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Lying to Your Therapist

Shannon M. Duffy, MFT, LCPC

As a therapist I want to provide a safe place for every individual to feel they can be open and honest as they begin therapy and throughout the process. I am fond of the phrase, “these are four non-judgmental walls” within my office to provide my client’s reassurance. However, many individuals choose to withhold the truth or alter the severity of their concerns within therapy. This is common practice and many times can impact the therapeutic rapport or even prohibit the success of therapy.

There are numerous reasons that may provoke the decision to withhold or even lie to the therapist. Many individuals will downplay the severity of their presenting concerns to protect themselves from how upsetting things may feel. Which tends to be the most common lie of lessening the severity of one’s symptoms or holding back information for the fear of the consequences if the truth comes out. One specific example would be holding back disclosing that you have had or are currently having suicidal thoughts in fear that you may have to be hospitalized. The disclosure of those thoughts can be difficult, however, will provide the therapist with more information to ensure your overall safety. It provides an opportunity to be educated on what constitutes the need for a higher level of care in addition to understanding the individual’s overall intent. The therapist wants to ensure your safety and withholding that information could be more detrimental in the long run.

Many individuals will disclose that they are happier than they are to lessen the fear of letting down their therapist. Other feelings entail holding back due to feeling shame or fearing they may be judged or not understood. An example would be withholding the truth regarding one’s substance use. Many individuals will not disclose promiscuous behaviors to avoid feeling shameful of their actions or judged for not being able to control their actions. However, that is what therapy is for, to aid towards understanding one’s thoughts and behaviors and hope to create positive changes.

The goal is to encourage honest disclosure. There does not need to be an expectation for the individual to share everything to have success within therapy. The difference is in keeping things secret as an act of omission versus telling lies in an act of deception. It is not the therapist’s role to be a lie detector. Ideally, we want to challenge the individual versus accuse what is disclosed within therapy. Within the therapeutic process we want the individual to feel open to disclosing more by providing a safe place and not rushing or pushing for more information. This can start right at the beginning of therapy with providing a thorough explanation of confidentiality and the value honest disclosure can have towards setting and achieving treatment goals. Overall rapport building between the individual and therapist is crucial in establishing trust. This can guide therapy towards the focus of what is shared and providing encouraging feedback of every disclosure. Providing feedback towards the vulnerability of disclosure can create the trust to circle back to those concerns when the individual feels ready to process them.

Therapy is not an easy process, it’s okay to acknowledge that there are some topics, issues, thoughts, and feelings that are difficult to present. It takes time to gain trust and comfort in knowing the therapeutic process can bring on change towards feeling success. The key factor is to note are you holding back to establish more rapport before opening your disclosure or are you finding yourself being deceitful to lessen the presumed affects full disclosure may or may not have. Honest disclosure is only going to benefit you towards having success within therapy.

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