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Choice theory

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The term Choice theory (originally called Control theory) is a theory of behaviours posited by Dr. William Glasser, who has made a living publishing numerous books on the subject. It was first coined with the 1998 book entitled Choice Theory but the ideas had evolved from his earlier writings from the 1960s. According to Glasser, we all choose how to behave at any time, and cannot control anyone's behaviour but our own. This behaviour is driven by five central needs:

  • Survival
  • The need to belong
  • The need to have fun
  • The need for power
  • The need for freedom

Like Neurolinguistic programming (NLP), this theory has caught on with adherents applying it to elements of educational teaching.


Glasser's books have been criticised as being anti-psychiatry and anti-medical science. For example, it is Glasser's belief that there is no biological basis for mental illness - the brain is simply creatively expressing its unhappiness that can't be cured with medication. If the cause of this mental illness is almost always unhappiness then helping people to find happiness would cure most of these conditions, but it doesn't.

In education, when a student misbehaves, Glasser in his book Schools Without Failure, places responsibility for that misbehaviour on the teacher for failing to meet the needs of the student. This goes against his principle of choice theory which posits it is the individual who is responsible for their own behaviour.