Why Do Some People Lie to Their Therapists?

Lies in therapy are common. However, why do patients feel the need to do so? Find out here.
Why Do Some People Lie to Their Therapists?
Sara González Juárez

Written and verified by the psychologist Sara González Juárez.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

When people who are suffering admit that they need help, they usually take the step of going to therapy. However, for many, acquiring the services of a professional psychologist costs, both financially and emotionally. Indeed, it often requires both courage and effort. Bearing this in mind, why do so many people lie to their therapists?

When you think about it, it’s a bit of a paradox. After all, once someone’s decided to tackle their problem and go through the ups and downs of therapy, why would they want to sabotage it or slow it down with lies? Even more so, when they know that the professional they’re seeing won’t judge them.

A study conducted on the subject indicates that the incidence of this behavior is between 70-96 percent, depending on the country concerned. Therefore, it must be accepted that each individual is different, and therapy is still in its infancy in terms of social acceptance. We’re going to examine more data on this phenomenon.

patient in therapy
Some reasons for people to lie to their therapists are social desirability, shame, or rejection of psychological treatment.

Why do people lie to their therapists?

In order to open up in therapy and put all their problems on the table, the individual’s psychological and emotional determination must be in harmony. That said, while they may have convinced themselves that therapy will help them improve their anxiety, they might fear the negative consequences of exploring the aspects of their personality that favor it.

Although this kind of dissonance is usually one of the most common reasons for people to lie to their therapists, there are many other contributory factors. These are the most common:

1. A correct psychologist-patient relationship hasn’t been established

It must be remembered that psychology professionals are also people. As such, they don’t always fit in with everyone, including their patients. Leaving aside a poor execution of the profession (which can also occur), it’s possible that the way the therapist conducts the sessions or their own personality isn’t a particularly good fit for the patient in question.

2. Rejection of therapy

It’s also important to remember that not all people visit a psychologist voluntarily. For instance, partners who’ve been given ultimatums, teens, and young children are all examples of individuals who may reject the treatment. In fact, lying to the therapist is a common way of challenging those who sent them there.

3. Feelings of shame

From the start of any therapy, it’s established that the psychologist isn’t there to judge. That said, some people lie to their therapists because they’re unable to rid themselves of the shame they feel over their actions or thoughts. For example, a person with an addiction might lie about a relapse or the number of substances they consume, even though the psychologist won’t morally judge them in any way.

4. Social desirability

Related to the previous section is social desirability or the need to create a positive image. This concerns the patient’s own beliefs, as well as those they attribute to the therapist. For instance, a patient who sleeps with different people but hasn’t reviewed their moral values concerning monogamy might miss this fact.

5. A lack of introspection

The therapeutic process brings the patient face to face with their fears, distorted ideas, and unhealthy dynamics. It has an unconscious component that’s eliminated as they deepen their own thoughts and ways of behaving.

Along the way, lies often appear as automatic mechanisms. They might be due to pre-established ideas, emotional defenses, etc. One common example is justifying their contradictory behavior: until they unravel the psychological process, they won’t realize the real reasons for their actions.

In this case, the patient’s lies are involuntary. They’re the kinds of falsehoods that scratch the surface of their conscious mind, but that they don’t dare to address until they come to therapy.

Patient in psychological therapy
To avoid lying to the therapist, it’s essential to work on creating a safe environment.

What to do if you’re the therapist

If you’re reading this and are on the other side of the desk, you might be wondering what you can do to stop your patients from lying to you. Here are some tips that could be useful in your professional practice:

  • Everyone lies. It’s highly likely that you’ll come across certain lies, even if they’re innocuous, in your practice. After all, you’ve seen the percentages above. Keep this in mind.
  • Work to create a safe environment. Everyone should feel free from being judged. Moreover, they should feel able to be themselves in the therapeutic field.
  • Improve your communication skills. Therapies are based on verbal exchanges between both parties, so it’s the most basic skill you need.
  • Work on your patient’s self-esteem. After all, individuals who lie to their therapists out of fear, shame, or social desirability need to improve their self-assessment.
  • From the beginning, make it clear that lies aren’t constructive or helpful.

As you can see, the fact of patients lying to their therapists is common. However, it doesn’t have to be a problem if it’s solved in time. So, if you’re on the professional side, make sure you create an environment that’s conducive to your patients opening up to you. On the other hand, if you’re a person who lies to your therapist, remember that you’re in therapy for your own benefit, and to return to a place of happiness and peace.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Domínguez Espinosa, A. D. C., Aguilera Mijares, S., Acosta Canales, T. T., Navarro Contreras, G., & Ruiz Paniagua, Z. (2012). La deseabilidad social revalorada: más que una distorsión, una necesidad de aprobación social. Acta de investigación psicológica2(3), 808-824.
  • Blanchard, M., & Farber, B. A. (2016). Lying in psychotherapy: Why and what clients don’t tell their therapist about therapy and their relationship. Counselling Psychology Quarterly29(1), 90-112.
  • Marcos, L. R. (1972). Lying: A particular defense met in psychoanalytic therapy. The American Journal of Psychoanalysis32(2), 195-202.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.