“Is there something the matter with your eyes today?” I asked.
This was the question that unraveled seven months of the therapy that was a fiction.
When my former client removed her glasses, I couldn’t help but see her blackened eye and the very noticeable red blood vessels inside it.
“What happened?” I asked
In a barely audible voice, she whispered, “We got into it.”
She would go on to share that her boyfriend had beaten her badly. It was a stunning moment because to this point she had only told me that he was loving, kind, and sometimes had an edge. When probed about how she defined an edge, she said, “He makes snarky comments when he is upset, and we move on.” She had wanted to work on being a better communicator, so that her relationship could improve.
Another noteworthy moment was when the client’s sister attended a joint support session, after her truth-revelation was shared. Her concerned family member commented, “I was wondering why she kept referencing the communication techniques she was learning in therapy, while she was being abused. I thought to myself: Why is she trying to work this out with better communication?”
She was receiving support and guidance around self-reflection and communication based on the information she had shared throughout the course of therapy. I couldn’t help but wonder what other important issues and details had been left off the table that had dramatically impacted the nature and level of care she received.
I was concerned that she may have felt uncomfortable with the therapy process, or with me as her therapist. Perhaps this was the reason she did not reveal the abuse. I asked her why she chose to omit such crucial information, and she said, “I didn’t want to be seen as weak.”
One study conducted by the journal Counseling Psychology Quarterly reveals that 93% of people lie to their therapist. That is a staggering and unfortunate number because therapists are not psychics, CIA operatives, or forensic investigators. We work from and through the information that is presented to us. Other than the compassion, expertise, and authenticity that most of us strive to extend, we do not have a tool for overcoming the lies and omissions that are common in therapy.
I’m reminded of the former client who stated, “She won’t let me take my children on vacation since the divorce became final.” What he failed to mention was that the children had called their mother to pick them up during past visits, because he was drunk and not capable of caring for them. He omitted the full story because he wanted to solicit sympathy from me. He did not need sympathy. What would have been useful for him was acquiring specific skills and support tools to address the reasons he was self-medicating with alcohol and struggling with arrested emotional development.
Although clients have been known to manipulate therapists and therapy sessions to garner support and allyship for their perspective in a relationship conflict of life circumstances, this is also an inappropriate way to utilize therapy. When you share your story of trouble, a friend will take your side nine times out of ten, no questions asked. When you connect with a therapist, the goal is growth and healing. This requires transparency—in some instances, very high levels of transparency.
There are three good reasons you should strive to be authentic inside your help process and never lie to your therapist.
1. You will not get what you need out of the therapy. A therapist cannot effectively address a problem that he or she is not aware of. Many people report that fear of being judged causes them to hold back the truth in therapy. Therapists are human beings. While it’s unfair to say they don’t use their judgment, using judgment to support your help process is different than being judgmental. Unless you’re in immediate danger, a good therapist is generally working to guide you into greater and deeper levels of healing without being judgmental. If you feel judged by your therapist, find a new one.
I’ve had clients share that the previous therapy they engaged in was unsuccessful because they were not transparent. Many of them experienced lingering feelings of regret when they realized that healing could have flourished in their lives much sooner. A lack of honesty with your therapist delays personal transformation.
2. Providing the wrong information can be dangerous. In one instance it was revealed that a woman was coaching her minor child to lie in therapy about the kinds of disagreements she was having with father. The conflicts had never escalated into physical aggression, yet the child lied to her therapist and said her dad had hit her. As a mandated reporter, the therapist needed to file a report regarding the alleged abuse. Eventually the child admitted she was coached to lie. By the time the truth came out substantial harm had already been done to the child, the father, and the therapist. Withholding the truth from your therapist can lead to more problems.
3. Lying to your therapist erodes your trust and confidence in yourself. When you lie or withhold vital information from your therapist you also habituate yourself to behavior that erodes your faith, trust, and confidence in yourself. This behavior can lead you into greater levels of confusion and inner turmoil.
The Bible- one of the greatest books ever written, reminds us of the power and healing we can unleash in our lives by speaking the truth.
“Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” —John 8:32
These are words to live by, in or out of therapy.
This content was originally published here.