I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Robert Wubbolding for the Spring 2017 issues of the Chi Sigma Iota, Omega Zeta (Walden University) Chapter Newsletter. The published interview is reproduced here.
I can remember the moment that I knew reality therapy was the theory of counseling that resonated most with me. I was taking the Theories of Counseling course near the beginning of my Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. For an assignment in the course, we had to watch a video of a practical demonstration of a counseling theory. By sheer chance, I opted to watch a video on reality therapy (Psychotherapy, 1997). The video showed Dr. Robert Wubbolding dealing with a student named “Juan” who was procrastinating about writing his thesis. Watching that demonstration of reality therapy led me to a theory of counseling that reflected how I understood my experiences and viewed the world. “I made a lot of friends with that video,” Dr. Wubbolding said. “A lot of people say, [Oh my God! How can you stand that kid? He was all over the place]. “But I thought if you know reality therapy then you just keep bringing him back and trying to focus with him.”
I had the privilege of being able to arrange an interview with Dr. Wubbolding for this edition of the Spring 2017 issue of the Omega Zeta Chapter Newsletter – a definite benefit for volunteering for the newsletter committee! Dr. Wubbolding has had a prolific career. He is a counselor, a professor emeritus of counseling, an in-demand speaker at conferences, and an author of 14 published books and 31 book chapters (Wubbolding, 2016). His 15th book, Reality Therapy and Self-Evaluation: The Key to Client Change, was published in April 2017 by the American Counseling Association (ACA). In 2014, the ACA honored him as a “Legend of Counseling.”
Entering the Profession
He spoke first about why he initially entered the counseling profession. He said:
I’ve always been interested in working with people and making a contribution, helping people’s lives to improve. And I found that counseling was about the best way I knew how to do that. I was first a high school teacher, and then I got into high school counseling, and then I got a doctorate in counseling and taught at a university, Xavier, in Cincinnati. And then I got interested in reality therapy, and I found that to be, for me, the best system. I just kind of went from one thing to another. You just sort of move along and sometimes things come your way.
Dr. Wubbolding is recognized as one of the leading figures in the development of reality therapy as a theory of counseling. He worked closely with the founder of reality therapy, Dr. William Glasser. In 1988, he was chosen by Dr. Glasser to be the first Director of Training at William Glasser International (Wubbolding, 2016). Throughout most his career in the profession, he has been a tireless advocate for the promotion of reality therapy. I asked him how he first became interested in reality therapy as an approach to counseling, and he said:
After I finished my doctorate in the early 70’s, I wanted to learn more about various counseling systems. I went to Adlerian Training and Behaviorist Training and Rational Counseling, as it was called then. So, when I went to one in Youngstown, Ohio, which was put on by a man who later became a friend of mine in reality therapy. And I asked him, Where do you go for more information about this because I really like it? He said, ‘You go to California because that’s where the founder, Glasser, teaches courses, teaches workshop trainings.’ So, I kept going out there, and I practiced it, practiced it, practiced it and found that it was the best system for me. So, I began to teach it and got myself appointed to his faculty, as he called it. That was people who could teach reality therapy through his institute, and they could get credit for it through certification. Then I became the Director of Training. He asked me to do that, which I was glad to do.
For a long time, I have been interested in concepts of freedom, choice, and responsibility. I first encountered a lot of these concepts when I read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning some 20 years ago. Since that time, I have grown to appreciate the perspective that I am free to make choices in my life, that I can effect changes in my life through the choices I make, and that being free to make choices means I am responsible for the choices that I make. It was this aspect of reality therapy that resonated with me so much when I watched the video and subsequently read more about it. For me, it encapsulated the approach that worked when I made changes in my life. I saw that reality therapy is about communicating hope, and that hope is predicated on a simple belief that an individual can empower themselves by being their own agent of change.
Dr. Wubbolding shared his insight as to why reality therapy was effective. He said:
I think it’s effective because you communicate hope to people. Hope for a better life. And I think that’s how they really live. If you start talking to people about their plans, there’s kind of a subterranean message that’s communicated, and that is: your life can be better, and that’s hopeful. So, it doesn’t matter who you’re talking to. It could be the worst addicted person, but when you start talking about what are you going to do today, they think, You mean there’s something I can do? And that’s very hopeful.
The WDEP System
In textbooks on theories of counseling, Dr. Wubbolding is always mentioned in conjunction with the WDEP system. The WDEP system provides a framework for the work of counseling with a client in reality therapy. He explained what it was and what led to its development:
I was a teacher in high school and then at university and graduate school teaching counseling and I like to present ideas in a way that people can remember them. I looked around. Every system practically has their acronym. You have REBT [rational emotive behavior therapy]. And then you have BASIC ID [behavior, affect, sensation, imagery, cognition, interpersonal, drugs & biology] of Arnold Lazarus. I think these are ways you can remember concepts. So, I looked at the procedures that were taught by Glasser, and I thought, there must be a mnemonic or a memory peg or an acronym that we could use to summarize them. Well, I came up almost immediately with WDEP, which means explore your wants, and your perceptions, and the D is the doing, which means exploring actions, thinking, feelings, and then E is self-evaluation, and the P is the plan. So, I think it’s a summary, and it’s a way to remember the concepts that were developed by William Glasser, and I added some things. Actually, whatever I added is based on the choice theory. I think it’s a good structure. There’s plenty of evidence that when you take a structure approach, you’re going to have a better outcome rather than just wandering around with people. So, take a formal structure, and I think this is a good structure.
The Big Book of Unhappiness
One of the more controversial stances in reality therapy is Dr. Glasser’s contention that a medical model was inappropriate for understanding mental health. In fact, Dr. Wubbolding had mentioned in an interview elsewhere that Dr. Glasser used to refer to the DSM as the ‘big book of unhappiness’(Robey, 2011). However, many within the counseling profession have now come to hold similar views on viewing mental health through the medical model (Butcher, Mineka, & Hooley, 2014). I suggested that, perhaps, Dr. Glasser was ahead of his time in his views. Dr Wubbolding responded:
I think that’s probably true. He was ahead in a lot of ways, and that would be one. I say in the professions we have to use the diagnosis and the DSM. I say to people, ‘You may have your own opinion of it as Glasser did but, in an agency, you’re going to have to use it. You’re going to have to diagnose people many times. So, do it but then use reality therapy with them.’ He was a psychiatrist. He was pretty much on his own. He never really worked in an agency where he had to rub elbows with other psychiatrists except when he was an intern. So, he didn’t have to worry about that. If you have to worry about it in an agency, then you use the DSM. If you don’t have to do it, you don’t have to do it. But other people have questioned the need and the value of diagnosis and so on. He certainly did it loud and clear, that’s for sure.
Advice to Neophyte Counselors
I finished the interview by asking if Dr. Wubbolding has any advice for those starting out in the counseling profession. His response was:
I do. I think one is to recognize the dignity of the work that a counselor does and the fact that – I always say that counselors think that they are going to change the world when they get into it. And I say that they are going to change the world because if you impact one client and help them turn around, you’re impacting not only that person but their children and their children’s children. It just cascades down through history. I think it takes an act of faith that our work is worthwhile. That’s one of my suggestions for people in the counseling profession. Another one is to learn as much as you can about all the systems, but then select one that suits you and learn even more about that one. Too many of our programs produce people who are generalists. I think we need to stress something they’re good at and some specialty, whether it’s a counseling theory or whether it’s a problem or whatever. A lot of people are experts in addiction through child abuse or something like that or trauma or whatever it is; I say become an expert in it. Learn everything you can about it and go at it with a fury. I chose to do that with reality therapy, and I certainly am happy I did that. Other people can go in other directions legitimately.
It was a pleasure and an honor for me to have the opportunity to interview Dr. Robert Wubbolding. He welcomed my request without hesitation and was generous with his time and unfailingly kind in his demeanor. Dr. Wubbolding, as is probably obvious from what I have written, has become something of a counseling hero for me. The common wisdom is that you should never meet your heroes because it leads to inevitable disappointment. I can only say that I am glad that I did, and it was very far from disappointing.
Butcher, J., Mineka, S., & Hooley, J. (2014). Abnormal psychology (16th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Robey, P. A. (2011). Reality therapy and choice theory: An interview with Robert Wubbolding. The Family Journal, 19(2), 231–237. http://doi.org/10.1177/1066480710397129
Psychotherapy.net (Producer). (1997). Reality therapy with Dr. Robert Wubbolding [Video file]. Retrieved from http://search.alexanderstreet.com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/view/work/177898 3
Wubbolding, R. E. (2016). About Robert Wubbolding. Retrieved from http://www.realitytherapywub.com/index.php/about-bob-wubbolding