Realty therapy, which was developed by psychiatrist William Glasser during the 1960s, requires those working with a student with emotional disturbance to develop a positive, friendly relationship, especially with those particular students who do not want such a relationship (Wong 2004). Realty therapy differs from other psychological models because it urges everyone who works with the student to enter into a counseling relationship with them, not simply the psychologist (Wong 2004).
Research on the use of reality therapy for students with emotional disturbance has demonstrated a positive effect on student behavior. According to Glasser, “Counseling is just one human being helping another with a problem. This is not hard to do, if the person with the problem wants to be counseled” (Wong 2004). However, students with emotional disturbance may be defensive and resistant to counseling, thus the school psychologists job is to motivate them to participate in counseling and to persuade them to want to learn and to change their behavior (Wong 2004). At its most fundamental level, reality therapy consists of four questions:
1) What do you want?
2) What are you doing?
3) Is what you are doing getting you what you want?
4) Do you want to figure out a better way? (Wong 2004).
For reality therapy to work effectively, it is important that the students do not perceive themselves as being questioned by a policeman, but rather by a facilitator. The psychologist must attempt to refocus the students toward their goals, and help them understand that the problem behavior is keeping them from reaching those goals (Wong 2004). The students and psychologist then review the students goals, stressing the alignment, or lack thereof, between goals and behaviors, and once agreement is reached that what the students are doing is not working, then other more appropriate ways for them to achieve their goals is openly discussed (Wong 2004).
While Wongs study provided positive indicators for the use of reality therapy for middle school students with emotional disturbances, he cautions that regulatory demands that are placed on school psychologists make it extremely difficult for them to find the time to provide interventions to reduce emotional behaviors in their school environments (Wong 2004).
The study published by George Sugai in the September 22, 2000 issue of the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions examined the effect of a functional assessment-based self-management strategy on the problem classroom behavior of a seventh-grade student identified as having emotional and/or behavioral disorders (Sugai 2000). The student was taught a self-management strategy that consisted of self-recoding work completion and appropriate hand raising, self-instruction on keeping his cool, and self-recruitment of adult attention (Sugai 2000). The results of the study suggests that the self-management strategy was “associated with increases in work completion and percentage of intervals of on-task behavior, as well as decreases in percentage of intervals of talk-outs” (Sugai 2000).
Rather than addressing the specific skill deficits of individual students, many educators use packaged programs that focus on teaching a wide array of skills that all students should possess (Sugai 2000). Such interventions are rarely successful “because they emphasize implementing an overriding reinforcement schedule that either worked at altering other behaviors of the same individual or worked with other students with similar inappropriate approaches to behaviors” (Sugai 2000).
As Sugai explains, “self-management involves teaching an individual two behaviors: the target behavior, if the individual has not already acquired it, and the specific self-management behavior being used” (Sugai 2000).
Self-management interventions generally combine more than one of four general types of self-management categories: self-monitoring, self-assessment, self-instruction, and self-reinforcement (Sugai 2000). Self-monitoring teaches students to discriminate and to make a permanent record of occurrence/nonoccurrence of antecedent conditions or target behaviors; self-assessment trains students to compare their performance to a set trained criterion; self-instruction requires students to prompt themselves to perform a certain behavior; self-reinforcement involves an individual providing or arranging for delivery of a reinforcer to him-or-herself for achieving a designated level of performance (Sugai 2000).
In the June 22, 2002 issue of the Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, Karen M. Harris examined the “rationale, development, implementation, and evaluation of a school-based program for students with emotional disturbances who are served in a special education setting” (Harris 2002). The results of the study indicated a reduction in discipline referrals, better retention of students with emotional disturbances in schools, as well as a trend toward improved emotional functioning (Harris 2002).
The education community has had a long history of addressing the needs of students that have emotional disturbances, and while there are many interventions available to help such students, the outcomes continue to be poor (Harris 2002). Compared to other disability groups, adolescents with ED have lower graduation rates, lower reading and math scores, are less likely to attend post-secondary school, and are much more likely to become involved with the criminal justice, mental health, welfare and public health systems (Harris 2002). Although there are numerous organizations and agencies available for students with ED and their families, schools have become the de facto mental health system for children with ED. According to one study, 75% of children who received mental health service received it from their school, and for most of these children, this was the only mental health service they received (Harris 2002). Therefore, the School, Family and Community Partnership Program was developed in an effort to improve outcomes for students with ED.
Harris study focused on ED students in middle school who were in special education classes. The program, which is constructed around the student and the family, includes various school personnel, such as special education and general education teachers, psychologists, social workers, counselors, and school administrators, as well as child-serving agencies, community representatives, and extended family members (Harris 2002). The 12-hour training program, which consisted of six content sessions and a role-playing session in which trainees participated in mock team meetings to practice the skills covered in the curriculum, is flexible and may be presented in either two full day in-service sessions or a series of short workshops (Harris 2002). The Partnership Project was successful in maintaining students in the schools, reducing discipline referrals, and improving emotional functioning.
The number of middle school students with emotional disturbance continues to climb each year. To help ensure that these children achieve and maintain grade level skills, and overcome behavior that may hinder their emotional and social growth, it is important to seek some type of professional intervention.
Harris, Karen M. (2002, June 22). A school, family, and community collaborative program for children who have emotional disturbances. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. Retrieved November 11, 2006 from HighBeam Research Library.
Nelson, Ron J. (2003, September 01). Status of and trends in academic intervention research for students with emotional disturbance. Remedial.