Why you shouldn’t lie to your therapist
Making the decision to go therapy is never easy. While you’re sitting down with a certified professional to help you navigate all the internal chaos and confusion you’re feeling…you’re essentially sharing the deepest parts of yourself with a stranger. Building trust, being vulnerable, and being in a place to reflect on past trauma takes time. It’s easy to hand over the responsibility of healing to your chosen professional, but in truth, healing comes from the work you do during and after your sessions.
Many of us DREAD all that chat about feelings. Saying “I’m fine” when you’re really not has to be one of the most common lies we tell each other (and ourselves). So why would it be any different when speaking to a therapist? It’s natural to sidestep the uncomfortable questions, leave out the important things you aren’t ready to talk about yet, or just lie about how things are really going. And just to make it clear, we’re not here to judge! But this week, we’re unpacking why you may feel the need to lie to your therapist. And more importantly, why you shouldn’t.
A member of our community has kindly shared their own experience with therapy to help bring some comfort to anyone struggling with this, or to help anyone thinking about starting. They’ve asked to keep their identity anonymous, so we’ll be referring to them as M. They first went to therapy in 2019 after a diagnosis of depression and clinical anxiety disorder. After 3 months of therapy, M made the decision to stop. They then moved from the UK back home to the US in 2022, and decided to go back therapy after struggling with more anxiety and depressive episodes. M found that not only was the experience different with a new therapist, but more so, with being in a different place in their life.
“When I first started therapy, it wasn’t really my idea. My family and friends kind of urged me to go so I went to just ease their worries. I think back then, I was living in denial. I was stuck in a toxic relationship, deeply home sick, and unfulfilled at work. I really struggled to accept my depression and anxiety diagnosis. I felt like going to therapy would really solidify that. I know it’s cliche to say, but I felt like going would really mean all of that was real. Like I had something incurable, and I guess…something to be ashamed about? It all felt quite heavy, because I come from a background where culturally, mental health issues aren’t really talked about, let alone accepted.”
While mental health is now a more accepted discussion point, there is still a stigma that persists around seeking help. And M shares that this was this what caused those walls to go up with their first therapist. The judgement that surrounds therapy can come from many things. Cultural beliefs, generational differences, or perhaps the way we often project at those who accomplish what we ourselves are too afraid to try and do.
“I remember my first session with the first therapist was really odd. She had these walls of shelves with mini figurines on them. Every character from Disney princesses to Super Mario characters. She asked me to pick any I liked and just create something in this sandbox that was across her chair. I really couldn’t take it seriously. While I started choosing these mini toys, she started asking me questions. It started with what I enjoy doing. I told her playing piano, taking pictures of my friends, watercolour. She asked me about my family. I told her I was really close to my older brother, had a tough relationship with my dad, felt close to mom and grandparents. Before the end of our hour together, I’d created something in the sand that she said represented my childhood trauma. I remember walking out of the session with this new heaviness. I didn’t know if I was supposed to feel hopeful after the first session or if I was supposed to just sit in the realisation of how much i had to work through.”
M told us that after a month of these sessions, they felt themselves close up. The more they dived into their upbringing and their relationships, the harder it was for them to share. A common reflex for many.
“I felt like every time I shared something small, like a fight I had with my boyfriend, it turned out it was a bigger issue. And I know that’s why people go to therapy. So you have a guide to point out what’s working and what’s not. But I really wasn’t in a place to hear that what I was doing wasn’t working. So I started to downplay certain things. I kind of figured out the realisations she was going to, and I left out parts of things that I knew would lead her to those negative conclusions. I basically told her I was ok when I wasn’t. And somewhere in the middle I started believing I was ok too. It’s easy to pat yourself on the back for going and letting yourself believe you did your part.
She would ask me to do things like meditate and journal. I think I tried both for a week and then gave up. But I never let her know that. After constantly trying to prove to her I was fine, I began to actually feeI like I was fine. Looking back now, I wasn’t fine at all. Her analysis was that having a strict and kind of overbearing father created my poor self esteem. But my closeness with him gave me this guilt in feeling anything negative about him, which led me to stay in relationships to seek the validation I was still searching for in him. Pretty heavy stuff! But, I felt like it was something I could now be aware of and move on with. So after 3 months I did.”
Before meeting M, we asked our community about their own experiences with therapy. 71% of our Happy Place followers shared that they have been to therapy. When asked what the most difficult part of therapy, votes were tied between three key areas.
When we asked, “What lies have you told your therapist?”, the most common answer was “Saying I was ok when I wasn’t.” After speaking to M, it’s clear that lying seems to be a common coping mechanism when it comes to therapy. And it’s easy to argue and say “why bother going then?”. But we can’t downplay the bravery that comes with deciding to work on yourself. That being said, downplaying the facts won’t lead to productive and real healing, as M shares.
“For one whole year, I felt boosted by my new found self awareness. I left a relationship, job, and country that I felt was no longer serving me. I moved back home, went from analytics to creative consulting. For a year I felt great. But the more I settled, that novel feeling of making a change started to wear off. When I started to realise that my new life was just my life, the panic attacks started happening again.
I would go back to my old depressive episodes where I would only leave my apartment to pick up my food delivery. I had a friend visit for the summer and it was the first time in a while I felt like I was really connecting with life. We went out to dinners, the park, clubs and all that. But after they left I was back to feeling heavy and dark. I think I watched every movie Netflix offered. I used to look at my reflection in the mirror while brushing my teeth and just think “what are you doing?”.
I can’t remember when but I just woke up one morning and decided to give therapy another try. I didn’t tell anyone, I’d just signed up to BetterHelp and thought it would be good to try. And to really try this time. I thought if there was anything to downplay in my life, it shouldn’t be that I needed help. I went through 3 therapists till I found one I felt somewhat connected to.”
“What I liked about therapy this time was that my new therapist didn’t make me dive into my past. We called once a week and she started with asking me how the week had been. As I would tell her, she would sometimes ask about things like family or work if she felt it related. But she went at my pace, which I think is what made me feel like I could share things with her. I’m not someone who opens up easily, let alone to a complete stranger. But I felt like she looked at me as whoever I was when she had met me. Her first impression didn’t feel like it was tainted by my trauma. I didn’t feel studied. I think that’s the hard thing about therapy. You are signing up to analysed. But it shouldn’t feel like it.
I think what was also different was the fact that I knew I needed to do some work internally. And I wasn’t just willing. I wanted to. It was kind of hard to shake off those old habits of omission and minimising. When I did leave out certain things (I knew I shouldn’t have) I felt guilty and would bring it up again in our next session. I think in a normal conversation with someone, you have this fear of being judged. So it’s hard to not carry that fear with your therapist. But once I started being really honest with her, I realised I wasn’t being met with judgement. I was actually being met with clarity. Lying doesn’t give you that. And I liked having my clairty more than I liked people having a certain kind of perception about me.”
As M shares, one of the hardest things about going into therapy is getting over the judgement we’re conditioned to expect. But once you take that first step, book your first appointment, you allow yourself to take your power back. Dealing with mental health issues can sometimes feel like dealing with a loss of control. But what you do have control over, is how you choose to carry on. We know that progress is never a linear journey, but your power in this journey is what stays consistent.
We’d like to thank M for sharing their journey with us, and to all of you who shared their answers with us.