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Why We Lie to our Therapists

We all tell lies, it is part of human nature.  Sometimes we need to protect ourselves, and that is a good thing.  I’ve always told my children that the truth will get them into less trouble, and sometimes, as long as I stick to my word, they do confess.  But lying to your therapist is like cheating on a diet or plagiarizing a university essay and getting a high distinction. It is self-defeating behaviour and the only person who loses out is you.  But why do we do it?  What purpose does it fulfil? 

I have lied to my therapist, but eventually admitted it for the sake of genuineness and authenticity.  In the name of healing, greater consciousness and enlightenment, I have had to speak the truth, however much it hurts and as always, the results have been delightfully surprising.  I can leave her room with a great weight lifted off my shoulder.  Something I forget about when I hold deceit very close to my chest.

I am not a good liar.  I could never tell a lie to my mother.  My armpits would itch ferociously and my face would turn red.  In therapy I don’t actually lie so much as totally minimize the truth.  While my uncanny, sensitive and intuitive therapist can detect a lie, even through email, it doesn’t mean I’m going to get into trouble for it.  I’ve been in denial about chronic health issues and just recently have been completely truthful and she has not judged me, disciplined me, made my armpits itch or threatened termination (as I have heard in some instances when a lie is uncovered).

To avoid these feelings, I have lied by omission.  I simply don’t bring the subject up.  There is no point telling my therapist I took the dog for a walk when I didn’t, or went to the gym when I stayed in bed, or ate a healthy meal when I had a Mac attack.  Getting false praise for something I didn’t do feels deceitful.  While it feels good to get acclaim and kudos, if it is not deserved it has a hollow ring to it.  You have far more invested in the truth than your therapist does.

When I lie to her, it’s not because I have broken anything, spilled milk all over the floor, stolen or shoplifted goods, teased the cat or pulled my sister’s hair, it’s because I have not spoken the entire truth because those childhood feelings of terror can still be the same.  I have not so much lied to my therapist as much as I have lied to myself.   A good therapist will gently tease out the tangled psychological truth without hurting or annihilating the client in the process.  It’s not what you lied about, it’s why you lied about it.  What is it about the lie that you cannot face up to?  What is your motive for lying?

We lie because the truth is not always out there for Mulder and Scully to discover.  Secrets are too shameful, painful, terrifying, overwhelming, disintegrating and unbearable to speak out loud in case it makes it real, in case we have to relive them all over again.

Shining the spotlight over and bringing lies to life can cause intense feelings and panic attacks.  They have to be sought out, discovered and dissected piece by piece as trust develops slowly over a long period of time.  I heard a very sad anecdote from a therapist who said she had a client with bulimia and anger issues.  Five years previous she had witnessed her father murdering her mother.  She insisted this had nothing to do with her current issues and if the therapist persisted in pursuing that line of thinking she would leave.

It’s not hard to work out what her trauma is and why she needs to deal with it, but when our minds are so dissociated and disconnected from situations, it can be too frightening to acknowledge.  Childhood incest, date-rape, sexual assault, bullying and domestic violence all violate our sense of who we are.  These are all situations that can steal our identity.  Flashbacks can be common and worst of all we can somehow blame ourselves.  Even worse, significant others can blame us as well.  If you don’t trust your therapist and feel she isn’t listening or is sitting in judgment, it’s no wonder telling them can feel like retraumatisation.

Chances are though, they have heard it all before, dealt with it, healed the client and the client has moved on.  Therapists can see your pain through the symptoms you display and have the ability to guide you through this.  When trust, caring and loving/kindness is there, opening up your heart, surrendering and being held and contained with impunity is a life-giving force.

Why We Lie to our Therapists

Sonia Neale

Sonia Neale was recently awarded the Inaugural Barbara Hocking SANE Australia Fellowship to study and research Borderline Personality Disorder overseas in the USA, Canada, UK and Ireland. Her previous Psych Central blog was called Therapy Unplugged. She is the author of two books, The Bad Mother’s Revenge and Death by Teenager, both published by ABC Books/Harper Collins. She lives in Western Australia, is married with three adult children, has studied psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has a Certificate IV in Mental Health and is studying for a Psychology/Counselling degree. She currently works as a peer support worker in the mental health field. Please email her on davson at

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APA Reference
Neale, S. (2010). Why We Lie to our Therapists. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 19, 2018, from


Last updated: 8 Jun 2010
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Jun 2010
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