A Tribute To William Glasser

Dr William GlasserDr William Glasser has been a major influence in Ken’s life and work. As the world renowned doctor turns 88 this year Ken shares the perspectives that have made Dr. Glasser one of the fathers of modern psychology


Dr. William Glasser is 88 years old this month. He is a study in self control. He is a study in paradox. He is humbly assertive and seriously funny. He projects an inspiring presence which attracts students from around the globe. He is full of gratitude for his life, certainty of who he is and love for his work and those around him.

Bill demonstrates regularly what I consider his greatest contribution, his self control. He has the ability to maintain this self control in the face of acolytes and attackers, acceptance and rejection, and support and challenge.

Recognized Worldwide

My first study of Bill’s work began about 35 years ago. Besides Albert Ellis, he is most likely the only other living therapist whose model and approach to psychological intervention is recognized worldwide.

While Bill’s life’s work and influence covers not just psychology but also education and business, I want to focus on his earliest focus of mental health.

Three unique perspectives

There were three unique perspectives which drew me to Bill’s work.

The first was his unique perspective regarding the usefulness of many of the psychological labels. He had already figured out labeling people only helped about half the time. The other half of the time labels limited people in their learning and evolution.

The “mental illnesses” that establishment psychiatrists diagnose, treat and list in the DSM-IV should not be labeled illnesses, because none of them is associated with any brain pathology.
~ William Glasser

The second perspective was his rejection of the use of most psycho-tropic medications. He viewed them as merely masking the situation. Such medications were originally designed for four to six weeks use to enable the person to rest until they were more ready to learn. Bill’s concern with how they stalled people’s growth was distinctive and today still considered revolutionary in some circles.

“By putting drugs into your brain that interfere with its normal functioning, he [physician, psychiatrist, psychologist] is a hazard to your mental health.”
~ William Glasser

The third perspective was his position on feelings. Bill contended there was little value in talking about past or present feelings because it was counterproductive to learning. This evolved from his analysis of human behavior. This exploration was responsible for one of Bill’s most valuable contributions to modern psychology; that of what he called, “total behavior.”

What happened in the past that was painful has a great deal to do with what we are today, but revisiting this painful past can contribute little or nothing to what we need to do now.”
~ William Glasser

Total Behavior

Bill’s concept of “total behavior” expanded my understanding of all human behavior. He noticed each human behavior contains four parts. They are what a person is doing with their body; what they are thinking in regards to the situation they are in and simultaneously what they think about themselves being in the situation; what feeling is generated by those actions and thinking; and what physiological response is generated within the body by those actions and thinking.

This simple but powerful concept has been critical in assisting people around the globe to learn they have ability to exercise self-control in ways they had not thought possible. People readily take to the idea they have choices about what they do. It is more difficult to get them to consistently take control of their thinking in the same way. Bill’s simple and practical model proved useful to me in many contexts. It gave me a concept and tool to enable others to prove to themselves they could exercise self control. This was a critical and essential step in their personal growth.

If you want to change attitudes, start with a change in behavior.”
~ William Glasser

Bill’s Genius

I remember having dinner one evening with Bill while he was in my hometown speaking to a group of educators. I was sharing with him my opinion that the “total behavior” concept was one of his greatest contributions. I asked him how he uncovered it. He was characteristically the nonchalant genius, when he said, “It just seemed so evident to me from my work!”

It was an idea many people had a sense of, yet it took Bill Glasser’s genius to note it, develop it and use it to change the face of modern psychology.

So Bill … thank you for noticing it, thank you for pursuing it and thank you for evolving humanity’s sense of itself.

Ken Pierce,
a business psychologist, international speaker and author, has worked for 35 years in psychology, education and corporate development, presiding over his own company, Clarendon Consulting, a consulting and counseling practice.He holds Senior Faculty status in the William Glasser Institute of Los Angles and the Demartini Research and Education Institute of Houston, Johannesburg and Sydney. (read more…)