HUGE and believed in disconnecting habits.  For instance, they would punish students if an assignment was late by taking off points.  They also gave more homework than I could handle, which, even in middle school, was too much.  I even failed algebra because of this homework issue, and I’m a very smart person.

For me, it has been a great decision to come to Murray.  I have been able to learn everything I needed to learn, but without having the stress that came with all the work.  This has been possible because the teachers allow us to complete assignments in class and they don’t assign homework.  We believe that if you understand the work in class, why would you be doing more at home?  And if you don’t understand it, HOW can you do it at home without help?  We would call that busywork.  That’s a waste of my time, which I could dedicate to other things, such as improving my health with physical activities or enjoying my free time.

I’m Nik.  I’m a cowboy and I’ve never been accepted for this in previous schools.  I was treated pretty horribly by other students whenever I told them I wanted to ride bulls.  They thought I was crazy.  I felt really bad when they did this.  I didn’t want to go to school.  I kept faking sick to get out of it, which didn’t really work.  Considering all this, my academics didn’t suffer too much, but it was hard to get through the day without thinking down on myself because of what everyone else was saying.  I actually decided to switch schools and go to the sister school of Murray, a middle school that was based on some of Murray’s ideas.

Once I shifted schools, socially, I was still struggling because it was hard to open up to people because I was afraid I’d be made fun of again.  I have now learned not to really listen to what others have to say about me because every single person is different.  In the past, I never really came out with how I felt.  I assumed that people knew how I felt and didn’t care how they were hurting me.  Now, I know that by doing what I was doing, by not coming out with my feelings, my peers and family never really knew exactly what was going on with me.  There was a full other side to my story that they didn’t know.

Now, I go about any communication with another person, even a conflict, by telling them straight out how I feel about the situation and what I want.  I’ve learned that if I withhold any information, feelings can get hurt and I’m not meeting my own needs either, by trying to give everyone what they want.  As a result of this, my relationships have become really solid because we can work out every conflict we’ve ever had.  This makes school a lot happier, because we know where we stand with each other.

This is Kay.  I’m a senior at Murray.  I’ve been very happy here because everyone is nice.  They know the connecting behaviors, which helps us all make friends.  I have autism, which makes it harder for me to pick up social cues and at Murray I can trust that everyone’s a nice person.  The classes here are smaller and there is more one-on-one help from teachers and other students.  I’m going to take what I learned here into the real world so I can make friends and hold a job.

I’m Diana.  I never had a difficult time with getting along with other students.  However, as middle school approached, people started picking on me, calling me names.  Because of all this stress from being bullied, my grades began to fall and I felt worried.  I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to graduate.  Luckily, I heard of another little middle school that was located within my bigger middle school.  It was a charter school based on the ideas of Murray High School.

I decided to apply and was accepted!  The principal, Ms. Kindler, and the director of the school, Ms. Fox, started working with me.  They figured out that I was having a difficult time paying attention and that I had anxiety and ADHD.  I no longer was being bullied at the charter school.

I decided to apply for Murray High School, even though my mother didn’t want me to go.  They thought that going to an alternative school would be bad for me. I finally got tired of what others had to say about going to an alternative school.  I’m very glad that I went to Murray.  I definitely am still working to improve my attention, but I’ve met a lot of new people and my anxiety is getting better.  Now, I definitely have hope that I will be able to graduate from high school and that I’ll get my citizenship and be able to become a nurse.

Your Choice

By Dr. Ken Larsen (Originally posed 1/13/14)

perceptionOur perceptions are what shape our responses to life.  It is important to remember that our perceptions are not photographs of the reality outside of ourselves.  They are more like drawings that we construct in our mind.  We have some choices in how our perceptions are formed, and in turn those perceptions have a lot to do with our mental health and happiness.

I remember the 1964 movie “The Outrage”.   Paul Newman plays a Mexican bandit who performs an “outrage” on the female lead.  This incident was witnessed by four different people.  When asked to testify to what they saw, each reported a totally different incident.

We contact the world around us through our senses.  The data that is fed into our brain from our five senses is filtered through our past experiences, what we have learned, what we remember, what we believe, and our values.   Each of these filters Is unique to each of us so that even when two people experience the same situation the perceptions that are formed will not be the same.  When we realize this and engage in dialogue with others, we can share our perceptions to arrive at a deeper understanding of reality.  We can also fall prey to the folly of the six blind men who fought over their perceptions of the different parts of the elephant and never did learn much about the elephant beyond their own limited perception.

We have all heard the question “Is the glass half full or half empty”?  The quantity of water in the glass is the same in either case, even though an engineer would say the glass is too big.  Aside from that, the perception of the glass being half full or half empty is a matter of choice.   Dr. Glasser has pointed out that we choose our own misery.  This is one way that illustrates the truth of his wisdom.

In my dental practice I would occasionally have a patient who was nearly paralyzed with fear.  If I could establish a trusting rapport, I would help them come to the realization that their fear was a response to an internal perception and not to the present reality. If I could help them “be here now” the fear was dissipated and they would be able to manage their experience in a much better way.

There is a way that we can sort of step back from what is going on in our perceived world to evaluate our perceptions to see if they are helping us get our needs met.  We can then make choices in how we are going to handle not only our existing perceptions, but how our perceptions are formed.

Dr. Glasser’s book, Stations of the Mind, is very helpful with what I am discussing here.  Especially Chapter 7 “The Orders of Perception”.  What we learn about how we process our life experience can and will help us make the choices that lead to better mental health and more happiness.

Practicing Happiness

By Charlotte, Whellen, NBCT, Basic Intensive Instructor
Murray High School

I teach at the first Glasser Quality public high school in the world, Murray High School.  Not only do I teach English, but I’m in charge of teaching Choice Theory to everyone in the school: staff, students and parents. I work constantly to improve my own skills at making use of Choice Theory in my life, and I can see a steady progression in my ability to connect with those I love and to achieve an inner happiness from successfully meeting my needs without hurting those around me.

That said, I get many opportunities to see where external control is still lingering in my thoughts.  For instance, this past Friday, at our weekly Community Meeting, we were introducing some new students who have joined us for the second half of the school year.  The staff requested everyone to get up and participate in some icebreakers and some connecting games.  Most students leapt up and immediately began to participate.  However, there were some resisting students, who just wanted to sit on the sidelines. Our wonderful PE teacher, who had organized the games, gently herded almost everyone into the fray and they got up and got involved.  There was a happy excitement in the gym as new and current students intermingled and began to connect.

I was participating, too, when I noticed one boy lying against the wall, propped up on his backpack, with his hoodie pulled down over his face, seemingly asleep.  I walked over to see if he was okay.  He told me he was having trouble readjusting his sleep schedule since our recent snow days off and that he would be fine if he could just sleep there a few minutes.

At this point, I had a choice to make, but I was not aware of my choices.  I just allowed myself to move into “external control mode” and reminded him that he had made a commitment to participate and that everyone else was doing that.  I encountered immediate resistance.  He began to argue with me that I should be flexible enough to let him do what he wanted to do.  I told him that if he didn’t want to do this and didn’t feel well, that was not a problem, but he’d need to go check in with the nurse and see if she’d let him nap for a few minutes on the bed in her office.  Not surprisingly, I encountered more resistance.  I, also became resistant.  I didn’t raise my voice, or get excited (thanks to my practice with Choice Theory), but I didn’t move away from external control.

Luckily, the student did not insist, but he grumbled that this isn’t what Murray was supposed to be about and packed his stuff up and stomped off.  I went back to the games and later spoke with our astute  principal, Ashby Kindler, about the situation.  She, in true Reality Therapy fashion, asked me a question — how much choice does a student have about getting involved in an activity?

Since then, many more questions along those lines have occurred to me:   Is there ever any room for someone to just feel like watching?  Is watching not participation at some level?  How is sending someone out for not participating helping them learn to participate?  Did my interaction with the young man bring me closer to him, or push us further apart?

Both the young man and I knew that this situation wasn’t what we wanted.  He was blaming me for the problem and I was blaming him.  You might argue, in a way, that we were both right — he should have participated and lived up to his commitment to be actively involved in community meetings and I should have avoided external control and trusted that with time and creating as many strong connections with him as possible, he would eventually make the choice to get involved on his own.


However, I have often heard Dr. Glasser, in his inspiring talks, refer to our habit of “shoulding” on each other.  I don’t believe he invented that term, but he explained that if we tell someone what we think they should have done, or tell ourselves what we should have done, we are using external control on them (or on ourselves) and damaging our relationships.  He asserted that if we could just become aware of whenever we were using that word, we would soon be able to think of new ways to get what we need without the “shoulding,” and without pushing those we love and need away from us.

I have found this to be superb advice for maintaining my own personal happiness and I teach all my students about “shoulding,” which, of course, they love because it sounds very close to another phrase they  enjoy, but which isn’t necessarily school appropriate.

I have written an email to the young man today, explaining my thoughts since our interaction and thanking him for his willingness to engage me in a discussion about the principles of our school.  I didn’t mention his own commitment to participate in community meetings as a Murray student because I have learned, finally, that his choice in this regard is his own and the happiness of our school community depends upon our each deciding to learn more and more choice theory and choosing to practice using it in our daily lives.

Updated Solving Circle

by Dr. Ken Larsen

I remember reading “Choice Theory” for the first time. One of the ideas Dr. Glasser presented was “The Solving Circle.”

I think it is time to revisit the teaching contained in the Solving Circle and apply that teaching to some of the contentious issues that have brought us to a non-shooting civil war in this country.

reconciliationThe context of the solving circle was to work with a couple who are having difficulties in their relationship. Let’s apply these principles to a country such as ours where our citizens are having difficulty in our relationships.

Dr. Glasser started out by asking the couple if they really wanted to work it out between them. If they were just playing at reconciliation, he suggested they not waste their time or his.

He would then suggest they draw an imaginary circle around the two of them. The next step is to recognize that there are three entities within the circle. There are the two parties in conflict with the third element being the relationship between them.

If they really wanted to work it out to recover or retain the relationship, he simply asked them to answer some simple questions.

To start, he asked them to briefly state what was wrong in the relationship.

Once this was laid out, he then asked them to tell him what was right in the relationship. What was good and attractive and the stuff that would hold them together.

He then challenged each of the two to do something in the coming week that would be supportive of the relationship. That would bring them closer together. This “something” had to be what each one could do on their own without depending on the other.

Then he asked them if they were willing to do something even beyond the one thing, to do something extra to enhance the relationship and makes the bonds a bit stronger.

His overriding guidance for this process was to have each one ask themselves the following question before doing anything. “Is what I am doing (or going to do) going to bring us closer together or drive us further apart?”

He then asked to revisit the couple in a week to encourage progress.

If we were to apply these principles to the divisive issues in our country, we would quickly be able to name what we perceived as being “wrong”. The challenge would be to look for and acknowledge what is right and good in our shared citizenship in a country such as ours. Do we want to have a relationship with our fellow citizens? If we cannot do this, we are indeed in a civil war.

Are we willing to do something to strengthen the bonds that hold us together? Are we willing to do that something on our own and unilaterally, not expecting anything from anyone outside ourselves? Are we willing to act on the challenge given us by President Kennedy? “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country?” Or have we grown too sophisticated and cynical to think in such simple terms?

Finally, are we willing to accept responsibility for understanding our responsibility for the common good of all of us by seeking to say and do things that bring us together rather than continue to drive us apart?

If we can apply these principles, I believe our personal and collective mental health and happiness will take a step up.

“But I got an emptiness deep inside and I’ve tried but it won’t let me go…”

Dr. Ken Larsen

I believe that happiness is not something we can seek for itself.  Dr. Glasser and Mike Rice (a friend who is a Choice Theory Addiction Counselor)  have told us that we can seek pleasure for itself, because pleasure can be a solitary pursuit.  Happiness is more of a byproduct of a life lived in caring relationships with others.  Within those relationships we are getting a large portion of our needs met for love and belonging, for fun, for freedom and for a sense of self efficacy or power.  For most of us, even if our lives are reasonably happy, there is still a level of the imperfect in our happiness.  There is often a small emptiness somewhere inside that is hungry for something that we may not even be able to name or identify.

questionThis hole in us may be a hunger for more intimacy in a relationship, a spiritual hunger, or that unexplained existential loneliness that haunts us, even when we are with those we love.

I think the Serenity Prayer offers an appropriate response to this hole inside us.  “…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I have found that if I strive and strain to fill the hole, to find the answer to the question raised by that empty space, it becomes more elusive and slippery.  Struggling to meet an unmet need that is beyond our grasp simply drives it further away.  For example, if I am striving to earn the affection and approval from someone who has withheld it, this will just widen the gap, and increase the distance between us.

It is far better for mental health to “accept the things I cannot change” and move on to pursue the other good things in life.  Many have found that in the process of letting go, the frustration and anxiety that are associated with that unmet need subsides and may even go away.   The interesting and paradoxical experience of many is that sometimes letting it go is what allows what is wanted and needed to gently come in to fill the hole without any strident effort. 

I believe that a perfect state of mental health and happiness is beyond our grasp.  I also believe that we can all make progress in this pursuit, even though the price for perfection is prohibitive.



When a tree falls…

By Dr. Ken Larsen

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear, does it make a sound? This question has been posed to countless students in Philosophy 101 through the years.

It points us to the distinction between what Dr. Glasser calls the “real world” and the “perceived world”.  Having a “sound” grasp of the difference between these two is a big part of mental health and happiness.

The real world is where the tree falls and generates a moving molecular wave through the air.

When that wave strikes the auditory apparatus of a person it is perceived as a sound.  If there is no person to hear, the wave still happens.  So the question is answered by how we define “sound”.  Is it the wave or the perception of the wave?  This is the way that I suggest we think about the often repeated statement that “perception is reality.”

Let’s say that we agree that what we call “sound” is the perception of the wave moving through the air.  The person does not respond to the sound wave, but to the way that sound wave is interpreted by the brain as a perception.    This is what is “real” to the person.  The recognition of that sensory stimulus as a sound is the reality that enables the person to choose what to do about the sound of a falling tree.

Let’s use another sensory example.


We know that our visual perceptions are an adapted interpretation of what our eye registers.  The lens of the eye follows the laws of optics and inverts the image of what the eye is seeing.   We don’t “see” the inverted image do we?  The wonderful apparatus we carry in our skulls adapts the sensory data to a perception that more closely represents the image in the real world.  We “see” the candle upright as it is.

A perception is what our brain tells us about the information gathered through our senses.  It is an interpretation of the real world.  It is a constructed representation of what the senses pick up.  If we remember that my perception is a different interpreted construction than what your brain has constructed, we might take a step toward overcoming the conflicts that lessen our mental health and happiness.  It’s good to understand that many of these conflicts arise from assuming that we all experience the world in the same way.

To understand or to be understood?

By Dr. Ken Larsen

Years ago I was in a workshop on relationships.  The speaker had us all stand up and pair off in twos, facing each other.  He then had us put out our hands in front of us so we could touch the hands of the person facing us.  He then told one of each pair to push against the hands of the other.  It didn’t take long for us to get the point he was making.  When you push, people tend to push back.

Then he told one of the two to stop pushing and to step back.  The other one fell forward almost into the lap of the one who stopped pushing.

Kind of a dramatic illustration of what might happen if we stop pushing in a relationship.

Sometimes it’s better to work on understanding the other rather than being busy trying to push to get the other to understand your position.

I think people do better when they are understood than when they understand.

sexinheavenDr. Glasser’s opening question, “What do you want?”  Is a strong move toward helping the other feel understood.

For those of you familiar with Christian scripture, do you think the woman caught in adultery felt understood?   The Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, did she feel understood?

Many of you will recognize the prayer of St. Francis:

“…O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”

We have an opportunity with every encounter with another person to think about understanding or being understood.  It is a choice.  The choice we make will have an impact on our own mental health and happiness and on the mental health and happiness of the other.   Choose well.





Are Love and Belonging needed for mental health and happiness?

Dr. Ken Larsen

Let me go back in history to 18th century England.  Scurvy was a terrible disease that afflicted many sailors in the British Navy.  In fact, there were more deaths from scurvy than from combat and enemy action.  This was an unavoidable scourge until James Lind in 1747 observed the connection between fresh fruit, especially lemons, and the healing of sailors with scurvy.  One account I read described this situation: At the end of the six day trial…the pair who had received the lemon supplement to their diet made a staggering recovery and were once again healthy, while the others had worsened.” This proved our need for a regular dietary intake of Vitamin C by seeing the scurvy resulting from a deficiency of Vitamin C.

chair-beachCan we make a similar connection with the declared need for love and belonging?  If this is a need we should be able to see what happens when that need is not met.

I’m thinking of the “failure to thrive” syndrome that has been observed when small children in an orphanage are fed and kept clean but often die because they are deprived of human contact and the touch of a caring person.

If these deprived kids survive their childhood, too often they become the depressed, lonely, disturbed person who tragically lashes out in horribly destructive acts of violence.

Many of these people who have been deprived of love and belonging are diagnosed as being depressed and are given psychoactive drugs, presuming a chemical deficiency in the brain.  Sadly, this effort to help simply doesn’t help and has been implicated in worsening rather than helping the lonely isolation that is so characteristic of this deficiency..

I’m not going to tell you I have the solution.  I can stand with the growing ranks of those who are proclaiming that brain drugs are rarely, if ever, the solution.

The great spiritual traditions have all emphasized the need for love and belonging along with the admonition to provide that need for one another.   This is the “nourishment” we need to enjoy mental health and happiness.  Not to be loved and connected is to be suffering from an emerging and more clearly defined deficiency syndrome.

Here is the challenge.  Can we look at what is really deficient for those depressed, lonely, disenfranchised and often dangerous people?  Can we try to understand the real causes of these conditions that result from not being loved?  Can we learn from what Dr. Glasser said years ago, “we either help these people or we have to defend ourselves against them?”




I was born in a dysfunctional family

by  Dr. Ken Larsen

It was in Nashville.  I was in my Practicum Supervisor certification group.  Dr. Bob Wubbolding, director of Training for the Wm. Glasser Institute,  came striding into our


room, looked around, and then stated, “Let’s get it over with.  We ALL come from dysfunctional families!” We all laughed, sensing immediately the truth in that proclamation.  We all carry unpleasant memories, even scars, from our growing up.  Some are worse than others.  Many of us just carry on, having adjusted to the ways we think about those memories.  Some of us, however, have difficult memories that have become a part of our perceptions in how we see the world.  These memories intrude on our present experiences and can even have an undesirable impact on the ways we relate to others and deal with the normal challenges of life.

Dr. Glasser has made the point clearly that while past events affect our present lives, all we can work with is what is happening now.  We cannot go back to fix the past.

Does that mean we are stuck with the perceptions and memories of past scars that affect our present behavior?

I think these memories will always be with us.  What we can do is shift our focus.  This takes some effort based on insights we can gain from the wisdom of “Choice Theory” and “Reality Therapy”.

This shift involves movement.  Movement toward what we want, and away from what we don’t want.

What we don’t want is to be trapped in maladaptive patterns from our past.

What we do want is the mental health and happiness that comes from making choices that help us get our needs met.

I think our primary need is to be connected to others in caring, life giving relationships.  Some of us have discovered that making those connections requires a certain amount of skill.  Skill in noticing and responding appropriately to social cues.  Sensitivity to what is appropriate and what is not.  If we recognize that we are lacking in some of those skills, we can learn.

Most of us know the story of Temple Grandin.  I read one account of how she worked to learn a basic social skill.  It seems that she did not have a good sense of comfortable social space.  She would sometimes make people uncomfortable by moving too close.  What she did to learn how to maintain a comfortable interpersonal space was to go to the local supermarket where they had doors that opened automatically.  As you approached the door, the door would open when you got within a certain distance.  She learned that the distance required to open the door was just the right distance to maintain an appropriate space between her and others in a social setting.  So she practiced and practiced opening the door until she was able to reproduce that distance in her contacts with others.

The point here is that we can learn what we need to know to move toward what we want in life.

We know that we are influenced by our past, but we also know that there are no future facts.  We are free to make choices that will take us toward the life that we want.

And we can look at our dysfunctional family with an understanding and forgiving point of view, realizing that all of us only do what seems to be the right thing to do at the time.   We are free to shape our future with new choices, having learned the lessons of our past.