Making choices usually involves some type of motivation. People usually don’t make important decisions randomly but instead are influenced by different factors. Choice theory suggests that people will always choose things based on their intrinsic motivations. This means then that they are responsible for the decisions they make. If this is true then it has serious implications for how problems like addiction are viewed. It also suggests that the only person who can help the individual is themselves.
Motivation is the driving force behind actions. Even people who like to sit around watching TV all day will be doing so because of this force. It is wrong to say that they are lacking in motivation. Instead it would be fairer to say that they were motivated to engage in what others would consider unhealthy behavior. It is usual to describe motivation as either intrinsic or extrinsic. With intrinsic motivation the individual will do things because they feel that it is good or right. Extrinsic motivation comes from societal expectations, peer groups and authority figures. Therefore an individual might be motivated to do something because they feel it is right or because they feel forced to by external conditions and expectations.
Choice theory has been developed by American psychiatrist William Glasser. One of the most controversial elements of this theory is the idea that all behavior is chosen. Therefore the motivation for such action is always going to be intrinsic. Glasser refers to other theories that focus more on extrinsic motivation as external control psychology. He views such psychology as not only wrong but also potentially harmful.
Humans are seen as developing Quality World Pictures and their choices will then be made to fit in with this. This Quality World is created by all the experiences that the individual has ever had. Within this world will be ideas about how to best fulfill basic human needs. There will also be pictures of what the individual wants to be and the things they want to do in life. The fact that people experience different things as they grow means that their Quality Worlds will differ too.
Choice Theory breaks down human needs into five basic types:
* Survival needs include things like food, shelter, warmth, and security
* The need to belong
* The need to have fun
* The need for power
* The need for freedom
The individual may not be fully aware of their basic needs on an intellectual level, but such needs will still motivate their choices.
Problems arise when the individual uses ineffective strategies when trying to meet their five basic needs. If a better way of achieving success with the five needs is offered to the individual they will have no difficulty changing their behavior. Reality therapy is a type of counseling where the client is encouraged to develop more effective behaviors. It is all about problem solving and not just telling the client how they should behave. Once the individual can see how a new approach can work they will voluntarily accept it without the need for any cajoling.
Choice Theory and Addiction
Another important idea in choice theory is that addictions and most forms of mental illness are caused by unhappiness. Alcohol and drug abuse occur because of the choices people make and not because of some type of disease. It is up to the individual to take responsibility for their actions so that they can rectify the situation. It is suggested that if the addict can find a path that will provide them with happiness they will easily be able to break away from their addiction. Reality therapy is advocated as a way to help the individual discover this path to happiness.
Many of those individuals who enter recovery will later relapse back to the abuse. There are many possible explanations as to why this happens. There is even the claim that relapse is a normal of recovery and that the individual may need to do this a few times before they find lasting abstinence. In choice theory the only reason why an individual returns to addiction is that they have decided to do so. They are fully responsible for the relapse and it will be up to them to once again quit addiction if they choose to do so.
Choice Theory and Personal Empowerment
People will often justify their actions as being due to some external event. An example of this would be the drunk driver who explains away his behavior by saying that his wife made him angry. According to choice theory the reason why this man got in his car while under the influence is that he chooses to do so.
In a world where people make choices mostly due to external motivations they will not have much freedom. Choice theory suggests a different world where people have much more power to control their lives. The ideas within this theory are empowering and this explains why Glasser’s work is currently so popular.
Criticisms of Choice Theory
The claim that people are always intrinsically motivated when making choices has been criticized. This would suggest that some psychiatric treatments in use today are inappropriate. If the cause of mental illness is almost always unhappiness then helping people to find happiness would cure most of these conditions. This conclusion ignores the biological factors that play a part in many types of mental illness. Critics also point out that Glasser fails to provide sufficient scientific evidence to support his claims.