Reality Therapy
by Paul Hazelden


Introduction

I have spent a great deal of time over the years talking with people about their problems.   I have, as a consequence, read numerous books and attended various training courses, but all of them have left me unsatisfied for one reason or another.

On the one hand, you have the non-directive groups, which say that you must not tell people what to do: they must find their own answers. While there is a great deal of truth in this, I sometimes consider it immoral to refrain from telling people things they need to know and understand. Loving people must sometimes involve warning them and informing them.

On the other hand, the groups which start off with the idea that they alone know and understand the Truth, and that the job of counselling is to get the counsellee to grasp and apply this Truth - they scare me. I don't care whether they are Freudian or evangelical Christian. They believe they have all the answers, and all they need is to work out which box this person belongs in and they can then give a complete recipe for success.

I have attempted to steer a course in between the feeble "I don't have any answers" and the arrogant "I have all the answers". This document attempts to describe a conceptual framework which seems to support this middle approach, enabling me to offer people real hope and the prospect of effective change in their life without requiring them to buy into every detail of my philosophical and theological beliefs.

What is Your Problem?

People ask for help because they feel they have a problem. It is generally recognised that the problem which drives them to ask for help is often a symptom rather than a cause. But this insight is itself dangerous, and tends to encourage the counsellor to dismiss the presented problem lightly. "Okay, that is what you tell me: now I will discover what the real problem is."

I think it is safer to start with an understanding of the problem which both parties can agree on and work with. My working definition of the nature of the problems people experience goes like this:

We have a 'problem' when there is a perceived mis-match between what we believe to be reality and what we experience (i.e., what we understand to be the facts).

Using this definition, it follows that the problem is solved when our perception of reality matches the facts.

What is Reality?

We need to recognise that reality has numerous facets:

We have a problem with reality when our beliefs do not tie in with our experiences as we perceive them.

 

The Starting Point

There is a real world out there. We discover what it is like by perception, interpretation and reason. We build up expectations which become a model of the real world which we can use when we want to make decisions.

There is an old joke about an engineer, a physist and a mathematician in a train travelling from England to Scotland. As the train corsses the border into Scotland, they look out of the window and see a field with a single black cow in it. "Ah!" says the engineer, "I see that all cows in Scotland are black." "No," says the physist, "you should say that some cows in Scotland are black." "Actually," says the mathematician, "we can only say that there is in Scotland at least one cow, at least one side of which is black."

If we stick solely to our perceptions, we will not fall into error (except by interpretating them wrongly...) but this will not provide much by way of useful information. If we reason and extrapolate, we get more useful information but it is more likely to be wrong. There is no way out of this dilemma. In order to live, we must make guesses and assumptions which may be wrong.

Let us start off with the assumption that reality is both physical and spiritual. I do not actually find this split a helpful one, but we can come back to that. Most people work with these categories, so let's use them for the time being.

 

Reality
(Everything that exists)
 

   
Physical Spiritual
   
Experience Experience
   
Perception Perception
   
Theory Theory
   
Expectation Expectation
   
Model Model
   

 
Action
(Depends on the model)

 

We have spiritual problems when the spiritual model fails to match our experience.

We have psychological problems when the physical model fails to match our experience.

Our faith is 'tested' when the physical model and the spiritual model conflict about the action we should perform.

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