Why Most People Lie to Their Therapist (And Why You Should Tell the Truth)

Woman looking in the mirror.

Verywell / Catherine Song

There are four people you should never lie to—your doctor, your accountant, your lawyer, and your therapist.

You’re paying these professionals for their expertise. They can’t help you if they don’t know the whole story.

But as a therapist, I know a lot of people don’t tell me the truth. And as someone who sees a therapist, I also understand why it’s tempting to lie.

How Many People Lie to Their Therapists?

The idea that most people lie to their therapist isn’t just based on my anecdotal evidence. Researchers have found most people struggle to be honest while sitting on their therapist’s couch.

In a 2015 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 93% of respondents said they lied at least once during therapy.

Lies might range from “I have to cancel my appointment because I’m sick” to “No, I don’t use any drugs.”

Lies may also include “partial truths.” For example, someone might tell the therapist they argued with their spouse but fail to mention they lost their temper and said hurtful things. 

Reasons Why People Lie to Their Therapists

If you’ve lied to your therapist, you might be tempted to beat yourself up for being dishonest. But, you likely have some underlying reasons that make being honest tough. So here are some reasons why it might be difficult to tell the whole truth.

Self-Preservation

Some people go to therapy because others want them to—like a partner or a probation officer. Consequently, they may not be invested in making changes. 

Their goal might be to avoid consequences that could stem from telling the truth. For example, someone who is mandated by the court to attend therapy might be quick to say, “That drug test can’t be accurate! I haven’t used anything in a long time.” Admitting drug use might lead to jail time for someone who is on probation. 

So, it makes sense that some people lie because they want to keep the status quo. They don’t want to make any changes.

Avoiding an Uncomfortable Emotion

While most people go to therapy to address sensitive subjects, talking about specific topics can feel quite uncomfortable.

So while someone may suspect it’s important to talk about something that happened during childhood or perhaps a question they have about their sexuality, talking about those things might feel too distressing. 

It might feel more comfortable to avoid talking about a time when you were victimized or when you treated someone else poorly. Talking about it might stir up a lot of shame, embarrassment, or sadness. 

Desire to Be Liked by the Therapist

It’s normal to want to be liked by other people. And your therapist is no exception.

Someone might worry that a therapist will judge them if they acknowledge a mistake they made. Or they might fear the therapist will think they’re a bad person or “crazy” for telling a story about how they lost their temper. So it might feel safer to reveal the things that make them look good.

Fear of Causing the Therapist to Feel Bad

Sometimes, people lie because they don’t want the therapist to feel uncomfortable. It’s hard to say things like, “I don’t like that homework assignment you gave me,” or “I disagree with something you said.” 

People pleasers might also lie about getting better. For example, they may tell their therapist they’re feeling better so the therapist won’t feel bad that their treatment isn’t working. 

Finding the Courage to Tell the Truth

Your relationship with your therapist likely mimics your relationships outside of the therapist's office. For example, do you avoid confrontation with others? Do you focus more on impressing people rather than forming genuine connections? Do you make other people’s feelings your responsibility?

You can learn a lot about yourself just by examining your behavior in the therapy office. But it’s important to look at therapy as a safe place to practice changing your interactions.

When you find the courage to be honest with your therapist, you’ll take a giant leap toward healing yourself. When you see that your therapist still accepts you when you’ve told some hard truths, it can be instrumental in changing the way you relate to other people moving forward.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can find courage when you need it the most.

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  1. Blanchard M, Farber BA. Lying in psychotherapy: Why and what clients don’t tell their therapist about therapy and their relationship. Counselling Psychology Quarterly. 2015;29(1):90-112. doi:10.1080/09515070.2015.1085365