This Year, I’m Going To Stop Lying To My Therapist

lying to therapist

For the first time in my non-collegiate adult life, I recently got health care. The first thing I did was book an appointment with a therapist. The second thing I did was request my college medical records, to confirm my timeline of medication and what my dosages were. But they included more information than I’d expected. Like notes from the doctor, which reminded me that when I was 20 years old and seeking medical help and drug therapy for my mental illness (I’m bipolar), I was also lying through my teeth.

I’d lied about little things, like how much stress I was experiencing (I low-balled it), whether or not I felt happy in my relationship (I didn’t, but I said I did), how much I drank (I’m pretty sure almost everyone lies about this, judging by my current therapist’s expression when I told him honestly how much alcohol I consume); but I also lied about important stuff, too. Including, but not limited to, whether or not, during a period of depression, I’d ever considered suicide. I had, more than once, but said I hadn’t.

This time around, because I’m a grown-ass woman and because I am actually interested in getting treatment that helps me go about my daily life without mood imbalances that make it difficult to work and live and be a normal human being, I decided I wasn’t going to lie. And so far, I haven’t. Especially not about the things I’d lied about before.

But it’s not as though I’m alone in this dumb, potentially dangerous practice, whether it be in the therapist’s office, or with an actual medical doctor who can prescribe meds (I started with therapy because I’m not 100% positive I want to get back into medication just yet).  People just seem to think it’s OK to lie about what’s going on with them.

Lying in therapy — where there’s less medical danger, but just as much potential emotional harm — is a lightly-researched subject. But we do know that people feel pretty comfortable lying to their medical doctors, which can include psychiatrists who may be giving them SSRIs or other mood-altering drugs. According to a survey from 2009, 13% of people admit to actively lying to their doctors, while 32% said they’d “stretched the truth.” And really, if 45% of people are, in some way, being untruthful to their doctor, isn’t it possible that they’re also lying to themselves and, as a result, the survey at hand?

Which brings up another important question: Why? Why do we lie, omit details, “massage” the facts, when we’re spending our time and money to get a professional opinion and, frequently, treatment for a problem that is causing us grief?

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    • Kristen

      I love your article! As a therapist myself, I’m very invested in clients telling the truth. Obviously, I watch for verbal and nonverbal signs that someone may not be giving me the whole story, but at some point I just have to trust my clients too. Anyway, for anyone debating about whether to tell their therapist the truth, I have a couple thoughts:

      First, your therapist has probably heard it before…many times. Telling your therapist you’ve had thoughts of suicide or you drink heavily is not like telling your mother or your friend. Therapists talk about this kind of stuff all the time, so it isn’t as shocking, weird, scary, or anything else to them as it is to others.

      Second, as you said in your article, therapy has less chance of being effective if it’s based on a lie. Amen to this!

      Third, if you are debating, try talking to your therapist about your concerns rather than outright lying. Are you afraid that by full-disclosure they will refer you to a higher level of care? Judge you? Report something? What? The therapist can help clarify these concerns, and often they are very relevant to treatment anyway. SO, bottomline, share your hesitancy and concerns if you aren’t ready to tell the truth.

      Okay, thanks for letting me get on my own soap book here…great topic!