We often think of therapy sessions as times where you can lay it all out — without the fear of judgment. Unlike, say, when you vent to friends about a problem, your therapist has a code of confidentiality that makes sure what happens in your session doesn't leave the room. Despite this, it's quite common to find therapy patients who have lied to their therapists — in fact, a 2015 study found that 93% of patients surveyed had lied in a session.
The real question is why would someone feel compelled to lie to the one person who can't share their secrets? As it turns out, there are a wide variety of reasons.
Sometimes, one lies to their therapist in order to protect how we want the therapist to perceive us. Minkyoung Chung, a licensed mental health counselor and Talkspace therapist, tells Yahoo Life, "One of the more common reasons is that they do not want to be judged by the actions of their past or their thought process."
She adds that often, "it's easier to lie about an issue than it is to confront it."
"The clients may not be ready to be honest, with the therapist or themselves," she explains. "It closely follows the idea of denial."
Though we may know consciously that it's important to be vulnerable in therapy in order for it to be effective in helping us navigate the world and our own emotions, it's easy to get caught up in the fact that therapists are people. Asha Tarry, a psychotherapist, author, life coach and mental health advocate, says that the first thing to remember is that "therapy is a relationship." While creating a relationship of trust is important with one's therapist, sometimes, Tarry says, patients can see their therapist as an "important figure," such as a "friend they admire or a mentor."
"In that unconscious state of thinking, the patient is starting to perform," explains Tarry. "They may do things like make up stories, or omit portions of what happened in reality, because they may feel as if they have to impress their therapists. They may feel like they are in 'school' and are hoping to sort of succeed at therapy and get a good grade."
Therapists can inadvertently encourage their patients to continue to lie to them, Tarry says, if they don't challenge their patient and instead only offer positive, encouraging feedback. A therapist, she says, "shouldn't be overly praising" — and if they think a patient is lying to them, it's important to speak up about how they are perceiving their patient's words.
“Eventually the lies will come out,” Tarry explains, "so if we keep the facade going then we're not actually benefiting the client and doing the work for their own best interest."
Sometimes, it's not about wanting to impress a therapist, but being unable to feel like one can be totally open and honest in a therapy session, says Chung.
"There might not be enough trust built up for the client to be honest," she explains. "It's important to build a rapport and a safe space for the client to recognize that they can be honest. Honesty and trust are earned. Just because the therapist is an expert doesn't mean a client will automatically trust the therapist."
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