Therapy can be a game changer for your mental health, but you get out of it only as much as you put in. For the sake of your wallet and your time, it’s best to be as honest and transparent as possible with your therapist.
“You only know part of the truth about yourself,” said Zach Brittle, a Seattle-based therapist and founder of the online couples therapy series forBetter. “If you really want to get the most out of therapy and learn about yourself, commit to being honest, first with yourself and with your therapist. Otherwise, frankly, it’s a waste of time.”
Below, Brittle and other mental health practitioners share a few common signs that a client may not be telling the whole truth. If any of the habits sound familiar, try addressing them in your next therapy session.
1. You change your story from week to week.
Remember: You’re not in therapy to spin a new, flattering story about yourself every week; you’re there to tell your therapist exactly what you’ve experienced so they can help you work through it, said Patrick Schultz, a psychotherapist in Milwaukee.
“A changing story is usually the first and biggest sign for therapists that the facts are not adding up.” he said. “We usually have very good memories and can figure out when you’re not being honest with us. The only person your dishonesty is hurting is you.”
2. You care more about approval than perspective.
Your therapist is probably a perfectly nice person, but don’t fall into the trap of viewing them as your friend. You don’t have to convince them that you’re a stand-up person who always does the right thing. You hired your therapist to help you address some things about yourself and your relationships: When you’re in their office, let them do their job.
“Try to see them as an employee to some extent,” Brittle said. “When you treat your therapist like your friend, you are less likely to invite or expect authentic interaction.”
He added: “The most effective interaction you’ll have with your therapist is when you can share your most naked truth with them ― things you wouldn’t even share with your closest friend.”
3. You get defensive when asked a second line of questioning.
When you close up or get defensive in response to your therapist asking a clarifying question, they usually know something is off, said Kurt Smith, a therapist based in Rosedale, California, who specializes in counseling men.
“Other similar reactions can be changing the subject, getting argumentative or even angry. If there’s something to hide, then the defensive wall goes up,” he said.
4. Your face, body language or tone tell a different story than your words.
Sometimes, your body language relays information you’re not quite willing to divulge verbally, said Winifred Reilly, a marriage and family therapist in Berkeley, California.
“A red flag for me is when somebody has a neutral expression on their face but their voice is overly chipper or tight ― or they’re smiling but their words have a rote, almost robotic tone,” she said.
Reilly offered an in-therapy example to illustrate her point. “Once, when asked by her husband if she’d had any contact with a former lover, a client vehemently said, ‘Absolutely not!’ while nodding yes with her head.”
5. You exaggerate.
Save your inflated stories about how well you’re doing for phone calls with your mom. (Actually, don’t even do that. Honesty is the best policy, right?) Again, be a straight shooter with your therapy provider to get the most out of your sessions, Smith said.
“When someone exaggerates his or her description of something it can be a clue of dishonesty,” he said. “A common one I run into is men I’m counseling needing to tell me they make a lot of money, even though I never ask. Few ever actually state a specific number, but in describing themselves they feel the need to include this description.”
6. You try to outsmart your therapist.
Clearly, no one is a better expert on you than you. But your therapist is the resident mental health expert here. You might try to outsmart your therapist ― downplaying how affected you are by losing your job, for instance, or pretending you’re over your ex ― but chances are, your therapist knows the truth.
“Therapists have seen it all,” Brittle said. “We’re emotionally intelligent, and we’ve probably already heard the story you’re telling. Likely many times. We might even know what you’re going to say before you say it.”
You don’t need to watch your words around your therapist, but for your own benefit, try to stick to the truth.
“A good therapist will help you out of the cliched patterns of thinking and speaking and lead you to a more nuanced truth,” Brittle added.