10 Reasons Why We Lie to Our Therapists

– Posted in: Therapy

It is a universal truth: We all lie to our therapists!

We wouldn’t lie to our auto mechanic about the funny noise under the hood. We wouldn’t lie to our hair stylist about wanting to cover our bald spot.

Then why lie to our therapists, wasting money, time and emotional energy?

There are many reasons, both complex and simple. Click continue to see the top 10!

1. We don’t want to reveal painful or embarrassing information

Emotional pain registers in the same part of the brain as physical pain. Sometimes it just hurts too much to tell the therapist everything. We avoid telling the truth or the entire truth to our therapists because:

  • We don’t want to own up to our limitations and failings.
  • We feel shame for our actions.
  • We perceive our actions as unpardonable or heinous sins.
  • The way we survived a trauma is by not talking about it, or admitting how much it affected us.
  • We have done something that shocks us and we can’t believe we are the kind of person to do it. If the therapist doesn’t know, we get to be who we think we are again.
  • We are repressing painful things and  events.
  • We are keeping secrets that we have kept for years.
  • We are fooling ourselves, believing things we know are not true.

2. We are in denial

We deny we need treatment

We live in a society that preaches that we should be able to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. More than two-thirds of Americans deny they have a mental disorder until something catastrophic happens that drives them to therapy. We deny that we need treatment until it’s just too painful to endure any longer. It’s a victory just to get into therapist’s office. Ways that we deny our need for therapy in the therapist’s office are:

  • We hide what we feel and fake what we don’t feel.
  • We pretend we’re OK just to avoid knowing that something is wrong with us.
  • We are conflicted whether we want to be in therapy or not.
  • We are not confident therapy can help us.

3. We don’t know or acknowledge that something was important

Often we will omit telling our therapist important events or issues that seem — to us at least — to be unrelated to the issue at hand. We may even be OK with something that is of vital importance, such as purging after every meal. Part of the problem is that some of us are delusional, have false beliefs, or cognitive distortion. But some of the most common reasons for not telling something important to our therapists are:

  • We are confused and simply don’t know how we feel.
  • We don’t admit the truth because don’t know what the truth is.
  • We lack the experience and insight to know something is important.

4. We are afraid our therapist will judge us

We are afraid of being judged

We are used to judging others and are afraid of others judging us. But good therapists will try not to judge their patients.  Therapists are human, too, and we expect them to judge us like others do. And there are therapists who judge their patients or dismiss their concerns or emotional responses. A patient will often clam up and stop being truthful when they sense or suspect that the therapist is judging them.

5. We think the therapist will report us or send us to the hospital

Many states require that therapists report certain actions or potential actions of their clients. These reports become part of a central database that can brand a person for life. Among the reasons we might fear that a therapist’s written record will haunt us for life are:

  • We have had a suicide attempt.
  • We are in danger of harming a child, family member or senior citizen.
  • We fear that a mental health history will harm our career, making us unable to get or hold a job.
  • Government security clearances require disclosure of all health records, including mental health.

6. We haven’t established trust and rapport with our therapist

Strong rapport and solid trust takes time

It takes time to establish a good working relationship with your therapist. When you have been to several therapists, you may not be sure the new one has the skills or experience to help you.  Without a strong rapport and solid trust, we often feel defensive and on guard and may not share all we could. Some signals that we need to give the relationship with our therapist more time are when we:

  • Want more than the therapist can give with the present information we have provided.
  • Don’t like the way the therapist does things, but feel embarrassed about telling them.
  • Our lack of candor is an excuse not to talk about an issue at the time.
  • Give morsels of the truth and see if the therapist can guess the rest.
  • Have difficulty communicating in general.
  • Have issues around not being believed by others, and we don’t think your therapist believes us, either.
  • Have learned to wear a  mask, and it isn’t always easy to drop just because we want to.

7. Lying as a coping mechanism for us

Many of us learn to lie to avoid abuse, ridicule or trauma, whether in the past or in the present. It is a way of survival. Undoing the common use of that coping mechanism will take time, even with a skilled and trusted therapist.

8. We lie to maintain a positive self-image

We don’t see ourselves as others do

It’s hard to maintain our own sense of self or a positive self-image when we have to confront the more embarrassing or painful aspects of our lives. We may hide information from our therapist as an attempt — sometimes unconscious — to construct desirable images for her. We often don’t see ourselves as the people we really are, and may be shocked at behaviors we can’t acknowledge to the therapist because we can’t even acknowledge them to ourselves. Mistakes we often make are:

  • We want our therapist to like us, but it is hard to think the therapist will have unconditional positive regard when we don’t have it for ourselves.
  • We want to feel loved yet feel unlovable.
  • We feel that if we reveal ourselves fully to the therapist and they don’t like me, then I will be lost with nothing more to give.

9. We lie due to transference

Transference occurs when we unconsciously redirect, or transfer,  feelings we have toward one or more important figures in our lives onto our therapists. Those figures may include parents, family members or people at work. This leads to:

  • We may lie to our therapist because he represents another important person to whom we also lie.
  • We may seek approval from our therapist that we never got from our parents or others.
  • We may feel compelled to protect ourselves from the therapist in what feels like a dangerous situation.
  • We lie because we think the relationship might end otherwise.

10. We lie out of fear

Many of the reasons we lie to our therapists can be reduced to a single reason: fear. Fear is at the root of many mental disorders, and naturally comes to the fore in the therapist-patient relationship. Among these are the:

  • Fear of admitting how bad things are, making the situation too real.
  • Fear of how much our lives feels out of control. By not admitting these deep fears we maintain some semblance of control.
  • Fear of feeling something is basically wrong with us when we feel emotional pain.
  • Fear of losing control of our private thoughts. We feel fearful and violated if the therapist delves too deeply.
  • Fear of how others will perceive us.
  • Fear of what others will think of us.
  • Fear of what will be done with the information we share, or how it might someday be used against us.
  • Fear of what the therapist will think of us.
  • Fear of how others will judge us.
  • Fear of having our feelings or thoughts dismissed, of not being believed.
  • Fear of being in therapy for the first time and not really knowing what to expect.
  • Fear of being told we’re “crazy” or worthless, of being unloved and unlovable.
  • Fear of rejection by others.
  • Fear of the unknown.
  • Fear of change.

What do you think?

While writing this article, I realized how much I had lied to my therapists over the years, mostly by omission. It’s embarrassing, and probably something I wouldn’t admit to if I were talking to you face to face!

  • Have you ever lied to your therapist, either overtly or by omission?
  • Have you ever had a therapist you felt you didn’t have to lie to?
  • How long do you think that it takes to build a therapist-patient relationship of trust and rapport?
  • Can you add any more reasons why we lie to our therapists?

As always, your comments are welcome!

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Resources used in this post:

Grohol, John M. (2008, February 6). 10 Common Reasons to Lie to Your Therapist. Retrieved August 18, 2008 from Psych Central Web site: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2008/02/06/10-common-reasons-to-lie-to-your-therapist/

Grohol, John M. (2008, January 9). Why Would You Lie to Your Therapist? Retrieved August 18, 2008 from Psych Central Web site: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2008/01/09/why-would-you-lie-to-your-therapist/

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11 comments… add one
Susi B (Aussie) January 5, 2009, 7:23 pm

…this is GREAT stuff Mike!!! Ever thought of writing a book? or maybe you have already, if not you probably sh/c/would do very well!

Susi B (Aussie)’s last blog post..Merry Christmas!

Mike January 7, 2009, 3:02 am

Thank you for the compliments, Susi B!

I have written and published several computer books, but none about the Anxiety Disorders. I have a few little germs of ideas that may make their way into a book in the future. Thanks for the encouragement!

Kim Woodbridge January 13, 2009, 10:08 am

I haven’t spent much time in therapy but I could completely relate to this – especially what you said about lies of omission. I suppose that many of these topics are things we wouldn’t discuss with anyone and telling the therapist doesn’t seem quite right. I kind of view talking to a therapist like going to confession – neither individual is going to judge you but you don’t want to reveal your “sins”.

Kim Woodbridge’s last blog post..Lessons in Backing Up – The Journalspace Disaster

vaughny February 25, 2010, 2:20 am

I can totally understand, but why go to a therapist if you are going to lie? Isn’t the whole idea of going to a therapist is to get help in coping with whatever issue it is that you can’t with anybody else? Great article though, thanks. You should write one about why we should NOT lie to the therapist. :)

Andrew Warren February 28, 2010, 9:57 am

I just finished Therapy from a broken shoulder I got when I had a seizure. I really loved my Therapist.
I think by increasing my Water intake will help stop my seizures.
One of the contributing factors to many sicknesses (ex: diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, etc.) is having high levels of acids within the body. This condition is also known as acidosis. Over time, it can have some very damaging effects on the body, specifically the blood. That’s because acidic blood has a harder time circulating, which then causes devastating harm to vital organs.

Joanna Poppink, MFT August 11, 2010, 1:19 am

The paradox is yes, people lie to their therapist, but at the same time, they are always telling the truth. When a person starts therapy they don’t change their way of being in the world because they walked through magical doors. If they lie to protect themselves they will lie to the their therapist.

But how could this be otherwise? The competent and compassionate therapist knows that the patient is being who they are and doing the best they can. It’s part of the therapist’s job to recognize that the patient is being their truth even if they are trying to hide it. The hiding is part of their true experience.

During the course of therapy, if all goes well, trust and mutual respect develops between patient and therapist. The patients builds emotional and psychological strength. Then he or she is willing to risk actually saying more truth, revealing secrets and daring to be present for real and imagined consequences. This is part of healing.

What often follows after that stage is that the patient discovers secrets and lies she been carrying that even she didn’t know about. That’s when the healing work goes deep and unknown psychological territory gets explored and examined.

All the while the patient gets stronger, more integrated and more confident about being their true self in the world.

I suppose the short way of saying all this is that just because a person is telling a lie through action or ommision, doesn’t mean he isn’t sharing his truth.
.-= Joanna Poppink, MFT´s last blog ..The Play of Your Life and Your Recovery- Act I- II and III =-.

Elizabeth Doherty Thomas August 11, 2010, 10:40 pm

Thanks for this great article. I love unusual writings about therapy and this one really seems to help give the answer asked of graduate students of counseling: “Should therapy students be required to seek therapy?” If someone hasn’t gone through therapy they may not have experienced the emotions/ reactions expressed in this article, nor fully appreciate the nuance to why a person may lie in therapy. It seems a huge burden for people to seek therapy when all the issues you bring up are there before therapy even starts!

kaukamom January 29, 2011, 10:01 pm

This is a great article. A wise therapist once said that it’s ok to lie to the therapist. She understood that if a client lies, it’s something they need to do and the need can be explored at some point later when the client is ready to face things better.

24 Hour Telephone Counselling Service May 31, 2012, 2:57 pm

Thank you for posting this great article Mike.

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