LOS ANGELES – Dr. William Glasser, a psychiatrist, education reform advocate and bestselling author whose unorthodox emphasis on personal responsibility for mental problems sold millions of books, caught the attention of educators and earned him an international following, died Friday at his Los Angeles home. He was 88.

He had pneumonia that led to respiratory failure, his son Martin Glasser said.

Glasser was not a typical psychiatrist. He did not prescribe psychiatric drugs to patients, did not dwell on their past behaviors or subconscious thoughts, and largely ignored the standard diagnoses of mental disorders adopted by his profession. At the risk of sounding like a simpleton, which fit some critics’ views of him, he often said there was really only one problem that sent people into therapy. “They are unhappy,” he said.

In his 1965 book “Reality Therapy,” he said that unhappiness usually stems from a person’s inability to fulfill two basic needs: “the need to love and be loved, and the need to feel that we are worthwhile to ourselves and to others.” Glasser counseled patients to take responsibility for fulfilling those needs in a positive manner and believed that even schizophrenics and manic depressives could benefit from his approach.

“Reality Therapy” sold about 1.5 million copies, according to HarperCollins executive editor Hugh Van Dusen, and provided an intellectual basis for the school reform program he described in his next book, “Schools Without Failure” (1969).

In that book Glasser called for building emotional ties between students and educators, making lessons relevant, and abolishing grades below A and B with an overall goal of helping students attain competence.

There are 17 schools in the United States and three in Australia, Ireland and Slovenia that have declared themselves Glasser Quality Schools with faculties trained by instructors from the William Glasser Institute in Country Club Hills, Ill.

The extent of Glasser’s influence in education is difficult to gauge, but in 1971 the Los Angeles Times reported that 600 schools and 8,900 teachers across the country were using some of his ideas.

“A lot of schools are using the ideas without going through the official training,” said Kay Mentley, who heads the 1,300-student, Glasser-inspired public charter school Grand Traverse Academy in Michigan. She credits the school’s high academic achievement, trusting relationships and lack of discipline problems to Glasser’s philosophy.

His progressive approach drew the ire of traditionalists, such as Charles J. Sykes, author of “Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why America’s Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can’t Read, Write or Add” (1995). Glasser’s “Schools Without Failure,” Sykes wrote, was “a veritable handbook for schools that would fail over the next two-and-a-half decades.”

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