Advice from Claire: Why Do People Lie to Their Therapist?

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Do you find yourself lying to your therapist? Claire gives you some tips on what to do if you don’t feel like you can be fully honest in therapy. Plus, she answers a question from a listener who feels ignored by her family due to her strained relationship with her father.

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Claire Bidwell-Smith

Claire Bidwell-Smith  00:00

Have you ever lied to your therapist? Come on, you can be honest with me.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  00:09

I’m Claire Bidwell-Smith. And that’s what we’re talking about today on NEW DAY. Everyone does it, seriously. At one point or another, everyone lies to their therapist. A 2015 study by the American Psychological Association revealed that 93% of respondents admitted that they lied to their therapists at least once, 93%. I told you, it’s really common. As a therapist myself, I can tell you, we know you guys lied, sometimes. Maybe we don’t always know when you’re lying. But we know that you’re not always forthcoming. And some of the times we definitely can tell when you’re lying. I can’t even describe how many times the client has revealed a lie to me because they finally felt ready to tell the truth about something. And that’s okay. I’m rarely surprised, sometimes I knew you were lying. And I’ve just been waiting for you to feel ready. And sometimes I could just tell that there was something off and figured it would reveal itself at some point. People lie to their therapists for a lot of reasons. Sometimes the lies are just in the form of omissions, and sometimes they’re a little bolder. Like the time one of my clients lied about quitting her job. Either way, we do it sometimes. And here’s what it means. Basically, we lie to our therapists for two main reasons. Either we don’t want to face the truth of what’s really going on because we’re ashamed of it, and afraid of being judged, or we’re not feeling comfortable with our therapist. The first one is really normal and understandable, therapy is intense. You’re baring your soul to another person, and to do the real work to heal from whatever is bringing you in is going to require getting painfully honest about mistakes you’ve made, ways you’ve been hurt, fucked up shit someone has done to you. It can be hard and sometimes impossible to dump all of this right out in the beginning. One of the underlying tenants of therapy is trust. But trust is something that needs to grow. You want to be able to trust that your therapist isn’t going to judge you, or freak out when you tell them something scary. And you also want to trust that they’re going to be able to actually help you work through it. Trust comes in time. Sometimes it takes weeks or months of seeing a therapist before you feel confident that you can really spill your guts on the thing you’ve been hiding. It takes getting to know your therapists reaction to smaller things. And it takes knowing that your therapist can offer some useful tools and treatments for whatever you’re going through. So if you like your therapist, but you don’t really feel totally ready to divulge your deepest secret yet, then give it some time. On that point. If you’ve been in therapy for a while and you still find yourself lying and not wanting to be fully truthful about what’s going on, then it’s probably time to find a new therapist. Check out my episode on how to find the right therapist for more tips. I will say that before you walk out the door, though, it might be worth having an honest conversation with them about why, tell them you’ve been seeing them for a while, tell them that you’re still not comfortable sharing certain things about your life and just see what they say, this could be a turning point and actually get you somewhere or you could decide it’s definitely time to cut ties. Now the other reason we lie to our therapists is because we’re really lying to ourselves. Guys, I know this because I’ve lied to my own therapist before. And it was because I didn’t actually want to face some terrible choices I was making. I knew if I told my therapist what was really going on that I’d have to really own it. And owning it would mean earning a lot of shame and self-judgment. Not to mention that if I told my therapist the truth, then I’d also have to start working on it and make changes that I wasn’t ready to make. You can guess how this turned out for me. But here’s the thing about this dilemma. If you’re not willing to do the work, then it’s probably a waste of time and money being in therapy. We therapists can tell when you’re just showing up halfway. You come in week after week, you spend around the same topics, but you don’t actually dive deep or do the work required to see the changes. It’s frustrating for us, but more for you. So consider whether you’re ready for therapy and the work it requires. Maybe you just really need to play out this bad decision and hold on to your secret a while longer before you’re ready to do the real work. It’s okay. Lastly, if you’re lying to your therapist, just because you want us to like you, I can promise right now that we’ll like you even more if you’re really honest about who you are and what you’re struggling with. I do this work to help people heal not to be entertained by funny stories about your coworkers or listen to witty insights about self-help books you’ve read. I want to help you figure out who you are in the world. And how to as Oprah says, live your best life. To help you do that. We got to dig through some of the messy stuff first. And besides, most of us in this field have heard it all. All the really good therapists out there know how to react with compassion and non-judgment, because we know how fucked up everyone is. So next time you’re tempted to lie to your shrink, think about all this and maybe come clean.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  04:51

Today’s listener question is from someone struggling with some really complicated family dynamics. This is really common. So if you’ve got something on your mind about your families, send me a question. Jim, you can email me at Or fill out the online form at, you can find the link in the show notes. This question comes in from Carla in Denver, she writes, how do I move on with family members that have continuously ignored me due to a strained relationship with my biological father? My father passed away in October, and I was treated as though I did not exist. Not mentioned in his obituary, and not offered any ashes, which were split between four other people. Is it even worth trying at this point? Oh, Carla, I’m really sorry to hear about what you’re going through. This is really tough. I’ve had clients in your position. And I know that there’s just a lot of feelings to process when things kind of go this way. I do think that there’s two separate things that you can address here. The first one is your relationship with your family members, it’s got to feel really terrible. I imagine you’re feeling hurt and angry, alone, potentially misunderstood. It’s understandable to feel angry, to feel hurt. And I think trying to pretend otherwise isn’t going to serve you, I would really try to find a safe place to process these feelings. Maybe it’s talking to a therapist, maybe it’s journaling, maybe it’s writing the family members, some letters, and really telling them how you feel and what it’s like to be in your position. You could send the letters or never send them just write them so you can get them off your chest. I’m not sure how stranger the things are. But if there’s any potential of working through some of this stuff with them, it could be really healing. Maybe this comes from having discussions with them communications with them, maybe it comes from asking them to do some family therapy with you. But if they’re really not willing to work on this, then I think the next step is just letting yourself grieve these relationships. So many of us out here in the world have strained relationships with family members, and it’s hard. So just make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Make sure you’re letting yourself grieve. You’re letting yourself process those emotions get it therapists help if you need it. The other thing I want to talk about is grieving your dad, you said your relationship with him was strained. And I’m not sure the reasons but either way, even when we lose someone we had a complicated relationship with, there’s still a lot of grief there. You’re grieving for the relationship you never got. you’re grieving for old hurt, possible trauma that happened, you’re grieving the future possibility of repairing that relationship. And all of that makes for really complicated grief. So allowing yourself and just giving yourself permission to grieve, even though it’s complicated, permission to kind of explore all the complexities. I really do think that therapy and support groups are really helpful for this. It sounds like you were cut out of the ways in which your father was honored. And that’s really hard too, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t choose to honor his life on your own. You could also write letters to him; you could think of some special way to memorialize him on your own or do something in his honor. Because the relationship is complicated. I do recommend writing letters to him where you’re able to kind of say things that you never got to say, maybe you need to address old hurts or wounds or you need to say goodbye in some kind of fashion. Writing letters in this kind of vain is really powerful. I think when relationships are complicated, we get really confused about the emotions were supposed to feel, like if we had a strained relationship, sometimes we think we shouldn’t grieve or we shouldn’t miss the person we lost. But it’s okay to do those things. You can be mad at him and miss him. You can feel hurt and resentment and still love him. You can be glad the relationship is over. And you can wish I’d have been different. You don’t have to pick one. Lastly, I recommend the book the fatherless daughters project. It explores father loss not just to death but to abandonment and estrangement as well. And there’s some really good stuff in there that might help you understand how this loss has impacted you and how it’s gonna play out. Thank you so much for writing. I will be thinking of you.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  08:58

I hope you come back on Friday for my conversation with […] daughter, Charlotte died suddenly when she was only six years old. And in the 18 years since, […] has accumulated so much wisdom about grief. […] has such elegance and grace to her and what she has to say is helpful for anyone experiencing any kind of loss. Make sure you subscribe to New Day on your favorite podcast app so you never miss an episode.


NEW DAY is a Lemonada Media Original. The show was produced by Kryssy Pease and Erianna Jiles. Kat Yore is our engineer. Music is by Hannis Brown. New Day is produced in partnership with the well-being trust the Jed foundation and Education Development Center. Thanks for listening.

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