Why Do People Lie During Therapy?

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.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • sylvia sande'

    sylvia sande'

    July 3rd, 2009 at 6:37 PM

    isn’t it really all baout the relationship? the better the sense of trust and acceptance, the less likely one is to lie to their therapist? i think it holds true for me exp in therapy

  • Nicole M

    Nicole M

    July 4th, 2009 at 12:30 PM

    Lying in therapy? Really? That seems like an awful lot of time and energy to throw away, with nothing good to gain from that/ Why would someone do something like that? Isn’t therapy where you should feel like you can release all of those inner demons and feel free to be who you are?

  • Grayson


    July 5th, 2009 at 8:40 AM

    There are probably some people out there who know that they need help but until they get to know their counselor they are ashamed or embarassed to really open up and decide to lie instead. Or maybe they do not think they need to be there so they make up all kinds of stuff. Who knows what the reasoning is but the bottom line is that if someone feels the need to lie then in therapy is probably exactly where they need to be. Sounds like there are definitely some issues to be resolved there and maybe when they begin to feel more comfortable in the situation they will stop covering with the lies and will let everything out so they can get help or resolution.

  • Olivia


    July 6th, 2009 at 5:10 AM

    Surely a seasoned therapist can see right through a charade like this?

  • ninabe werness sandot- yoga therapist

    ninabe werness sandot- yoga therapist

    July 6th, 2009 at 5:22 PM

    According to Yoga Science and lots of existentialists, not to mention plain old quantum physicists….’it’s all made up anyway’.
    Reality is definately about the perceiver and an agreed upon perception lense.
    Lying is a form of reality somewhere in the person….
    Its all pointing to patterns….
    I use it all to support health and sanity………….

  • Donna


    July 7th, 2009 at 10:16 AM

    That is an interesting way to look at things. . . the lies are a part of the patient and need to be dealt with as well. But I have to say that I would feel compltely duped and misled if I learned that someone was doing this to me and I think that I might have a hard time trusting them again. And if the therapist and patient have no trust with one another than how can there ever be true healing?

  • ninabe werness sandot- yoga therapist

    ninabe werness sandot- yoga therapist

    July 7th, 2009 at 6:32 PM

    I feel that we all really need to try to change the limited parameters of our beliefs.
    Lying is a perception…a right and wrong idea that says…the therapist is right and the client is wrong….
    This whole thing has to shift.
    Basically, no one gets to play God…
    We all need to just support each other through loving unconditional regard…..that means no judgment.
    It is only via unconditional Trust that limitless acceptance can be practiced so as to reach a condition of freedom through mutual respect and dignity.
    This concept of someone doing something to us….
    is about the seer. We are all free to allow choice to determine our environments….We live in America!

  • ramona


    July 9th, 2009 at 11:26 PM

    every client has his rythm. some client tell every think from the beggining, other lying from the beggining and other lyie 3-4 session and at the finish of the 4 session with the hand on the outside door can tell you ,,…and I want to tell the trues next session’. we work with the client’s material and even when they lie there is something true inside ( how they want/need to be there life). Of course , as therapist you think that you are on the wrong path but there is nothing wrong here. when the client will have the courage to tell you the real true HE WILL. I can wait because i know that finally most of them will tell. Adler’s father tell to Adler when he was little:,, don’t trust words, trust in movement’ so look of the movement of the client and that is the real TRUE/BIG REALLITY for the present moment.
    ramona covrig, psychotherapist

  • Elizabeth R.

    Elizabeth R.

    July 11th, 2009 at 5:00 PM

    I feel lying in therapy isn’t always done intentionally. When a person has spent decades struggling with and hiding what life’s thrown at them, is it not a bit too optimistic to expect them to confess all with 100% accuracy at every session? When we tell ourselves something often enough, we come to believe a lie is the truth and vice versa. Patients may lie more because of that than out of maliciousness.

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