Lying to Our Clients


During several recent sessions, one of my clients has been struggling to make an important decision in her life that’s causing her considerable anguish — whether or not to leave her husband. I don’t normally give advice in such cases, but based on my lengthy relationship with this client, I strongly believe that she ought to stay for the time being and have told her so. Her doubts about what to do have continued to resurface and I’ve repeated my point of view whenever I thought it appropriate and helpful.

Over the weekend, I received an email from this client; she acknowledged feeling somewhat “paranoid” and wanted to touch base with me about her thought process. Her intuition told her that, in truth, I thought she ought to leave her husband but felt it would be “unprofessional” for me to tell her so. She worried that her decision to stay was foolish, that she was closing her eyes to the depth of her husband’s emotional difficulties; she feared that by staying, she was setting herself up for even greater heartbreak down the line. She felt certain that I believed the same thing but couldn’t bring myself to tell her so.

In our next session, I pointed out to her that, if what she believed was true, I would have been actively lying to her when I told her she ought to stay with her husband for the time being. It’s one thing to keep my opinion to myself; quite another to give voice to the very opposite of what I truly believe. Did she believe I was actually lying to her? I asked. When she thought about it in those terms, she decided I couldn’t be lying.

I won’t go into the complex issues surrounding her doubts and suspicions; I bring up this client in order to raise some interesting questions.

Do therapists ever lie to their clients?

Is it ever appropriate or clinically useful to do so?

Is there a difference between a lie of omission and a deliberate falsehood?

In thinking back over my years in practice, I can identify several instances where I lied to my clients, all of them involving shame or feelings of embarrassment. These were lies of omission. In my early years as a therapist, if a client accurately observed that I looked sleepy or stressed, rather than acknowledging the truth, I’d usually address their anxiety concerning what they perceived about my health or state of mind. In one sense, this is a perfectly valid therapeutic approach because it is the client’s feelings, after all, that are the focus of the work. On the other hand, such interpretations can subtly imply that what the client accurately perceives is “only” a projection; sometimes, it can feel crazy-making, not to have your perceptions validated. Nowadays, I’d validate the perception first, then go on to explore what it felt like to depend upon an exhausted or stressed-out therapist. It feels to me like a subtle but important distinction.

By contrast, I remember falling asleep during one phone session a number of years ago, my first day back from work following a trip abroad. I was still jet-lagged and hadn’t yet adjusted to the time zone. When my client heard the silence over the line, she thought we’d been disconnected or that there was some trouble with my phone line, and finally hung up. When she called back and couldn’t get through, she eventually reached me on my emergency line. I felt terribly embarrassed for not respecting my limits and giving myself more time to recover before going back to work. I vividly remember the temptation to lie, to tell my client that yes, I’d been experiencing difficulties with the phone line. Instead, I admitted the truth, apologized and felt ashamed.

In those earlier instances, I was hiding behind the so-called blank screen in order to avoid acknowledging something embarrassing or distressing. I’m not the only psychotherapist who makes use of the analytic posture as a defensive maneuver to evade pain. In fact, it’s a fairly common professional defense mechanism, though most of the time it remains unconscious. Especially if we feel a private shame about our marriage or our sex life or the emotional difficulties of our children, it’s easy to take unconscious refuge in our clients’ idealization of us. We can take comfort in those transference feelings, using them as a kind of lie to avoid our own shame.

As I make clear in my my book about defense mechanisms, all defenses are essentially lies we tell ourselves to evade pain. The type of defense I’ve discussed so far is a lie of omission. In my view, such lies are not uncommon. How harmful are they? If truth is to the mind as food is to the body, then such lies must take their toll. To some degree, they will limit the growth of both client and therapist. I suspect that, to the extent therapists are hiding from shame behind their clients’ idealizations, it’s probably worse for the therapist than the client.

What about deliberate falsehoods? I can’t remember any instances when I consciously and intentionally lied to a client, but it’s possible I may have forgotten. To me, this type of lying seems much more serious. It undermines the integrity of the therapist. It corrupts the entire therapeutic process which is, after all, devoted to uncovering the truth no matter what. To my mind, it is never clinically useful to lie to a client. I can’t think of a single instance where it would help a client to be told a falsehood. I can imagine an argument that resembles the rationale sometimes given for concealing the truth from a person dying of cancer; I’ve never accepted that rationale and don’t believe I’d find it any more convincing when applied to a client in therapy.

Because we therapists all have our painful issues and areas of shame, along with defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from them, it’s inevitable that we will commit unconscious (and sometimes barely conscious) lies of omission. We’re only human. But when we tell deliberate falsehoods, we betray our profession and undermine the very nature of the work we do.

What about you therapists? Can you think of any instances where you told a lie to a client, either directly or by omission?

What about those of you in therapy? Have you ever caught your therapist lying to you? How did it make you feel?

Photo credit: kygp / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.

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123 comments

    I have been seeing a therapist for a few years and my therapist never tells me what I should or should not do in a situation explicitly. She may guide me with questions, but ultimately the decision is my own. If I ask her what I should do, she always puts the question back on me in the form of what I think I should do. I am not sure why a therapist would ever have to lie to a client, unless you are considering the withholding information lying. There are times as a client I have been grateful when I later learned my therapist did not tell me the whole truth because I would have been able to handle it at the time.

    I do catch therapists, let’s call it – contradicting themselves. I listen very intently to everything being said so it is easy for me to recognize a false statement. It has infuriated me in the past, however, I have worked at not being so upset. What annoys me more than being lied to is hearing from a therapist or anyone that tone where you know that they are simply agreeing with you because they think that’s what you want to hear. Then later on when the situation changes then they go back on what they originally said in agreement with you. (does that make sense?) It is in those moments when you lose all faith in that person and wonder what else they have been lying to you about.
    I had a therapist who was very kind and supportive. He was working for a community health team but had a private practice on the side where he only sees people on Saturdays. He told me that he closed that up, that he was no longer doing it. Then at a much later date he said that he wasn’t able to attend something because he had a client coming to see him. I didn’t question him about it and was only mildly irritated because he had been so accomodating of me and my major depression. However, I wonder if there was anything else that he wasn’t honest about.
    Being lied to by a therapist is not a good feeling. It is betrayal of the trust we place in the therapist and trust doesn’t come easy. It makes me feel like I can’t be trusted to hear the truth – at times this may be true but that is my issue not theirs. And I feel it is just down right disrespectful.
    If you have to lie about something you better make sure you remember what you said, because it could come back to bite you.

    I think your experience isn’t unusual and it shows how damaging those “white lies” that therapists tell can be. I agree about the betrayal of trust. Not only is it disrespectful, as you say, it erodes the therapeutic alliance.

    I quit therapy altogether because I believe 2 therapists lied to me. Going to counseling and opening up with being molested took so many years I can’t tell you and then to catch them in lies. One said he was molested too (come to find out from a friend of his family he was not). Another one said she had a court case where she testified to allow the child victim of molestation to be able to continue to write her father in prison. I said nothing and never went back. I think counselors are pure liars to get you to either open up more or to see your point of view. Here I am there to spill my guts and they play mind games and lie. I will never go back again.

    Hi, my Psychologist is really a great down to earth person, and I don’t feel he lies to me, I am an extremely untrusting person, Iv’e told him to always be honest with me even if it’s bad as I would rather have a meltdown in his office then find out later and I know I wouldn’t trust him again. He admits it when he’s abit conflicted on how to say something when I ask him, and for me it makes me trust him more, even if he then is showing himself to be “more human” then on the pedistool that I sometimes see him on and other proffesionals.
    However I got a real tough one coming up and I worry if he will be “100%” truthful to me or not, because if I tell him about this problem, then it’s “out there” and I can’t get it back and then I have to live and deal with the consequences. I don’t want to stop my diet pill even though another gp has told me with my heart condition I could drop if I keep taking them, so know when my heart is racing or I get chest pain etc I can’t tell my gp because I haven’t stopped taking them. I know it’s a no brainer, but I can’t go back to that vile state I was in before, I cannot function like that and I am an emotional eater so it’s holding things at bay at the moment. I started on it about 20 months ago. I’m scared he is going to say I’m addicted to it, and will try make me stop, and I don’t want to, I’m not sure how he will try make me stop and if he is even allowed to try make me stop, I am not a minor, I worry that he may try get me “locked up” saying I’m addicted, He wants me to see a psychiatrist for antiD so if he doesn’t try stop me I’m scared he’ll tell her and she will try.
    So I’m scared to say something because he might say everything is fine to get me to talk, but once I’ve said it I don’t know what will happen. Please could you let me know if I am getting worried for nothing and is it likely that they would do or would be allowed to do something like that, I don’t abuse it I take the proper dosage. I am just so stressed, I want to trust him because he’s proven trust worthy, but he might consider this different because of my heart thing.

    Yes I THINK A therapist lied to me. She was a way for a period of time and I HAD to see someone else until she returned and she told me when she did return that she has broken her foot. I did not believe her, I DO not know why she was away.

    yes, my therapist has lied to me and it was incredibly painful. I lost the safety and trust that had been created between us for a long time. He lied because he knew the truth would be painful to me. he said, “I don’t want to deal with you”(ouch!!!!) when I told him I knew he was not being truthful. It was a real mess…now I know that no one can be trusted fully and I have learned to trust myself and my experience. I have learned about forgiveness as well.

    Perhaps he lied, however we need to consider that “not wanting to deal with you” could imply that how you perceive and deal with your experience of others is a problem worth exploring. Forgiveness of others and self is a very wise choice. I agree no one is absolutely truthful all the time, Especially to themselves. We also know our intuition is wrong as often as it is right, yet we need to trust our intuition and be very carefully open to the possibility of errors in our own perception and judgment. I’ve very often learned I was quite wrong in my intuition, and yet I rely on this fallible human function to do good therapy and keep good intimacy in my personal life. I don’t know any hard and fast rules to be sure I’m right, so I pay particular attention to the possibilities of being wrong, as I often am. Dr Bob

    Thank you for responding.

    I can often have strong reactions to people when I am not getting what I want/need from them. I am a strong willed, highly vigilant and intelligent person. My radar for lies is usually on high alert.

    It was hard for him. I did not realize it was hard for therapists to deal with others’ emotions/reactions since that is what they are trained to work with.

    My expectations were not realistic. I have learned to witness the lie when it comes my way, feel it, deal with it inside myself and then let it go/forgive.

    Life is too short, we all have bad days, none of us are perfect, I lie too and we all deserve the benefit of the doubt. I believe that in most cases lies are not intended to hurt others. They are a mechanism we use to cope or get relief from something we do not want to deal with. If someone resorts to lying to me regularly I can make the decision if need them in my life and deal with it or I can realize it may be their way of trying to get me to move on.

    I have been in therapy for about just over 2 years now. And i have big feelings for my therapist. A horrible case of transference. I admit that i am obsessed with him too. He has lied to me twice. I really don’t like being obsessed with any body but i try to rachionalise it and recogonise my feelings at the same time. I’m afraid this obsession has made me look at his fb account too. In the early times of our sessions he was due to go away for Christmas. He asked me what i was doing for xmas and i told him. I then asked him and he told me where he was going. But a few months later he was due to go on holiday again. I then took it for granted that he would tell me again but he didn’t and was so vaig and said he was going overseas. And i was devistated that he didn’t want to tell me this time. And for the whole 3 weeks he was away i just cried and cried. When he got back it was one of the hardest sessions that i ever had. I broke down right in front of him. But Christmas came and he lied to me. He asked me what i was doing for Christmas, I told him then i asked him what he was doing and he told me. But i looked on his fb and he was doing something completly different to what he told me. I know that i shouldn’t look at his fb account but i find myself look from time to time. On another he lied to me when i came for a session. I rang his bell and he never answered right away. Then i rang again again no answer. I then rang to say that the bell was not working. So by the time in got to his door someone was coming out. When i got in he said so the bell was not working i then said yes But i knew someone else was there.I know that i am wrong to look at his fb. I feel so bad about it. Its public for all to see. But i know thats no excuse. I love him dearly and feel i can’t do without him. I have told him how a feel and maybe thats why he has lied to me. I feel some times like he doesn’t really care and feel so rejected by him. But i feel that i can’t let go. Please could you give me some advice. John

    I know how you feel. My therapist accepted my friend request for Facebook. I really never used Facebook very much but one day I discovered that he dropped me from his list of “friends”. When I asked him he told me he decided to only have friends on his FB account but the mistake he made is that I can see which friends we have in common and he did not drop the other people who are his clients. So it was a lie and it took about 2 years for my to recover from that betrayal. My self esteem took a nose dive and of course my abandonment issues hit the roof.

    It is all better now. I have moved on and I am glad I no longer hurt. It is terrible to feel like that. It is lonely too.

    Hi John:

    I read your post and I feel that there is nothing wrong with you looking at his online activity. Obviously you were suspicious of something and you validated it yourself by finding that he had been dishonest (of course, it is possible his plans changed last minute, etc., so I would be careful to derive anything valuable that way); however, I feel that you might be codependent on your therapist and just be careful not to repeat any patterns that injure you. I can just feel your disappointment and emotional affect very strongly. Therapists are not perfect, but I think as clients we are often quick to presume that they are perfect. If I were you I would find ways to loosen yourself just a little from your therapist and look out for yourself first. Talk about how you feel about therapy is really good too, I feel, because it is part of your life, but it is not life itself (yet it feels like that sometimes).
    Again, it is easy to think and feel that therapy is everything and that we need our therapists in our lives. Then again, therapists should be given you the tools to help you feel empowered and in control not so co-dependent, and left wondering, and then also potentially being lied to for over 1-2 years. Think about why you are really (I mean really) codependent, especially on a therapist who might be lying to you. I could really empathize with your posting and I am glad I read it. The last comment of advice I can provide is that the transference feelings will come and go (especially the more he lies, if he continues to do so), and eventually those feeling will go away. It is okay to be codependent at first and throughout therapy, but not for too long. If stay codependent for too long, talk directly to your therapist about your feelings of codependency. If you don’t then you are likely to repeat that same pattern and it sounds to me that it is causing you much distress versus joy. Hopefully, you are getting something from therapy and it is not entirely a waste of your time. Sometimes, we get so caught up in therapy that we actually forget about why we were there to begin with. I hope this helps at all.
    Best wishes,
    Marci

    To my knowledge, my therapist has never actively lied to me. He’s the one person I trust to always tell me the truth. If I somehow found out that he had lied to me, I think it would take a very long time to rebuild my trust in him. Depending on what the lie was, I may not ever be able to do it. It wasn’t easy to let myself trust him and if he violated that trust by lying, I’m not sure we could repair the damage.

    First of all, thanks for your honest post.

    I completely agree with your stance on lying to clients. As a client, I can’t think of anything which would be more destructive than being outrightly lied to by my therapist, as I think that in a way our entire relationship and work has been based around deepening my ability to trust him. If he lied to me (and I think I would know) it would undo everything we’ve worked to build. No truth, however painful, could be as horrible for me as that forced disconnection from another person which is a result of dishonesty.

    On the few occasions that there might have been ‘lies from omission’ it has significantly disrupted our communication as I have had a sense of something going on, but like you say my experience hasn’t been validated. The blockage in communication has only been cleared by directly addressing the issue. I think it’s interesting that there generally seems to be an expectation that a therapist should become sensitive to his/her client’s mood, body language etc, but I’ve never heard anyone talk about the sensitivity of the client to his/her therapist. A lot of the time he’s looking at me, I’m also looking at him! I definitely feel that I can read him quite well – certainly well enough to know when there is something not being said.

    Incidentally, what do you think about clients lying to their therapists? Are the same issues in play?

    When clients lie to their therapists, it’s usually defensive in nature — that is, they’re trying to avoid something painful. There will probably be some evidence of the defense elsewhere and it’s up to the therapist to recognize it.

    Like you, many of my clients are accurately sensitive to my appearance and what it says about my state of mind. I try to validate their perceptions without making me the subject of the session. I’ll often acknowledge what they’re perceiving but then add something reassuring, so they don’t feel they have to take care of me.

    Thanks, that’s very useful what you say about the client wanting to take care of you. I do experience that – wanting to protect him from me.

    Do you think it’s ever appropriate to ‘protect’ your therapist? I can’t help feeling sometimes that I’m loading all my crap onto someone who surely has a lot of their own stuff to deal with (don’t we all!), plus all his other clients’ stuff, and really how important are my little neuroses anyway? I know I am paying for that service so to speak, but on a basic human level it sometimes seems wrong and insensitive. It would be great to get your perspective on this.

    To me, the distinction is between taking your pain and difficulties to your therapist and asking for help with them versus “unloading” all that pain. I think it’s a sign of health to recognize your therapist as a separate person and not simply to dump on him or her.

    What is even more crazy-makng than refusing to validate a client’s accurate perception, is a therapist who cannot own it when they’ve been hurtful. For example, my therapist would not remember saying something hurtful he said just the week before. When I expressed anger that he didn’t remember, he said, “Well, if you can’t speak up at the time…”. Another time he defended himself with, “…IF I said that” and “you take my words out of context and reframe them.” The problem was he rarely remembered what I was referring to, so of course it sounded foreign to him. I sincerely wish all my sessions had been videotaped. I think it would have been very illuminating for both of us.

    Why deny your patients the very honest, compelling, and powerful human experience of helping — however momentarily — to take care you? It is not that the caretaking of you should be the focus of the session (though the idea of the role of caretaking in life is wonderful subject for therapeutic unpacking) but there is a narcissism transmitted in the message of “You don’t need to take care of me” that automatically puts the person offering care in a one-down position. I can’t imagine that would be a positive therapeutic goal.

    This kind of thing has been a big issue for me, not so much lying but contradictions in the course of therapy and especially contradictions between body language and words, or the tone of voice that belies an underlying disdain, impatience or “going along with”. I wound up having to turn to holistic modalities where the therapist has done really deep work in making contact with their own bodies/emotions. I guess authenticity would be a key word here. I could often sense it when a therapist was simply being inauthentic and repeating something they had learned in school.
    To my sadness I have come to the conclusion, like the other poster, that you cannot fully trust anyone, but must learn to trust your own perceptions. These therapists I saw who lacked self awareness did a lot of damage, and despite many attempts at conventional therapy I have come to the conclusion that most of them are doing the work to work out their own issues and are just unable to help me. A few of them suggested that I just ignore these kinds of contradictions that I see in people, but there can be bad consequences to that also. Learning to trust my gut, and not what another person thinks they know, has been my solution.
    I appreciate you saying that you realize some clients are very sensitive to this type of thing. Maybe if I had seen someone with this level of honesty, I wouldn’t have sustained the amount of damage I did.
    I don’t know that any of them ever lied to me, but it seems to set a bad example around the possibilities for participating in life and work in an authentic way.

    Can’t recall my therapist lying.
    But one scenario where I can see a lie as being essential is if a patient confesses they love their therapist and want to be sexually involved, it’s imperative the therapist doesn’t act on this if they feel the same way. That even if they are romantically and sexually attracted to their patient, it’s not helpful for the patient to know this and could derail their therapy.

    I really liked your post. In response to Green Eyes, as i understand it, the sexual transference is there to be worked through. If the therapist has sexual feelings about a client,then that can be worked through with a supervisor and can be beneficial as long as those feelings are not acted upon. All grist for the mill, so to speak! If the therapist cannot contain those feelings then the client should be referred on. I really liked what you said about the therapist hiding behind the patient’s idealization of the therapist. It is so honest of you. And I have definitely been on the receiving end of some of those crazy making statements where it is all turned around back on you, the client. My first therapist, thirty years ago, did a lot of this. I went back to see him before he retired. I had not seen him for 15 yrs and wanted some resolution. He apologized and told me that a lot of what he had done was because he was new and a bit out of his depth. It was very healing to hear that. I do not think, however, that a therapist should tell the client if they have sexual feelings for them as this opens a Pandora’s box. What do you think?

    I agree. That’s a very dangerous admission, at least if the therapy is ongoing. If the client needs to be referred on — that is, if the therapist can’t work through those sexual feelings during supervision — then some acknowledgement might need to be made — like, “I feel I can’t be emotionally objective where you’re concerned and strongly believe that a different therapist would be much better able to help you.” I’m not positive about that, but that’s the way I see it at this moment.

    Does the client get to know that the therapist is doing this? I would have problems if the client isn’t informed. In this situation I think it would likely be lying by omission.

    Dr. Burgo,
    This article is very timely for me since lying is an issue I intend to broach with my therapist next week. Ironically, I think she mislead me about reading a small e-book by Sam Harris titled *Lying* :) and it (amongst other things) has led to a “distancing” in our relationship.
    I want to address your statement above. In the case of sexual attraction toward a client, you quickly jump to calling it quits when the therapist, after a client confesses love, has a very human romantic/sexual reaction. You say (seemingly unequivocally), “The therapist should refer the client to another professional.” This seems to be a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction when these feelings have the potential to be dealt with honestly and skillfully.
    In the book *In Session,* Deborah Lott suggests that a therapist (using Michael Kahn’s words) must “mind the store” and that it may be possible for him/her to “own their own humanity and to take responsibility for the feelings in the room . . . the potential to spur desire.” The therapist might say something like, “There is something sexual going on in this room. We need to look at these dynamics carefully. I can take care of myself and my feelings; you don’t have to take care of me. We need to keep looking at *your* feelings together.” (emphasis mine).
    Granted, a therapist who can do this is probably very experienced and skilled, but I think the potential for therapeutic growth in this situation is immense.

    If a therapist is aware that sexual feelings are in the room, and that the client is either projecting an experience or intentionally attempt to evoke desire — that is, if the therapist recognizes that the feelings have arisen as part of the transference and can make use of them — that’s part of the work. But if the therapist has romantic feelings toward his or her client that don’t fit that description, I stick by my original statement.

    I know my therapist has had romantic feelings for other clients. I have witnessed it happening in his week long workshops where we all stay together. It is never discussed or admitted openly but it’s not hard to tell when sexual energy is in the room. It’s bound to happen since we are human and working on a lot of deep stuff using intense methods to churn up the crap we need to let see the day of light.

    He is able to NOT act out his desire, work it through and maintain the therapeutic relationship. He falls into the camp that believes it is all grist for the mill…his mill and his clients’ mills.

    Witnessing it though has been incredibly difficult for me since it was my desire to be his desire or his daughter…I had to go to that dark place in my soul to work through that pain and get to the other side of it. I no longer can attend his week long workshops.

    But I do want to say that I think it is very dangerous stuff and the Therapist better really know that s/he can withstand that pressure.

    Your therapist seems able to look at his attractions/desires and not be motivated by them, to think of them as “grist for the mill,” as you say. Not everyone can do that.

    I’m not sure it’s as straight forward as that. I think they’re could be circumstances where that is worked through.

    No. Transference situations where clients are attracted to their therapists are fairly common, usually involving a defense against something else. In those cases, it’s important to work through the transference rather than referring the client elsewhere.

    Hi Joseph,

    Thanks for your honest and interesting post.

    I have been out of therapy for a long time but from what I remember, she never told me an outright lie or at least I didn’t pick up on it. However, I know (now) that she told many, many ‘lies’ of omission. I think she had to – I couldn’t have coped with ‘the truth’ . I think she told me as much of the truth as she thought I could bear at the time. Sometimes when I remember how deluded I was at that time, I cringe. I truly was obtuse and I thought I was an insightful, wise person. I often wonder (now) what she thought as she sat there listening to another deluded story or statement. I did get there in the end – I’m grateful for her patience and that she didn’t face me with the truth too soon.

    I don’t think that not telling the full truth is necessarily a “lie of omission.” What I mean by that phrase is the withholding of truth deliberately in order to give the wrong impression.

    You say that if a therapist has feelings for their client they should refer them to another therapist. My question is: do therapists have any idea how this leaves the client feeling? Because I would say it leaves them feeling abandoned and like a complete failure. Or does the therapist actually tell the client the real reason they cannot see them anymore? I think not and it makes the client’s life a living hell…not fair at all.

    That’s a good point. I’ve never been in that position, but I can see how hurtful it would be for the client to be referred out. It might very well be useful to tell the client the actual reason.

    As always I enjoy reading your blog posts! This one was particularly interesting to me. I, too try never to give clients advice or tell them what to do. In one case, in which there was severe abuse and violence going on, I did tell me my client what I thought. I shared my worry about the safety of the client. I agree clients and all people need to struggle with their situations in order to find their answer for themselves. One client tells me that I am balanced in my views and that I always ask questions to help me see both sides. It is hard sometimes not to have an opinion but the idea that a client needs to sit with their stuggle is an important one. I am reminded of my training, when watching the Case of Gloria done by Carl Rogers. Her question of “having men to the house” and how Carl led her to her own understanding of her process and that when she feels right about something she just knows it. That is the goal of my work with clients.
    Again, Joe I love reading what you say. Thank you for your thoughtful posts.
    Renee

    While reading all of these posts, I am having a reaction. I am a training therapist, and I think that, like all people, we engage in lies too. These can be small, like sitting in our client’s experience while de-centering from our own authentic experience, or can be bigger, like telling a client that we are not bothered by something when they ask us if we are bothered. I agree that it depends on how big the lie is, but I think the real work comes from working through the lie. If I engage in a small lie, this is a sign to me that something is going on between me and the client. Do I feel unsafe, disconnected, worried about feeling rejected or about rejecting the client? I want to be clear that lying isn’t helpful to the patient’s treatment, but working through the lie can be very helpful.

    An example: I had a teenage client who felt like no one understood her experience. She told me that her parents wanted to dictate what she discussed in the session. I initially told her that I didnt see that. When I finished the session, I saw that her parents wrote the subject of what they wanted her to talk about in the “note” part of the check they had written. In the next session, I shared with her what I had seen in the check, and apologized for discounting her experience. Later, her parents called me…angry at me for pathologizing them and “turning their daughter against them”. In the next session, she asked me if I no longer felt comfortable to share things with her, because she betrayed my trust. I lied to her. I said that I still felt comfortable, even though, I was angry at being triangulated. Was this lie helpful? I can argue both sides. What do others think? If I was really to slow down in that moment, I would have done it differently. I felt like either way that I answered, I was going to lose…either I was inauthentic to my experience or I was putting myself in a stance that was critical of her and withholding. I think a lie of omission may have been best here, and instead it would have been more helpful to explore what she was hoping when she shared that information with her parents and what it was like for her that this may have impacted me. I may have shared that I was now feeling a little bit cautious…ultimately, I called the parents so that the daughter wasnt stuck in the middle, but i am not sure what a better way to handle it would have been with the daughter.

    I am not a therapist, but firmly believe that it’s essential for therapy to be a process of authenticity, positive regard and coherence. Clients can be very perceptive, and the last thing a therapist wants is to be mistrusted. I think the question itself (whether or not you still felt comfortable sharing with her) shows that she understands the risk she took, and that you just may have very human reactions and experiences. This was a great opportunity to tell her that, no matter what, you will work hard to have her feel safe with you.

    That being said, give yourself credit for recognizing the nuances of this encounter, learn from it and move on. Your thoughtful approach to your training is a great indication that you will be an excellent therapist!

    I had a therapist who lied to me. Once, when she was clearly uncomfortable (with me, maybe because I was having a tough time and dissociated), she met with me in a small office off of the waiting room. She hid her mouth behind her coffee cup and told me we couldn’t meet in her usual office because on Tuesdays someone else used it, and then she quickly asked, “You’ve never been here on a Tuesday, have you?” But in all the months I went there, I never saw any therapist switch rooms, and we never met in any other office again. After that session I was sitting in my car, just trying to wind down before driving, and I saw her in the parking lot in my rear-view mirror. She saw me, I think, and a look of horror crossed her face. The next time we met she told me I needed to look for another therapist, although a week later she said we could try to continue. I wondered for a long time what she was doing in the parking lot that day, and once (at a later time) I saw that she went out there to smoke cigarettes after sessions. In the end she “dumped” me as a client after I told her that I thought she was wearing a mask to disguise her real feelings towards me, among other things. The ending was a big mess. I didn’t trust her, and it was because of these little things, not her overall competence or ethics.

    Fortunately, I have never felt that any therapist has lied to me consciously. In my most recent therapy my therapist felt much the same as you Joe, he would be loathe to lie and if he felt telling me something would undermine the therapy he would say so or ask that annoying question about why it mattered to me. I mean its a good question but it can be annoying. Because it is baked into my shame cake, in one way or another, I am constantly asking for validation and wondering if someone likes me. This seems to be magnified in the therapy experience and I feel like my poor therapist is always having to deal with this question in one way or another. I try like hell not to care if he likes me and try like hell not to ask the question but I end up asking it a lot no matter what. So he says of course he likes me. Then he says “I would never see anyone I didn’t value as a human being. I can think of maybe one or two times when I felt I couldn’t see a patient because I didn’t like them”. Of course this answer sounds to me like. “Of course I like you but I like everybody”. Sometimes he just says “yes I like you and care about you”. But I don’t believe him because he obviously cares about everyone and likes everyone. The man may have no taste whatsoever. So no covert lying but it is still a cloying adventure and it is not lying but sometimes it feels like a truth is hanging in the air, not wanting to be said yet.

    Kim, I appreciated your comment a lot and it made me laugh. “But I don’t believe him because he obviously cares about everyone and likes everyone. The man may have no taste whatsoever.” – That was very funny to me because I have these same internal dialogues about the relationship I have with my therapist.

    I too am painfully aware of how needy I am with regards to my therapist liking me and he is consistent in his responses. He is a very warm and compassionate person and has on many levels presented a very supportive and fatherly affection towards me within the realms of the boundaried professional relationship we have. Early on in our sessions (a couple of weeks in) his response to my ‘I really just want you to like me’ pleas was, ‘not that it should matter but I do like you, if ever I wonder if people like me or not I think to myself ‘what’s not to like?’ and maybe you could think the same… what’s not to like about me?’ my response to him was along the lines of, ‘how long have you got?’

    Anyway now 8 months on his response has changed (due I think to his own personal growth and understanding of how he communicates with clients rather than his feelings towards me changing). He now says, ‘I don’t really ‘like’ people… I like parts of people, aspects of their character, and I really don’t like other parts, I don’t even know what it means to ‘like’ someone’ – I find this so infuriating because to me he is just avoiding the damn question! He has also said, ‘you are special to me like all my clients are equally special to me’ which is a total cop out and means that no one is special at all. However, I know that my annoyance at his perfectly professional and reasonable answers is me feeling rejected and fearing abandonment and all my horrible daddy issues playing out. My parents can’t answer the question of whether they like me or not so that’s why it’s so important to me.

    Interestingly this week we touched on whether I like myself, which I don’t – that’s the big one! I have a feeling we will be focusing on that for a while. Also at the end of this weeks session (I can’t for the life of me remember what came before this statement) but he said to me, ‘would I lie to you L? No, I wouldn’t… I’ve never lied to you!’ It struck me at the time as a completely out of the blue comment and I had to work hard to quiet the doubting voices and just take his words as they were given.

    Thanks for your comment Kim – it’s nice to know I’m not alone in this experience.

    “Interestingly this week we touched on whether I like myself, which I don’t – that’s the big one!”

    Exactly. That’s the most important point in all of this — not whether your therapist likes you.

    I understand that completely but it’s so painful to work through this part. My therapist was talking to me about my unobtainable high internalised standards and how we can work on my perfectionism. All the while I was thinking – ‘I don’t think these standards ARE high, I think people SHOULD aim this high always…’ when we looked at my negative internal dialogue, my obsessive behaviours associated with trying to reach these standards it was clearer to me. Maybe when we have worked more on this I will begin to see a more likeable side to myself. At the moment I just feel like any positive attributes I either have to work really hard to maintain it or I am faking it… goes back to the ‘if they really knew me they’d hate me’ mentality.

    Plus there’s something almost intoxicating about feeling understood and liked by someone you admire.

    When I was in therapy I wrote down a list of about 6 or 7 subjects I wanted to talk about. Months later most of them remained unaddressed so I told the therapist about it. She told me we had talked about them all. She would read out a subject I had written down on the list like “Teacher bullying” and then she would claim that we had talked about this subject and she would even attempt to recall the story, clearly making it all up. This broke my trust in her completely. I also felt that she treated me like an idiot.

    I changed therapists shortly after that. With the new therapist I often asked why to many of the therapists suggestions. Like for example, the therapist would suggest that I should forgive and I would ask why. I’d also listen very carefully looking for any flaws in the therapist’s reasoning (probably to rationalize something). Shortly I found the logical flaws I was looking for, like this one: “I have a completely internal locus of control”. Ironically, someone was persistently ringing the bell and the therapist had to interrupt the session. This aided towards me loosing my respect for this therapist’s opinion. I quit therapy again shortly after that.

    I’m currently working with a therapist that lies- a lot. Sometimes it’s by omission. Sometimes it’s a down right lie. Usually it’s about something concerning ethics or something that she’s defensive about in his/her own personal life. S/he has recommended that I take medication for depression. I’ve been very skeptical about this mainly b/c I believe that s/he wants me to be more compliant in therapy. Truthfully, I can be extremely naive at times and the experience is teaching me to take whatever people say with a grain of salt and to be more discerning and never fully trusting in relationships. Interestingly, I read an article where a psychiatrist uses a special type of light box for herself but turns it off when patients come into the room. How can she prescribe her patients light therapy instead of medication as a doctor? The same article discussed a therapist that had a brother with major depression. The therapist(A) referred his brother to another therapist(B). When the therapist(B) asked why he(A) did not recommend that his brother see a psychiatrist to be put on medication, he (A) responded by saying that medication is dangerous and talk therapy is better. He(A) would readily recommend medication to his patients but never to his brother. I honestly don’t blame therapists for lying when it comes to ethics. If I worked 11 years for a degree, infringement of ethics would be the last thing I would give all that up for.
    Trust is so important in a therapeutic relationship. It does feel insulting when a therapist lies or doesn’t correct me on certain things. I wouldn’t be in therapy if I couldn’t handle it. I don’t like people sugar coating things to me. I prefer them to be outright and direct with me. It’s frustrating when a therapist sugar coats things to look nice or look like the good guy. I prefer when I therapist is the bad guy. I know that I’m getting the truth that I would not get from friends or family trying to be nice.

    What about therapists making predictions? I was reading a book that mentioned predictions, and I see that as wishful thinking at best, lying at worst. What if the prediction doesn’t come true? Isn’t that lying?

    Well, I heard someone who had been a counsellor say that to a friend of mine, and I was angry at it because she had no right to say that something was going to happen when she had no way of knowing it would. What you said makes sense to me. Hopefully my friend will not blame herself if the other person’s prediction doesn’t come true.

    Thanks for raising this Joseph.

    I think that the professional screen is a particularly interesting issue – esp. if lying by omission counts.

    I’ve never had a therapist lie to me as far as I know. As a client I have been evasive, maybe lied by omission.

    I think one of the hardest betrayals is to be abruptly terminated by a therapist after you actually took the plunge to trust them in a way you never trusted anyone else because they convinced you that they could handle your issues and cared about you. I know there are plenty of us in this boat.

    I would consider this a lie, although I imagine the psychoanalyst might not:
    When I started with her, she told me (repeatedly) to tell her everything that crossed my mind.
    About 2 months ago (and after seeing her weekly for about 6 months) I was very, very suicidal, and told her that I’d considered killing myself (and how I would do so).
    Well, at one session I told her that I had had a thought of killing her and then killing myself. I also told her some possible interpretations of my thought. (Note that this was the one and only time I’d ever had or expressed this thought.)
    Well, she got very critical; I had asked for second session that week and she hesitated to schedule it, expressing irritation that her appointment book was across the room(!!)
    At the next session, she had me sit up (I normally lay on the sofa), and told me that my previous statement had caused her some fear, that we’d only been working together for six months, that she didn’t know me well, that my previous diagnosis (severe depression with psychosis) concerned her (that is, made her think I was more prone to violence).
    I was flabbergasted. I told her I’d done what she repeatedly asked me to do, and that in 6 months (and even years before) I’d had no symptoms of psychosis. I said I’d had and mentioned this thought (!) of killing her only once, that I’d engaged in no threatening behaviors, etc., etc. She admitted that was all true, but that she was “strong but not tough.” I also spent a fair amount of time trying to “prove” I wasn’t a threat to her or anyone–that I have never engaged in violence (since I was in elementary school–nearly 40 years ago), that I don’t own weapons, etc.
    I then asked, “Well, should I not tell you this if I ever think it again?” She immediately said, “You don’t have to take care of me,” but repeated the bit about “strong but not tough.” I was confused by what, exactly, she wanted, but I wanted to keep the relationship and I didn’t bring up my confusion. We ended the session in good spirits; I had “won” her back.
    Later I was angry and frustrated. I felt she’d lied when she repeatedly said to tell her everything, and that she wasn’t seeing me as I currently am but only the old diagnostic label slapped on me years ago. I was also angry with myself for spending time on making myself acceptable and safe to her.
    I ended our therapeutic relationship at our next session. I was calm and respectful, and told her that she’d not been honest with me, that our relationship was now contaminated, and that I needed to work with someone who will be able to bear what it is I bring. I also told her I resented her punishing me with her irritability. She said little.
    Again, she may not have considered this lying, but I certainly did (and do).

    That doesn’t sound exactly like a lie to me, but I understand your reaction. To be told you can and should tell her everything, but then to hear “but not that” would be very disconcerting.

    Yes, I agree with you. Perhaps it would be better to characterize this as dishonesty, or a lack of self-awareness. That is, not being aware of subjects that she couldn’t or didn’t want to hear about. It is possible, too, that no other client had ever said such a thing to her before, so she’d never had to examine whether it lay outside of the realm of what it was she was able to hear–and bear.

    My former therapist looked like he was going to fall asleep, and when I asked if he was tired he looked down at his cup and said, “I have my tea.” I told him, “I just want you to know it’s unnerving.” He didn’t reply. I felt angry and distant from him. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t feel safe enough to admit he was tired. I once told him that I thought he exaggerated his emotional responses for therapeutic purposes (he often looked extremely distraught when I would recount painful experiences) and he responded by telling me I was “very bright”. I took that as a “yes I do”. I would have preferred genuine responses, even if they’re less intense.

    I think so. And “I have my tea” seemed to mean, ‘I’m okay, I’m going to make it through the day even though I’m tired’.

    My Therapist seemed to be unable to admit that he was cancelling sessions due to holidays, he would tell me it was for work. I did consider that perhaps he felt guilty about leaving me for a holiday and thought I would feel less abandoned if it was a work commitment. Mind you he was quite keen on the therapist being a blank slate and maybe he felt a holiday was too personal to reveal. Either way I felt hurt he lied to me, fairly ironic considering I seeing him because I grew up with a mother who lived a fantasy life and I never knew what was real and what was made up.

    I can understand there may be times when a client may “perceived” a lie. However on this occasion it was another therapist, who had recommended the therapist to me, who mentioned he was on holidays – a harmless comment made during small talk, he obviously assumed I knew.
    It is vital that therapists are honest with their clients, it is the hardest thing to show all of yourself to another person, it leaves you feeling quite vulnerable and for me it is vital I feel safe and respected.

    I find this topic very interesting. I have had a few situations over the past year where I have “perceived” a lie from my therapist. Each time the pain and anger was overwhelming. I have a huge issue with trust and being lied to and when this so called “lying” took place I had to literally force myself to speak to him about it.
    I am very grateful to have found an amazing therapist who’s patience and understanding of all my blaming never waivers. It’s always interesting to hear things from his side and I realise how I have spent a life time of jumping to wrong conclusions about peoples actions and motivation, feeling betrayed, never speaking up and then carrying the pain with me. I realise too this is simply a pattern I have learnt from my childhood. It feels amazing to finally begin finding my voice and speaking up calmly in “situations” where I feel lied to/betrayed or just confused in general. I sometimes find it very hard reading people. It’s incredible the clarity that comes when I simply ask people what’s going on rather than concocting my own version of the truth in my head.

    I feel I have been lied to by my therapist after many years of therapy with her.

    My therapist has helped me through some difficult times and we were beginning to work on some sensitive issues. I had made a request of her many years ago which she had said she would honour and I have held onto that and respected her for this.

    Now that request has been abruptly withdrawn and she might as well have blindfolded me and shot me as I feel any trust has gone and I feel lied to by her.

    I am not sure if I will see her again as my trust feels very shaken. I hope she has not lied, I never lied. I appreciate therapists have to take care of themselves but trust was integral to our relationship and if we had been discussing my request over a period of time it might be easier to understand, a preparation rather than the lifeline being cut.

    Anon

    It depends on what the request was…hard to say. I’m sorry that you had to have such strong feelings which you describe – it must hurt terribly. Most people in therapy are there because of broken trust…a therapist who does this is not accepatable. Easy to say we are only human, but people with trust issues must have a relationship that will restore and rebuild that broken chain in their soul – that someone, somewhere can be trusted. The violation is an unravelling of the work that has been done.

    Yes. Without knowing the request, responding to this post is difficult. I get the sense that the request was discussed infrequently in the years together. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about abandonment issues and the fact that those of us who suffer from this trauma often “make mountains out of molehills” believing that the incident was a rejection of us when, in fact, it may have had little to do with us. Regardless, I encourage you to go back to therapy, make the situation explicit and be sure you are reacting to reality — not to your unverified perception. “Many years of therapy” deserve at least that much before walking away.

    Hi Joseph, thank you for your website, its really reassuring to Read such honesty.. I’m new and am delighted to find an authentic therapist, and at least striving to becoming as authentic as one can! I was lied to by my therapist i was with for 10 years, who had helped me through many suicide attempts, alcohol and drug dependencies, not to mention violent abusive and soul destroying childhood experiences and relationships!. I was one terrioriesed individual! And that’s probably lying by omission as not to shock anyone…… Thankfully I have after 10 years in therapy come to understand and accept myself today to a much greater degree and transcend many of my fears. My therapist was as I would put it now “gods stand in” as faith was not my strong point. He was my father, brother and guide. I was obviously terrified of myself and frighted in my sessions with him for the first couple of years but as my trust in the relationship grew I looked forward to being challenged as I grew through the years. After being with my therapist for these 10 years, he kissed me on the lips, I was devastated and felt like an abused child all over again. I managed to confront him the week later sobbing in the process and he said he had been working with me a long time and had developed strong feelings for me. Honestly I never felt this way for him nor did I pick this up or he ever admit these feelings in the 10 years I had been seeing him. I feel I can not trust anyone and even if it was a case of counter transference I still am shocked, and over whelmed at this behaviour! The thing is I trusted him and he is extremely experienced being in the profession for over 35 years. I totally agree feelings of the romantic kind should always be acknowledged and referred on for the safety the client and therapist. I have not reported this unethical conduct as I also feel he has been there for me through so much and probably would not be here today if it were not for is unconditional acceptance. Heart breaking when you find the person you trusted the most lies to you.

    My therapist and I had a conversation about this today – namely about the idea of validating an observation or perception vs. what you so aptly call crazy-making. I was quite specifically angry with my therapist because of something he said. It’s a long story, but basically he started talking about how some therapists would say: “Hmm, you seem angry, that’s interesting, why do you think that is?” and absolutely refuse to own their part in the situation. My response was: “I know, that’s why I didn’t want any of that blank screen nonsense.” He also said that it seems very important that I call him on the things that upset me because I’m struggling and fighting to be seen having not been seen in childhood and other areas of my life, and I’m struggling to establish rights I never had before due to a lot of learned helplessness and the like.

    I see a relational therapist, so he’s very much a real person. He is very good at appreciating that, even if he didn’t experience himself as being hurtful, I could have experienced things differently and, as it’s my therapy, my experience is important. Does he lie? No, I don’t think so. Sometimes he’ll calmly refuse to answer a question, e.g. by saying: “I don’t think that knowledge would be helpful to you right now.” I know I can ask why, if I want to. Sometimes I have asked why, and have been happy with the answer I’ve received. I think that, if a therapist feels the need to lie, that’s about them and their stuff, whether they’re having trouble establishing boundaries, or they’ve got stuff they need to sort with a therapist of their own, or they haven’t quite got the whole unconditional positive regard thing down pat.

    I have complex PTSD and deep, deep trust issues, so if my therapist lied to me and I realised, it would be game over.

    I feel betrayed by a marriage counselor whom I feel should have been much more alert to all the red flags of an abusive relationship, and that he should have referred my (vindictive narcissist) husband to anger managment and me to a possible annulment, since it was only four months into our marriage. I told the counselor more than once that I was afraid of my husband. The counselor said, yes, but he loves you?

    Well, he didn’t know me, so he didn’t see the signs of early trauma, or thought his course was correct, anyway. I later developed PTSD, and adjustment disorder, then major depression, then an anxiety disorder, then psychosis. I was one scared lady. I think maybe the narcissist fooled him, too. The therapist I saw alone later was much more tuned in to my fear. He told me the truth, that there are bad people, and you have to get away from them. He compared me to Forrest Gump, telling me to run, and was spot on, that I had to escape a bully.

    I’m sure it is not fair to compare couples’ therapy to individual therapy. But of course I wish that first guy had rescued me. Instead, he had me doing practice sessions at home of having my husband look me in the eye, which my husband hated. I feel that therapist expected too much from me and kept me in danger, that he assigned to me the duties of an anger management counselor, which I am not qualified to do. I feel and even felt then that my ex-husband was deeply disturbed. I was well able to hear it by then, but feel I was just invalidated and much to my own harm. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Though lies of omission can wreck real world relationships (take marriages, for example), lies of omission are part and parcel of the therapeutic process, from the standpoint of the therapist. If a patient can’t handle lies of omission and the withholding by the therapist of information (for example, in not responding to a question, or by parsing out information that the therapist thinks is beneficial to the therapy, and holding back information that the therapist thinks is not helpful), then the patient is going to have a very, very unsatisfactory experience.

    My psychiatrist once told me he had vodka in his drawer, which i sincerely doubt was true. but who knows, I could be wrong. He was trying to allow me to open up about my drinking (and rightfully so – I was hiding the fact that I was really a fully blown alcoholic, but that’s another issue), and I had made a comment to the effect of “I couldn’t drink right now if you asked me to”, trying to imply that I couldn’t keep on drinking after a heavy bender (total lie). He then said that he had vodka in his draw, and (jokingly, I assume!) asked if I wanted some. Like I said, I always assumed he was lying – I never seriously thought that he either had to vodka or was truly offering me any! I can kinda see why he did it, but I suppose now in retrospect, it kind of annoys me – did he really think I was that stupid? Who knows, I could have it all wrong. I was only 18 or 19 at the time anyway. I like him a lot, though, and certainly don’t hold it against him.

    Oh and from time to time he’s lied by omission I suppose, but I can appreciate why he might do this. For example, if I’ve been in hospital after some self harm or an overdose or something, he won’t always let on that he knows, even though sometimes I suspect otherwise and in some cases actually know that the hospital has had contact with him. He’s just trying to get me to open up about it in my own way, and to hear my side of events, I guess. Fair enough.

    I actually wish my therapist would lie (at least by omission) some times. I think because of his style of therapy he doesn’t believe in the blank canvas style – I think he has also tried to give me glimpses of his life to help me stop idealising him, to lessen the pain of attachment or something. But the things I know about him and his family hurt me so much that I just wish I didn’t know. On the other hand I am able to tell him how I feel, ‘I am jealous of your wife because she is having your forth baby…’ blah blah… and he patiently listens and talks through it with me. It still hurts though and plays over in my mind.

    I understand what you’re saying. But maybe it’s not lying at all — maybe you just want some professional distance so that the details of his life wouldn’t intrude on your therapy.

    Great distinction Joe – I hadn’t managed to put that into words even mentally let alone verbally. The difference between dishonesty and professional distance.

    Since writing this comment I told therapist how I felt; that the things I know about him and the joining of the dots I’ve done in my head are making it difficult for me to focus on me. I explained that if he isn’t wanting to ‘focus’ on the transference then the best thing would be to limit what he tells me about his family life. He agreed and said because I have been moving out of ‘crisis mode’ (can’t remember what he called it) and into a more ‘rational’ (again can’t remember his words) state, he has relaxed his style and our sessions have been more like conversations between two adults. He said he appreciated the feedback and would work on rectifying that. I’ve noticed him gently changing back to a more client focused approach. I was worried about him changing in the beginning (I am very uneasy about any change) but he has been subtle and kind in the way he has done it so it feels right.

    Thanks for helping me understand what happened!

    My therapist, who is supervised, lied and said that I threatened and intimidated her when I did no such thing. It’s the last thing that I would want when I’m trying to get help from someone. Please note that despite experiencing severe abuse of all kinds, i have no history of violence and would never want to inflict that on anyone else.

    We had a mild disagreement about flexibility in paying for services because I had just gotten a temporary consulting job after being without work or unemployment benefits for six months. I promised to pay but that it would take a couple of weeks. The office manager agreed, the director of the clinic agreed, and I had also had an agreement with her.

    She said that I was violating boundaries when I was only asking for flexibility in payment because the fee amount that I needed to pay was all the money that I had. I literally would not have the money to pay for gas to continue working. Please note that I was having suicidal thoughts at the time which she already knew of. She even asked me early in the discussion if I was in an emergency and I said yes that I was having a very difficult time and wanted her help.

    I think she was upset that I spoke to her director. Perhaps in her mind she may have thought that I was trying to make her look bad. I think she was having some counter transference issues. It seems to me that she allowed her emotions to interfere with her judgment. In my mind, we had come to an agreement several times but she kept on wanting to talk about how I was violating boundaries. Please note that the clinic is a not for profit training clinic where they record the sessions but apparently there is no recording of this one now.

    She sent me a termination letter stating that she enjoyed working with me. How can she enjoy working with me and feel threatened at the same time? It’s clearly another lie. I spoke to her supervisor who says that she has no reason to doubt me but trusts her clinician in training’s judgement too. So, I’m now barred from seeing anyone else in the clinic and can’t afford services elsewhere. I really don’t think that just because she is a therapist and I’m a client makes her opinion superior to mine.

    On top of that, she breached my confidentiality by mailing me some personal information, including a termination letter, when I specifically asked her not to mail anything to my home because other people there do not respect my privacy.

    I would really like yours or any therapist or attorney or anyone elses opinion for that matter. This has really been disturbing to me and has shattered my confidence in the therapeutic process.

    Thank you very much.

    If what you say is true — and I’m have no reason to doubt you — it sounds as if you had some very bad luck and wound up with a narcissistic therapist. She probably felt humiliated when you spoke to her director and then she retaliated by lying about you. I’m so sorry.

    Thank you for your response. Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, for me too.

    I had to look up what a narcisstic therapist would be like and there could be some elements to that. I think you are spot on in saying that she felt humiliated and perhaps herself felt threatened or intimidated by me speaking to the Director. This isn’t what I intended and you’ve helped me to understand that this was much more about her than about me.

    I had a really amazing experience with another therapist at the same clinic who ended up moving. I knew that the therapeutic relationship was really more important than one evidence based therapeutic orientation over another. It was difficult for me to go back to therapy, I felt like I was dishonouring my former therapist and the work that we did together. In hoping to establish more trust on my part and accelerate the therapy I told my recent therapist alot about the therapeutic relationship that I had with my former therapist as a hope that it could provide some beneficial elements to another strong foundation in this new therapeutic relationship. Moreover, I actively attempted to transfer the positive energy that I had from my former therapist to the new one. In doing so, I ultimately really damaged and unwinded much of the former work that was done especially in regards to core belief restructuring. I am not sure how exactly to undo this damage. I’m working on it and you have helped to shed some light on it. Any further advice would be great. In addition, the recent therapist and I were both exploring a new therapeutic modality, one of the Third Wave kinds, and I think the clinician got more wrapped up in the technique than in the actual therapeutic relationship.

    I can with difficulty come to terms with accepting this loss. However, I am concerned about the impact this therapist will have on others. I am sure that she has helped many people but I would really find it awful for even one person to go through what I went through.

    Fortunately, her supervisor was also the supervisor of my former therapist and indirectly knows me somewhat. I’ve spoken with her and she says that she has no reason to doubt either of us. I thought about filing a formal complaint with the state board, APA, etc… However, I know that this would bring harm and disrepute to the supervisor of both my former and recent therapists since as I understand it they operate under her licence, I think. I’ve sensed the benevolence of this supervisor through my former therapist even before speaking with her and I can’t see myself doing such a thing. It’s amazing that such people exist who help others without the ones they are helping even knowing. It’s remarkable. Likewise, I’d like to thank you for your blog and this website. I’ll be sure to come back. So as I was saying, I feel resovled to have ‘faith’, which is not something that I normally like to rely on, that the supervisor will coach and mentor her well. She has indicated several times about the need and her willingness to do this regarding this issue. Furthermore, the therapist in training is in training. Hence, they are allowed to make mistakes. I don’t mind mistakes at all. I don’t mind my therapist not knowing what to do either and getting back to me. What I do mind is the large cost, and I don’t mean money, that it has been for me in this case and possibly for others. I really hope that my recent therapist can gain more wisdom and compassion. And, I feel sad and hurt that my recent therapist felt humiliated as you put it or threatened or intimidated as the supervisor put it by me. Any advice from you or anyone would be helpful. Thank you.

    You try to rationalize being egocentric in this article and claim the right to manipulate others for what you irrationally believe has no (extreme) negative consequences.

    What disturbs me about this the most is that it confirms that people in this profession are not only oblivious to the destructive capabilities of consequentialism, bias, logical fallacies, etc… but that professionals in this field gleefully admit to biased reasoning and abandonment of responsibility and accountability.

    This is why it will never be a Science.
    It’s all about lying, whether intentionally, or through the usage of logical fallacies.

    I have had the most amazing relationship with my therapist that I met 10 months ago. The other night in therapy she made a comment and I didn’t quite catch all of it, but what I did catch was her stating reasons why its ok to lie to a client. I, later replayed our session back in my head and began to wonder if she just gave me examples or if she had admitted that she lied to me last week and then stated why she thought that was ok. I emailed her to ask her if she had lied to me or just presented me with reasons she feels its ok to lie to me. The email I received in return was a response that had nothing to do w/ the said question and was not an answer. I wrote back and said that the long email did not distract me from the fact that she didn’t answer my question. She then wrote “I responded the way I thought was most appropriate” She really is amazing and what we have accomplished in 10 months I have not accomplished in all my years of therapy combined, but now I can’t help but feel like I can’t trust her until she tells me if she lied to me or not as it will continue to linger in the forefront of my mind. How do I express to her that lying to me (if indeed she did) is ALWAYS going to be more harmful than telling me the truth? Any thoughts on how I should proceed? P.S. I am glad that you had this available. Do you know how hard it is to find info on what to do if a therapist lies to you? Most all the articles are about clients lying to therapists.

    This article is interesting. I’ve been seeing my psychodynamic therapist for 15 months and after about 4months and an increasing attachment (erotic transference) I asked to see her twice a week which she agreed to and didn’t ask why and I haven’t told her about my attraction for her. The problem is I have cancelled the twice a week a few times mainly because I long to be close but fear it at the same time which creates ‘push pull dynamic.’ Anyway recently I told her I wanted to see her twice a week again and she got defensive saying she doesn’t have appointments available even though I know she does. My problem is that I know it’s my fault for messing her around but can’t she just be honest and say I hurt her and she can’t take my rejection again? She just keeps saying that she doesn’t have appointments and that even if she did that’s not the issue it’s because I’m defensive but the thing is I find her do defensive and we argue all the time as she takes everything I say about our relationship as criticism of her and rather than explore it with me about where this transference comes from in my past she just talks about how her job is to hold the boundaries of the session (which as far as I am aware I’ve never tried to cross boundaries I realise they are there to protect her and me). She also goes on a lot about her 20 years experience and days I should trust her as she’s a Dr. Could her defensive stance and clumsy reinforcing the boundaries be because of her ‘erotic countertransference’ for me? It’s leaving me so confused as I spend the whole time trying to protect her feelings, we have already established I am a compulsive Carer.

    Hi Joseph
    Thanks for your reply. I have actually been to see another therapist for 2 sessions since my comment. Therapist 2 said it sounded like I was being told off for something and that maybe she didn’t like me. It does feel that way to me although a long time ago near the beginning of treatment she said that she likes working with me and we have an attachment and that professional aside she likes me. I’m still working with her once a week and because I believe in openness and honesty I told her I went to see another therapist for 2 sessions. She was really angry as I expected she wanted to know who the other therapist was which I didn’t disclose to either therapist who the other was as I thought that’d be inappropriate. She said that depended on where my priorities lay and she also said I had been a busy girl going off to see someone else and that it was like me having a bit on the side in case things didn’t work out in our therapy. I’m so confused by it all I feel I’ve worked with her too long to start over with another therapist. I know she does hide things like personal stuff she wears a wedding ring even though her husband / ex husband not sure if they are divorced is with another woman. Maybe she wears the ring for safety in her profession. She continually doubts my committment to the therapy even though I’ve been going for 17months and never missed a session. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    I still have my doubts about her. I wonder if you might be better off with the other therapist you consulted. And why should your current therapist be angry at you for consulting with someone else? Her response feels unprofessional.

    I did think I may be better off and make more progress with the therapist I consulted as she was professional and open and honest from the start and it was clear who was taking care of who. With my current therapist I feel responsible for her feelings. Without going into detail my past is based on co dependent relationships so my natural instinct can be to take care of others which could be a transference element of this therapy. I think I know I should terminate but just needed some confirmation of my feelings as this is my first time in therapy and I assumed all therapists would be as defensive. What keeps me there is my attachment to her and my feeling of a need to protect her and contain her feelings. I’m also attracted to her and because I’m gay she is the type of person I would be attracted to outside of therapy. The therapist I consulted with asked if my current therapist was gay as well. I said no as she’s not but in your opinion should this make a difference to her being so defensive and cagey? I don’t think it should make a difference. Thanks

    No, I don’t think it should make a difference. I’m concerned about your “need to protect her and contain her feelings.” I don’t need to tell you that it sounds unhealthy, and not a reason to stay in therapy.

    Thanks Joseph. As it turns out she has now decided to terminate with me as she says she feels controlled by me and is not prepared to put up with it. So she has set an ending date of 5months time which seems reasonable as I have been seeing her for 18months. Interestingly I read your article on clients trying to control their therapists and definitely agree that for me it’s about me trying to control my feelings of dependancy, neediness and helplessness. She has never explored this with me so thanks for that article as it has really helped me to understand.

    Hi,
    This comment is not about lying but I think it fits here somewhat.
    My therapist has his office in his home.
    When someone knocks on the door of his home , he excuses himself and answers the door.
    One time I mentioned to him that I do not like it when he does that and he could not believe that I would be so unreasonable. He was shocked and wondered how I would expecthim to not answer a door. He said sonmetimes he is waiting for a package to arrive or he has repair people coming that he needs to greet etc.
    I became very angry and I shut down. He didn’t know how to help me because I became incapable of speaking or exressing my anger towards him.
    I wonder about his actions and my reaction to his actions.
    Thank you for listening.
    E

    In general, I think he should make arrangements to have those people come outside of office hours, or have someone else at home to accept deliveries. On rare occasions, I have had to interrupt sessions for the same reasons (I also have my office at home), but I apologize and make up the lost time at the end of the session. You are paying for your session and the time ought to belong to YOU.

    Thank you for the quick response.
    I guess we are all different in our expectaions.

    On another topic…when a new client makes an appointment, he “googles” them. What if there is information a client wants to keep from their therapist? That feels wrong to me.

    my therapist googles new patients before they arrive for their first session. It bothered me for some reason.

    Thank you for replying

    My parents have been seeing a therapist about 3x a week for a year, they each have an individual session and then a couples session. Recently they wanted a divorce and felt driven apart by the things he was telling them individually. For example, the therapist told my dad that my mom needs 5 years of intense therapy and said she may have borderline personality disorder, but he told my mom that my dad has a midlife crisis and “mother-issues” that cause him to act out. They went to see him together and he denied sayig those things. Can someone tell me why he would do this and what it achieves?

    Hi Joe,
    I love your website! I have been seeing a therapist for four months and he has lied to me at times. It is silly things like where he went to college (all that info is online) bragging kind of things. My two adult children are just a few years younger then his two and if I mention something that my kids have been up to, I feel he responds in a somewhat competitive way. Otherwise I like him. I feel uncomfortable confronting him on these issues.
    Thanks.

    If I found out that my therapist had lied to me about where he went to college, I would not consider that “silly.” It would raise some serious concerns about his narcissism.

    I just found out that my therapist lied to me. It took some time to build up trust and then I became attached to her. In my opinion, the attachment enabled me to open up and share my true feelings with my therapists. I also have to admit that I held my therapist in high regard. I eventually became sexually attracted to her (I am not gay) and explained this to her in a letter. She never responded to my letter. After seeing her for almost two years she left the practice and told me on our termination date that she was changing careers and was no longer going to be a mental health therapists. Fast forward to two months later and I find out that she has opened her own business. Prior to my last therapy session, she already had obtained her business license. I am devastated b/c I trusted her so much and placed so much value on our client therapy relationship. I am completely fucked up right now and will never trust a therapist again. Once again I feel rejected and abandoned. I am also starting to feel hopeless and lost.

    To add some additional facts, approximately 3 months prior to making the decision to leave the group practice, my therapist provided me with advance notice. Great idea and professional on her part. I am thankful that she prepared me for her departure. On several different occasions, I mentioned to my therapist that I would be willing to pay her cash if she decided to continue to as a mental health therapist. At our last session, on November 28, she clearly pointed out that she was changing careers and moving into academic counseling. I once again told her that if she changed her mind I would like to continue seeing her and would pay her privately. Fast forward to January 2, 2015, I found out that she opened her own private practice. She received her business license to open up her own private practice on November 21, 2014, seven days prior to our last session. I sent her an e-mail confronting her on the issue and letting her know that I had always been honest with her and placed so much value on our client-therapy relationship. I let her know how hurt, grief stricken, rejected and abandoned I had felt. I let her know that I felt emotionally damaged by her. Her response is that she never intentionally lied to me and that she needed a Plan B to fall back on since she could not find a job in the academic field of counseling. She continued on about how 2014 had been a hard year for her and that she was not required to provided me with a play by play update on her career journey b/c that would cross the lines of the therapeutic relationship. During our last session, she knew I was not ready to terminate our relationship and I was in a precarious state (not doing well at all). She provided me with some referrals and that was it. I am completely devastated, lost, sad and hopeless. The other day I was thinking about different ways to kill myself and imagining the effect this would have on my family and daughter. I still feel no desire to live. I feel unworthy. I feel as if all these emotions and feelings are a direct result of my therapist lying to me. I feel as if she basically rejected me. At this point I do not know what to do. I am lost and realize I need help but I lost all faith in the therapeutic process. I am trying not to think about what has happened and focus on the positive things in my life but it is so hard to do. My question to you is how can I trust a therapist again and buy into the whole therapeutic process? My therapist continues to deny lying to me and sent me a harsh response saying she is no longer going to justify herself to me and she has no control over what I chose to believe. I did not respond to that e-mail and I guess I just need to move forward. Please help.

    Your therapist lied by omission; she could also have let you know that she had opened her practice.

    As for your last question, you need to be extremely careful when you choose your next therapist. Interview several people. See how they react to your account of what happened with your last therapist. If you have a personal referral from someone who has been in therapy with a professional, that’s always helpful. But don’t jump in quickly. Make sure you get to know the therapist before committing.

    I think my therapists lies to me. I told him in session what was distressing me. He goes he has been in EXACT same situation and felt same way. exact as word by word what i had told him i had felt. He continued by saying he consulted a colleague and shared his advice with me on how to look at the situation from a different perspective.
    i found it hard to believe that he could be in exact same situation as me.
    cant therapists be direct and just say hey…your perspective is wrong..why not look at this way?
    do they have to lie to relate to the client?
    is this a sign of a bad T…or a T working hard ?

    Hi Dr Burgo. I am an attorney and have been in therapy for a few months. Before starting one of our sessions my therapist told me that she herself went through a divorce and jokingly said that she has since been a bit wary of us lot in the legal profession. I wanted to know as much as possible about this person whom I trust with my life’s issues, secrets, embarrassments, guilt and shame and I found a copy of her thesis online and read the entire thing. What struck me was the part right at the beginning where she had such praise for her husband and his mentorship and love and for that and a few other reasons I found it very hard to believe that she was divorced and I don’t know why but I checked and I ascertained that she is in fact a widow. I am uncertain as to why she had lied about something like that especially since I did not enquire as to her marital status. I googled for possible reasons why therapists do this and came upon your blog. I thought it might have something to do with the therapy. She does not know that I checked on her or read her thesis. I just find it strange that she thought it necessary to lie about something like that. I am not married, never was, so I don’t see the rationale. I didn’t take it up with her nor do I plan to. I just let it slide but I am curious.

    Maybe she was widowed in her second marriage and divorced in her first. The only way to find out the truth would be to ask although as a client in therapy myself I’d question my need for knowing. My therapists personal life is just that, it’s not for me to know.

    A few years ago I started suffering hallucinations. In my treatment I started with a community health center. They said I had PTSD and I did not suffer from schizophrenia. They ignored my hallucinations and gave me the impression they didn’t believe I was having them (without actually saying it. They just didn’t seem to want to address the issue). I stopped treatment as unproductive.

    A friend of mine undergoing therapy at the same clinic said one of their therapists claimed I was suffering from a personality disorder and am very manipulative. (I will cop to the manipulative bit.)

    I don’t mind any breach of confidentiality. I make it clear I was there for help, not keeping secrets and have given verbal permission. So let’s ignore that.

    But I do find it disturbing that I was apparently diagnosed with a personality disorder and not told, when I specifically asked about my diagnosis. (Of course that is relying on the word of another patient…)

    Are there times when lying about something as basic as a diagnosis is appropriate? How can my other health care providers and my insurance company deal with this without us being on the same page?

    We took my partners children to a children’s psychologist on the referral of a GP noting childhood sexual abuse. It took quite a while (over one year) for the children to disclose what had been happening and she passed on that information verbally to me and my partner. When told of the abuse occurring at their Dad’s place my partner and I decided to with hold the children from their father as we now thought we had proof other than what the kids were telling us.
    2 years down the track, our solicitor sent our psychologist a letter asking for an affidavit for court purposes. She sent a letter to our solicitor saying she would do this, so we sent her a cheque for her time. She sent the cheque back with a letter to our solicitor stating that she didn’t think her report would be in the best interests of your client (us). She also requested a meeting with my partner.
    We went to see her yesterday and she was hostile from the moment we walked into her office. She told me that she had a meeting with my partner only and that I was to leave. I questioned this as I had sat in on quite a few occasions when she was updating my partner about the children. She raised her voice and told me that I had never sat in before. I was bewildered, my partner and her client wanted me there but she wouldn’t continue until I left. After a few minutes my partner came out arguing with her, our therapist told my partner that the children were never her clients and that my partner was. She denied ever knowing that there was a court case going on which we verbally told her in the first session. All she kept saying was “where is that in writing” while welling up with tears.
    It is quite clear to me that she is trying to avoid court and trying to protect herself from whatever it is she hasn’t done in a professional manner.
    I would love to know where to go now as we have to go to court without the evidence we thought we had and more than likely the children’s independent lawyer will subpoena her and she will ruin our case because of her incompetence. She is playing with peoples lives here and I am extremely angry that we paid for 2 kids once every 2 weeks for 18 months to see this woman who clearly hasn’t done her job.
    Any advice on what to do in this case?

    Report this to her licensing board. I don’t know what the reporting requirements are in your country, but here in the States, she would have been legally required to make a report to child protective services if she had a reasonable suspicion that child abuse was occurring. Go after her license.

    I caught my therapist and her assistan in a huge lie I am terribly mad and it makes me want to quit therapy in a heartbeat I feel like she does Not care about my feelings before and after this! She swore to me she didnt take clients who were closed family members and I found out my close cousin is also her patient my therapist knew this will terribly pissed me off specially because she swored first hand she would NOT do that one word LIAR! I hate going I do Not want to see her again this and plenty of other damage has been caused by her! This is very wrong in my book!

    Thanks for having written this article. It’s the only or one of just a couple of pages i saw come up when searching for this subject. My therapist has lied to me several times. Very awful trying to know whar to do next. How does it make me feel? Like he’s full of buloney – his reactions and respones, bull. It’s a sad, sad thing because the key job of a therapist is creating trust where there is none. So, how it makes me feel is, well, Iguess its like the hope of trust being a part of me has gone away, and I went there with a one more try to hope and trust, even if only asa maybe. Anyway, thanks for reading this if you did.

    I didn’t think therapists were supposed to give advice anyway; telling someone what to do about their marriage seems pretty directive to me.

    Where did this idea come from that therapists aren’t supposed to give advice? Psychoanalysts are disinclined to give advice, but if you feel clear that you know what is best for a person in your care, why wouldn’t you tell them?

    Because most people, in fact, do not like being told what to do. Somewhat revealing how you assume you know what’s best for the client; most people are in a position to make that decision for themselves.

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