It’s a familiar scenario for therapy clients the world over: After a particularly intense session in which it seems that a lot of positive work has been done, it emerges that some lie has been told (or that an important piece of information has been withheld), and the course of treatment, as a result, is less effective. In general, therapists and other mental health professionals are aware that complete and total honesty, while certainly ideal, is not really the norm, nor can it be reasonably demanded from each and every client. In the past couple of years, the buzz about lying in therapy has been picking up, with publications from major journals and reviews to individual blogs and other online mediums sounding off about the phenomenon (DeAngelis 2008). The verdict? It’s best to encourage an honest exchange, accept any moments of coming clean with grace, and to ask adequate questions to ensure treatment is as personalized as possible.
Not all therapy clients lie, of course, but of those who do, many are unaware of why they do it. As with most lies we tell in the course of our social interactions, lying in therapy tends to “just slip out” or to slip the mind. Indeed, a great deal of lying in therapy is not a deliberate cover-up or creation of some event or fact that isn’t true, but rather a departure from telling the whole story. It may be the recounting of a particularly difficult emotional period while leaving out the fact that a close family member has recently died, or it could be the omission of a certain habit or compulsion experienced during a certain period being described. But whether the lie is composed of a falsehood or an incomplete picture, the quality and personalization of therapy can suffer as a result. The answer doesn’t lie in more demanding therapists or some kind of penalty for fibbing, but rather in the opening up of a therapy session and atmosphere for more accurate and inclusive briefing.
DeAngelis, T. (2008, January). An elephant in the office. Monitor on Psychology, Vol. 39, No. 1. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/jan08/elephant.aspx
© Copyright 2009 by By Daniel Winger. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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