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What 93% Of Us Do That's Not So Great For Our Mental Health

What a surprise! But you're definitely not alone.

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illustration of woman hiding within her chair while meeting with therapist, mental health
Chiara Ghigliazza
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Therapy is designed to be a safe space, but even there, we feel the need to make ourselves likable.

A study finds that 93 percent of people have lied at least once to their therapist, most commonly fibbing about how badly they really feel (it’s not so bad). Also topping the list of lies: The severity of your mental health symptoms, thoughts of suicide and insecurities. If you’ve ever pretended to like your therapist’s advice, you’re not alone. That’s another biggie in terms of lying, too.

Why we lie.

No one wants to look bad — even in front of their therapist.

“I believe people lie to their therapists for the same reasons they lie to other people in their lives: To maintain an image, to prevent judgment or to prevent conflict,” says Courtney Morgan, a licensed clinical counselor and the founder of Counseling Unconditionally in Louisville, KY.

Plus, when you start therapy, you may be ambivalent about the process. You may not fully trust your therapist yet, and you may want them to like you more, needing them to take your side in the conflict you’re presenting. No one wants to be judged, and some of the things we feel or think may appear so extreme that we feel the need to take it down a notch when we say them out loud.

And often, we have shame associated with whatever is happening in our lives that we need to address. You may think that talking about the situation will change how your therapist looks at you. Maybe you’re worried that the therapist will share the information with someone else. Or, in the addiction treatment field, you may not want your therapist to know if you’re actively using substances for fear of being referred to a higher level of care, says Julia Purcaro, the outpatient program manager at Mountainside Treatment in Huntington, NY.

Can they tell?

Not always, says Dr. Aura De Los Santos, a clinical psychologist. On several occasions, she’s been able to identify a client lying when he tells a story with different details. When her clients aren’t being truthful, they usually appear nervous, move their eyes to the side and avoid direct contact with her. The bigger issue, though, is that when clients aren’t being totally honest, they’re not getting all they can out of their therapy.

What therapists think of all this lying.

Lying is often used as a coping mechanism so that no one will leave you or judge you when they learn your inner truth. Plus, therapy can be very daunting. You’re being asked to share your deepest issues with someone you may not know very well, and you need to be very vulnerable to let these feelings out in the open. Are you having an affair? Are you sleeping all day and only waking for your therapy appointments? Do you eat four burgers in one sitting while you’re hiding in the bathroom? Do you need to drink a bottle of wine before having sex with your partner? Your therapist has heard it all, and they will not run screaming from the room, nor will they think less of you for your inner thoughts.

Lying to your therapist is not only common but Dr. Hilary Stokes, a psychotherapist in San Diego, believes it’s often an important part of the therapy process.

She says that patients need to determine the course of their therapy, including what they choose to share and when they choose to share it. This is essential to building trust. If you aren’t ready to process the issues, leading to denial or hiding parts of your story out of fear or negative consequences, then this should be viewed as part of the process.

When you’re ready to share, your therapist will be there to help you.

“Literally, my entire job is to look closely at who you really are and then to stick around so that we can heal that deepest version of you,” says Dr. Emily Hu, a licensed psychologist with Thrive Psychology Group in Washington and California.

The more authentically you communicate your demons, the better your therapist can help you grow and heal.

Do any of you see a therapist? Do you think many lie? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Health