The 2015 study found 61% of participants cited embarrassment as the main reason for dishonesty with their therapist. "Most of the time, we want to present our best selves," Barry A. Farber, one of the authors of Secrets and Lies in Psychotherapy, tells TIME. "So, even in this most confidential of all places — psychotherapy — we are still protecting our sense of self." It's natural for people not to want to put their most personal thoughts, feelings and behaviors under the microscope for another person to analyze and judge, he says, even if it's a therapist.
The shame that often accompanies having an affair, for example, can be the main reason for someone's reluctance to discuss the subject openly. "It's uncomfortable to admit such things, and lying can be a way to escape the discomfort," says Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.
they don't want to deal with the consequences
In many instances, someone's lie in therapy is an attempt to avoid consequences such as a therapist altering the course of treatment, researchers say. Morin acknowledges many clients are scared of "getting in trouble" for what they confess in therapy. "They may worry that the therapist will terminate their sessions because they aren't making progress or they may be concerned the therapist will somehow punish them," she says.
Dishonesty motivated by anticipated consequences can also surround unhealthy and even perilous habits. Almost one-third of the therapy clients Farber, along with co-authors Matt Blanchard and Melanie Love, studied admitted they lied to their therapists about their use of drugs and alcohol, while 21% said they had lied about their eating habits. When it comes to addictions, eating disorders and other dangerous patterns, Farber says sometimes people refrain from opening up to their therapists because, quite simply, they don't want to stop.
"Once I tell my therapist about these kinds of serious addictive behaviors, I'll be in a position where the therapist is going to continue to inquire and work with me or almost insist that I have a plan to give up these addictions, and I don't want to," Farber says of this type of mentality. Even people with less dire habits still feel the need to lie because they know their therapist will advise them to change, even if they're not ready to. "I lie because I don't want to stop certain behaviors that I enjoy doing but are probably red flags for a therapist," says Laura, the therapy client.