I talk to a lot of people who have mental health issues. A week doesn’t go by that I don’t meet someone new who tells me a piece of their life story, and I glimpse at the desperation that eats them up inside. The desperation is usually for things we all hope for — a better life, a life not feeling this way. A life more “normal.”
But after talking to people over all these years, I still can’t wrap my head around people who tell me they lie to their therapists. I just don’t get it.
I take my car into the mechanic. I tell him what’s wrong with my car, or more specifically, the odd noises or strange odors coming from my car, because honestly, I have no idea what’s wrong with my car. Those symptoms lead the mechanic to have a few hunches of what to check out that might be wrong with my car. He checks them out and lo and behold, diagnoses the problem — a faulty fuel pump. Problem solved, and my car and I go our merry way.
Same with my doc. I went in for a regular checkup last week. My doc is the nicest older French guy you’d ever meet. He looks like a character right out some classic French film set in a small country town. He’s very personable, talks very softly, and asks all the right questions. He never lets his kind attitude get in the way of his information-seeking. Now, if something was wrong with me, I’d say, “Hey, doc, my arm hurts when I do this.” After he gets done saying, “Well, then don’t do that!,” he would take a look at my arm and try and figure what’s going on. Even if it were an embarrassing problem, I’d find a way to get beyond my embarrassment, because, well, that’s his job and I’m paying him to do his job.
I see no reason a therapist shouldn’t be the same.
You pay a therapist for the time you spend with them. Their one and only job is to help you find a way to feel better, help you stop repeating unhealthy behaviors or patterns of behavior that are no longer working for you, help you live a better life.
If you lie to your therapist, especially about something important in your life or directly related to your problems, then you’re wasting your and your therapist’s time. If you tell your therapist all about your depression, but leave out the fact that your mom just passed away last month, that’s an important, valuable piece of information that would be helpful for the therapist to know in order to help you better. If you tell your therapist you have low self-esteem or always feel insecure about yourself, yet leave out the fact that you purge after eating almost every meal, again, you’re only impeding your own recovery and treatment.
These are plain and simple lies, called lies of omission. And they prevent a person from moving forward in treatment.
I believe the reason many people leave out this kind of information is the same reason we have trouble mentioning embarrassing things to our family doc — we’re embarrassed by what we need to say, and feel the doctor might pass some sort of judgment on us. Whether it’s a rational fear or not doesn’t really matter, does it? One of the reasons many people seek out psychotherapy in the first place is to help combat irrational thoughts and fears, so in that context, it makes sense many of share this fear of being judged or embarrassed.
And yet, if you do nothing else in therapy, you should find some kind of way to share this sort of pertinent information with your therapist. It doesn’t have to be in the first session. But it does have to happen at some point.
Your therapist won’t judge you, and they won’t be embarrassed by what you tell them. They won’t criticize you for not sharing this information with them sooner. All they will do is use it to find a way to better help you and help you move forward.