The 3 Most Common Lies People Tell Their Therapists — That Only Make The Process Harder

Being honest in therapy is difficult, but it’s the only way to move forward.

anxious woman Josep Suria / Shutterstock   

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably lied to your therapist. In their book, Secrets and Lies in Psychotherapy, the authors report that between 84 and 93% of clients are lying to therapists, often about multiple things. This isn’t terribly surprising since research has shown that the average person lies once or twice a day.

Yes, most people lie every day, most often without even realizing it. 


Consider your honesty on a first date. Odds are, you may be less than totally truthful. You may paint your job in a more positive light, talk about relationships with your children in a slightly more glowing way, or tell an anecdote about something, embellishing the details to make it more humorous or interesting.

These are all normal lies told for the sake of impression management, to make us look better, appear more accomplished, or to make a conversation more scintillating.


RELATED: Mom Asks If She's Wrong For Using Daughter As Therapist After Husband's Emotional Affair

Lying to your therapist is like lying on a first date 

Your therapist is trying to get to know you, and you them. It makes sense that you don’t reveal all the details of your life, particularly those you consider unflattering, in the first session. It also makes sense that you are trying to impress, with more, or sometimes less, veracity.

It may feel right when you're saying it, but lying in therapy sabotages progress in the end

As dating or therapy relationships progress, we may correct a false impression or reveal unpleasant truths, or, since we all want to seem better than we believe ourselves to be, the lies may continue.

RELATED: The 4 Most Damaging Types Of Lies People Tell In Relationship


Three common ways people lie in therapy 

1. Commission 

One type of lie we tell our therapist is that of commission, intentionally telling an untruth.

Many impression management lies are lies of commission. There are also lies about not doing “homework,” like disingenuously saying you were more social, drank less, controlled your anger better, or were nicer to your spouse or kids. It’s pretty easy to lie about what you have or haven’t done because there is no one to dispute your claims.

2. Omission 

Another lie we tell our therapists is that of omission. Because I did not specifically ask whether you are having or have ever had an affair, you omit that important fact. If I fail to check in with you on homework, but you know it’s something you ought to reveal, like how much you’re drinking or working out, then it’s omission.

3. Other Common Lies 

Many lies are about the therapy relationship. These, like most others, can be either commission or omission. Often people don’t reveal that they aren’t benefiting from therapy (omission), or may say they are, when they’re not (commission). People conceal sexual or negative feelings toward the therapist (omission) or deny them, when asked about such feelings (commission).


RELATED: 5 Hard-To-Admit Things I've Learned From 15+ Years Of Therapy

Three common reasons why we lie to therapists who want to help

1. Fear of judgment

Sometimes people lie about not doing the work between sessions, so their therapist doesn’t think they’re a slacker. You don’t want to disappoint them or have them think less of you. There may be shame and embarrassment.

People lie about sexual matters for similar reasons. Sometimes it takes time to feel safe enough to reveal a hard truth. Clients often minimize their problems, afraid the therapist will think they’re too disturbed to work with or might try to hospitalize them if they’re honest about how bad they’re feeling, though this latter is extremely infrequent.

2. Denial and avoidance 

Everyone likes to avoid an uncomfortable truth, so we minimize, even to ourselves. The affair is no big dealI’m not really drinking that muchMy mother wasn’t actually abusive. You want to avoid the pain you expect to feel if the truth is revealed. Deep down you may fear the therapist will recommend something, like ending the affair, cutting back on drinking, or confronting a parent with the truth, and you’re not ready for that.


3. Being too nice 

When it comes to lies about the therapy process, clients often don’t want to hurt the therapist’s feelings by saying they’re not benefiting. They also fear being abandoned by the therapist for expressing such beliefs. Even when they’ve benefited, people don’t want the therapist to think they’re ungrateful, or mean, by saying they’re finished.

RELATED: 12 Things A Childhood Trauma Therapist Is 'Begging Parents To Stop Doing'​

Why lying in therapy hurts you in the end

Your therapist can’t help when you’re not being honest

Your therapist is not a human lie detector and probably does not know you’re lying.

How can you get the help you need with your affair, drinking or relationship with your parents, when you don’t reveal the issues? If I think you’re going to the gym four times a week and still feeling tense, then I might explore what else you could be doing to de-stress, which just adds one more thing to your plate that you probably won’t do, another thing to feel bad about. Instead, talking about why you’re having trouble getting to the gym is much more fruitful.


Similarly, if your therapist doesn’t know how you’re feeling about the therapy, they can’t adjust or help you confront difficulties. If you’re honest, they may help you realize that not asking for what you need, and then leaving when you don’t get it, is how you behave in other relationships. Sometimes your feedback helps the therapist realize that you need more understanding and less nudging.

It’s not just one lie

When you start with a big lie, you must come up with other lies that support it. What you did during the week has to be adjusted to account for the fact that I don’t know you’re having an affair or spending hours at your local bar after work. As anyone who has maintained a significant lie for an extended time knows, it takes a lot of energy. Instead of that energy going into the change process, it’s being siphoned away to maintain the lies. It’s a waste of energy.

RELATED: Woman Finds Out Her Husband Is Cheating On Her With Their Marriage Counselor​

Three things to remember when you're trying to stop lying in therapy

1. Successful relationships are built on trust.

Like the first date, you don’t want the therapy relationship to be based on a big lie. Even if you have trust issues— and who doesn’t— this is the person you want to try to be honest with, so they can help you. It’s an opportunity to learn that someone important can care for you no matter your imperfections.


2. Your therapist is not your parent.

Your therapist does not have expectations for how your life should play out or the choices you need to make. Your job is not to make your therapist happy by being a “good client” who always follows recommendations. I know you’re doing the best you can. If you could do it all yourself, you wouldn’t need me.

RELATED: 6 Magic Phrases I Teach Struggling Couples In My Therapy Practice

3. Your therapist is not your friend.

They are a professional and you won’t hurt their feelings. Even if you do, after all, therapists are people, they’re probably pretty adept at getting over it.


Once you come clean, your therapist can applaud you for being brave enough to tell the truth. Together you can identify what is keeping you from moving forward in your life and figure out what to do about it. You can feel good about being honest and being accepted for who you really are.

We all routinely alter the truth to suit various circumstances, but psychotherapy, unlike your first date, is one situation in which the costs of doing so far outweigh the benefits.

RELATED: Therapists Share The Small Habits That Demolish Your Likability

Judith Tutin, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and certified life coach. Connect with her at where you can request a free coaching call to bring more passion, fun and wellness to your life.