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The therapist, who withholds judgment and criticism, ceases to be perceived in the mind of the prisoner like an adjunct of the guard or police, but as a facilitator of positive changes in the lives of the prisoners (p. 102).
Correctional practitioners often speak of "getting back to basics." Reality Therapy and Choice Theory, which is an excellent tool for either classroom or self-study, is about just that. In the mid-1970s as a young juvenile correctional officer, I was trained in reality therapy as it was the cornerstone of treatment at the New Mexico Girls School. Since that time, many new approaches have been implemented, but if one closely examines all the "innovative juvenile treatment approaches," reality therapy is a basic component of each, and to this day, is the cornerstone of the most effective methods of working with youths. This process teaches youths to stop placing blame on others for their illegal behavior (p. 102)."
This is not to suggest that the reality therapy is a quick fix for the many problems that at the root of behavioral problems for truant and delinquent students, and certainly not an easy fix for those individuals whose behaviors have brought into the justice system leading to their incarceration. Reality therapy and helping people to see their choices, and to identify those choices in advance of certain behavioral responses that eliminate the choices, is a therapeutic process that requires diligence, trust, and patience. It is a relationship building process between the therapist and the individual. It is a process that perhaps moves along at a more productive pace than many people might estimate or predict, because it is focused on the individual, and not a group setting.
There are probably few behavioral problems that would not benefit from the experience of reality therapy. Even complex cases of emotional disturbance will benefit from reality therapy, but this does not rule out the options of other forms of therapy.
Therapy is often a step-by-step process to being with, building the links that hold reality therapy together between the therapist and the client can be reinforced by others approaches for certain areas of a client's problems.
Researchers and authors David a. Hardcastle, Patricia a. Powers, and Stanley Wenocur (2004) say that community shape and limit client behaviors (p. 5). For many clients, like the students and prisoners mentioned here, their negative response is the resistance of that shaping and the limitations imposed upon them by the community. Therefore, we can see how useful reality therapy is for these very people with whom the therapists are working to return to their communities in functional ways. The reality therapist will help the client to understand that the negative responses to the community's rules and laws by which their behaviors are shaped, are not punishments levied against any particular group, but rules by which the community operates without lapsing into chaos.
It is the community, Hardcastle, Powers, and Wenocur say, that also provides the opportunities for the individual affect their community in positive ways, and in so doing the community will respond with rewards for the clients to realize in their own personal lives (p. 5). Combining these ideas with those of reality therapy is the blending of approaches, but it is clear how this is useful, and even necessary.
If we accept community's central importance to people, it follows that community knowledge and community practice skills are necessary for all social work practitioners. Community practice calls on social workers to employ a range of skills and theories to help clients use and contribute to the resources and strengths of their communities. Indeed, postmodernist social work theorists such as Pardeck, Murphy, and Choi (1994) assert that "Social work practice, simply stated, should be community based.... [Community] is not defined in racial, ethnic, demographic, or geographic terms, as is often done. Instead a community is a domain where certain assumptions about reality are acknowledged to have validity (p. 5)."
There is nothing about the reality theory therapy that gives rise to concern. In a day and age when people are looking more and more to natural products and foods, and any natural process that promotes good health; reality therapy, or choice therapy, is an approach which is a natural approach. It is an approach that person-centric, focusing on the patient in an intimate one on one setting, and taking the hostile or defensive resistance out of the client group setting.
Reality therapy is about freedom: the freedom of choice, and the freedom to have more control over one's life through making choices that lead to positive responses by the people in our lives. The trust building that is at the foundation of this process is a learning process for clients, many of whom need to re-establish links and relationships in their own lives. Most importantly, however, is the learning process that allows the client to examine their own role in the choices they make, and how, when those choices were not consistent with the best interest of the larger community, then the choices resulted in negative responses from the community. These negative responses manifested in negative ways in the client's own life. So the client comes to understand that their choices promote a domino effect. Just as that effect can be negative, the effect can likewise be positive.
The personal choices that are made on emotions like love, loving, or the need to survive do not have be choices that lead to negative responses, which evoke negative responses. Rather, those very basic needs can be met with the reality of the situation, and the client is encouraged to examine that reality, first, from the perspective of his or her own goals and what they want to achieve in their lives. That helps to put the choices in perspective, the client's perspective. Accepting this perspective, is also accepting the client's role in their choices, and taking responsibility for what those choices lead to.
Reality therapy is about creating individual awareness, not just one's own needs, but of the world around us too. It is not a lone existence, and working with a reality therapist builds the support system that the client needs to face their future. Reality therapy is not about going back and blaming life's problems on others. It is about owning ones role in the decisions that we have, and which are our own personal source of power. Others do not have the kind of power over an individual, as dose the individual his or her self have when they make their life choices.
The therapist is making an investment in the client in time and professionalism. There is no judgment, no criticism, because that would be counter-productive to the forward looking processes of reality therapy. The past cannot be changed, but it can be examined, and used on a go forward basis to clarify the role the client has in his or her own life. This approach is about understanding self, and the world around the client.
It is a positive approach, and one that empowers the client, and stimulates their creative thinking in ways that have not been done prior to their reality therapy.
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