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Reality Therapy Groups: Build Self-Esteem and Stop Bullying

Children who are bullied may dread going to school.

Children who are bullied may dread going to school.

Bullying Occurs Everywhere

Bullying occurs in all sectors of the society including schools, online, in workplaces, and in communities. This far-reaching and troubling problem negatively impact the safety and well-being of many people. For example, one study shows that youths who are targets of cyber-bullying are are more likely to suffer from depression.

What Is Bullying?

According to National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, bullying involves a wide range of behaviors, including hitting, threatening, malicious teasing, name calling, making sexual remarks, and attacking indirectly such as spreading rumors. At the core of such behaviors is the repeated attempts "to harm someone who is weaker or more vulnerable."

Schools Are Supposed to Be a Safe Zone

In the case of schools, these verbal or physical behaviors disturb other children, and affect their physical and emotional well-being. This could manifest in the form of school refusal, anxiety, depression or low self-esteem. Students who are bullied are often isolated, and in many cases, dread going to school because bullies repeatedly pick on them.

Children spend a great deal of their waking hours at school, and they want to feel that school is a safe place. Then they can develop a sense of belonging, so they can thrive and effective learning can take place.

The Story of A Girl Who Was Bullied at School

Bullying in Schools

Susan Swearer, PhD, associate professor of School Psychology at the University of Nebraska, and co-director of the Bullying Research Network explains that "bullying is a problem that reaches into the culture, community, school, peer groups and families." She points out that the the problem varies across different communities and schools, from being prevalent to minimal bullying.

Bullying statistics show that about 77 percent of students have admitted to being the victim of one type of bullying or another, The American Justice Department bullying statistics show that one out of every four children will be bullied sometime during their adolescence.. Additionally, statistics from the Bureau of Justice School indicate that 46 percent of males, and 26 percent of females have admitted to being victims in physical fights..

Children and teens who are bullied find it difficult to stand up for themselves, as they think that those who bully are much more powerful than them. The fact is, for children who are bullied, school becomes a physically and emotionally unsafe place. It is critical that school administrators and staff take steps to make school safer and prevent bullying. These strategies should include assessing bullying in schools, engaging parents an youths, creating policies to deal with bullying, and educating staff and students.

Students could experience symptoms of depression and anxiety as a result of bullying.

Students could experience symptoms of depression and anxiety as a result of bullying.

Bullying and Children's Self-Esteem

Children’s self-esteem essentially is the picture they have of themselves resulting from the feedback they receive from the people they interact with. Children and teens with high self-esteem have largely positive image of themselves. They are more likely to stand up to bullies because they have positive self-image.

This self-confidence comes through acceptance, affirmation, praise and encouragement primarily in their families, but also at school. It is also important to build children's problem-solving skills, to help them identify problems, find solutions, and enhance their self-esteem. Children and teens need to know that they have innate potentials, and are clear about what their needs are.

How bullying affects children's self-esteem also depends on their stage of psychosocial development. For example, children at Erikson's stage, industry versus inferiority, are eager to learn but they need affirmation from the adults they interact with. Failure to receive the encouragement they need, could lead to children not having the confidence or competence to deal with bullies.

Children and teens who are assertive are able to respond to bullies firmly but are able to exercise self-control at the same time. This comes with healthy self-esteem, where they perceive themselves as being of worth and having gifts and talents. In contrast, children with low self-esteem perceive themselves as being failures or stupid, tend to be targets for bullies.

Reality Therapy Groups

Reality Therapy applies Choice Theory, and can help stimulate student’s to act in ways to achieve their needs. William Glasser, MD, who developed Reality Therapy, explains that humans are motivated to fulfill five basic needs, which are survival, love and belonging, power, fun and freedom.

According to Glasser (1995) Reality Therapy helps people to "examine their wants and needs, evaluate their behaviors and make plans for fulfilling their needs." So bullied students are not victims of their circumstances, but can learn new behaviors that can result in greater satisfaction of their needs. His book, Reality Therapy in Action, describes case scenarios that demonstrate how the approach may be used to bring change in various counselling settings.

Glasser explains that Reality Therapy is especially applicable to groups, and consist of activities where group members connect psychologically with each others and the therapist. He points out that at every stage of the group development, the needs of the client should be addressed.

Reality therapy groups use Wubbolding’s WDEP system, which helps students to:

1. W= Clarify their Wants,

2. D= Describe what they are doing and where their choices might be taking them..

3. E=Conduct self-Evaluation, that is, examine the helpfulness their present choices.

4. P= Make Plans that will meet their needs.

Anti-Bullying Slogans

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Do to others as you would like them to do to you.

Building Self-Esteem: A Group for Bullied Students

Pre-Group Screening

Students may be grouped according to their age levels in elementary, middle or high school. However, the group outlined here consists of eight to ten students, age ranging from 13-15 years. Students could be referred to the group by teachers, counselors, and parents. Prospective group members will need to fill out a questionnaire about their experiences of bullying in the school.

They will also be given handouts that outline the group process and the expectation for members of the group, that also elicit their commitment to the goals of the group. Parents will be required to give their consent for their children to be involved in the group.

The facilitator/school counselor selects students based on a first come bases where there is indication that students are experiencing bullying. The facilitator will explain the goals of the group more fully when the students who are selected.

Group Goals

The group goals are to:

1. Increase members feelings of connectedness within the group and to the school

2. Increase students self self-esteem and self-efficacy in the school setting

3. Help students to become more assertive through learning assertive communication skills, to empower them in challenging situations

3. Increase members understanding of and practice making healthy choices.

Preventing Bullying in Schools

Outline of Group Sessions

This group is aimed helping to boost the self-esteem of teens who are bullied within the school environment using the principles and strategies of Reality Therapy.The group will meet for about 60 minutes after school, one day a week, for eight to ten weeks.

The eight session are are outlined below:

Session 1: Introduction and Formation

The group's initial session, is for students get to know each other, and to understand group rules. Group members are given the opportunity to discuss and develop rules, and which will help them to feel a part of the group.

The counselor then introduces activities to get group members acquainted. He or she encourages participation and feelings of belonging in a non-threatening atmosphere.Group members will begin to explore their feelings about being bullied at school.

Session 2: Understanding WDEP

Glasser (!995) points out that "the need for belonging is met in the initial stage in that everyone feels a sense of belonging n the group" (p. 313). So group formation and bonding of the group continues in the second session. The counselor facilitates building bond and trust in the group through modelling.

Students learn the basics of WDEP, and begin to apply it in their school situations. The counselor helps students understand that change comes from within themselves, and explains the strategies to achieve the changes. For example, the counselor could use a practical story to explain the concepts of WDEP. Then use brainstorming to check student understanding of:

W = persons' need

D = describe current actions

E= evaluate the person's current action

P= suggest new strategies the person could use

After group members understand the concepts, the facilitator will instruct them to make up their own chart in their notebooks and fill in the W, D, E, columns focusing on their experiences of being bullied. The facilitator will inform members that the P column will be filled in as they progress in the group.

Group members will use their personal WDEP chart to frame goals for the next session. This will help them to to review the WDEP system, and continue to evaluate their current actions in preparation for identifying new ways of doing things.

Children with high self-esteem like the picture they have of themselves, and they need an atmosphere that is conducive for learning at school.

Children with high self-esteem like the picture they have of themselves, and they need an atmosphere that is conducive for learning at school.

Session 3: Building Self-Awareness and Self-Esteem

In this session the focus is on setting goals to enhance students' self-esteem, help them to become more assertive, and be more connected to school community. The facilitator helps students to create attainable goals for themselves to develop self-efficacy. Group members then share two goals they intend to strive for.

Students will also identify and share with group members three personal strengths. The facilitator will lead discussion on the strengths they see in themselves and what others see. Students will be encouraged to remind themselves of their strengths when they receive negative messages, and especially when others try to bully them.

Session 4: Practical Steps to Achieve Goals

During this middle session, counselor will help students develop practical steps for their plans. This will include activities to help students apply WDEP to new strategies to deal with bullying in the school. For example, the facilitator could give an hypothetical example of a student who is bullied, and ask to students to to give possible suggestions that could help him or her gain control.

Each group member will then look at his or her own experiences with bullying, and talk about practical steps that he or she could take to take control of their lives. The counselor will need to continue to encourage and support students, so that they will develop feelings of belonging in the group and school, to facilitate development of self-efficacy.

Session 5: Practicing Skills Learned

in this session, group members will use WDEP strategies learned in previous session, to evaluate how their assertiveness skills will help them achieve the goals of dealing with bullying. Activities could include issues such how to recognize the signals and their own responses to these signals, demonstrated through role plays.

Students could then talk about their success or difficulty in trying to be more assertive They could then rate their success on a scale of 1 - 10. The counselor could help group members adapt goals to meet individual needs, and affirm and praise their efforts at being assertive.

Session 6: Take Responsibility for Your Involvement

In this session, the facilitator will help group members to use WDEP to become more involved in their school community. This session will focus on the students' need for love and belonging.This will help group members to learn how to relate to others and develop partnerships with in the school.

Students are now looking at the big picture, to find their place within the school community. The counselor helps them to talk about how they can get more involved in school life. Then encourages each student to share what he or she considers to be his or her greatest contribution to the school community.

Students will apply WDEP system to their need to feel a part of their school community by listing their current attempts to get these needs met in pairs. Group members then identify what they are now doing, and try to identify strategies that are not working and those that are successful.

The counselor ends the session with a summary of the points agreed on in the session. Then introduces termination to students to get them used to the idea of moving on after the group experience. Counselors could find the activities in Lisa M. Schab's book, "Cool, Calm and Confident: A Workbook to help Kids Learn Assertiveness" very useful to help students build the necessary skills.

I think I can! I think I can! ... I KNOW I can!

Session 7: Improving Communication Patterns

This penultimate session helps the group members become aware of the need for clear communication, and how to communicate their needs clearly. They also will become aware of how unclear communication can cause conflicts.

The counselor could introduce an activity for students to role play a scenario where there is ineffective communication. Afterwards, the facilitator encourages them talk about how the communication in the scenario could be improved. Another group of students then role play effective communication based on the pointers given.

The facilitator can then help students to talk about how effective communication can help them to deal with bullying. Also, help students to gain understanding that teachers and other members of the school are willing to help them, so they are not alone. As in all of the sessions, the counselor should model qualities such warmth, acceptance, understanding to develop positive relationships in the group.

Session 8: Moving Forward with Efficacy

This final group session provides closure to group experience. The closing activities should help members to continue the progress they made in the group. Group members should feel a sense of accomplishment for all the have learned. They should be given the opportunities express thoughts and feelings about termination.

Toward the end of the session, the facilitator hands outs the evaluation sheets and makes arrangements for follow up. Then the group moves into a time celebrations of their achievement with food and drink.

Students with high self-esteem are assertive and can deal more effectively with bullies.

Students with high self-esteem are assertive and can deal more effectively with bullies.

Summary of Students' WDEP Chart

Students will make their own charts and fill up the columns during the course of the group.

WDEP SystemQuestions I ask MyselfMy Honest Response


What do I need?



What is happening in my present situation at school? Do I like the direction my life is taking?



Are the choices I am making helping me in my situation?



What are the things I can do differently to meet my needs?


Moving Ahead with Confidence

To effectively deal with bullying in schools, requires a many pronged approach. These approaches should include initiatives through schools, parents, and communities. While all of these strategies are important, there is the need to empower students who experience bullying.

Reality therapy groups conducted in schools can support vulnerable students who are bullied with appropriate interventions. These students gain the awareness that they are not victims, develop healthy self-esteem, and gain skills deal more effectively with bullying.

References and Further Reading

Palmer Mason, C. & Duba, J. D. ( 2009). Using Reality Therapy in Schools: It’s Potential Impact on the effectiveness of the ASCA National Model. Accessed April 2013.

Glasser, W. & Wubbolding. R. E. (1995). Reality Therapy. In Corsini, R. J. & Wedding, D. (Eds.), Modern Therapies (3-39). Itasca, IL: Peacock Publishers.

Gilbert D. (2003). School Success Skills Group. In Capuzzi, D. (Ed.). Approaches to Group Work: A Handbook for Practitioners. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson education, Inc.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Yvette Stupart PhD

Share in the conversation ...

Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on March 26, 2014:

Thanks for your comment DDE. Bullying can have serious impact on the emotional well-being of children and adults if it is not addressed. School counselors can use reality therapy groups to help students who are being bullied.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 26, 2014:

Bullying has been going on for many years. It has become one of the most serious issues but still not dealt with properly.

Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on January 09, 2014:

Thanks ologsinquito. Bullying in schools is a serious problem, and steps must be taken to address the problem using multiple approaches.

ologsinquito from USA on January 09, 2014:

This is something all teachers and administrators should read. It's good that so much attention has been focused on bullying in the schools. For too long, people just brushed it off. I'm pinning this.

Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on May 22, 2013:

Thanks for your suggestion Denise. Bullying has more than physical impact on children in school. It affects their self-esteem, and they are unable to concentrate at school, which is likely to result in poor performance . Also, for children who are bullied, school is not a safe place. So steps must be taken to help them deal with the situation.

Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on May 20, 2013:

This is an interesting way to deal with bullying, rather than focusing on the bully, focusing on helping kids not be victims. Many bullying victims have difficulty with their learning, perhaps due to a physical or emotional disability, or simply because they learn differently than other children. Having the children meet after school may help them avoid confrontation with students who target them during that time. It is also a great way to get the parents informed and involved with preventative measures.

Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on May 19, 2013:

Tonya, I'm happy you found my hub informative. I agree with you that we have to start from early to stem the tide of bullying. This means helping children to get on with each other from they are young. One way is to have clear rules as to how they should behave, and then observe their interactions with others, and intervene to stop unacceptable behaviors.

tonya1026 on May 19, 2013:

Thanks for such an informative article. Yes bullying is a huge problem in our society. I think the best way to combat this problem is to begin as early as preschool. At that age you can observe many behaviors that will be predictors if that child may be a bully or be the target of one. Prevention is the key and the more kids are taught to respect each other for their differences then the better chance there is to solve the problem.

Tonya Simmons

Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on May 19, 2013:

Thanks MsDora. I think school bullying is a grave problem that must be addressed from many angles. Boosting the self-esteem and assertiveness skills of children who experience bullying is an important strategy. In the group setting, these students become aware that they are not alone, share their expediences, and learn skills that can empower them to deal more effectively with the problem.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 19, 2013:

Voted Up and Useful! Very detailed information on bullying and how to survive it. Thanks for including the research facts and sources. A very good presentation.