As counselors, we have all come across instances where a client engages in a lie or dishonest behavior. As a new counselor and someone who uses a client’s self disclosure to provide treatment recommendations, I have struggled with what to do when I feel that a client is being dishonest. It seems important that the information that I get is accurate (since I only meet with a client once) so that I can provide an appropriate treatment recommendation. I have reflected for quite some time on how to develop a stance that allows me to support my clients and help them through the process even if they are being dishonest.
It’s a fine line to tread in “calling out” a client who is being dishonest. We should look at why they may be lying. For example, should we consider what they have been exposed to? Maybe the client was exposed to lies within the family or possibly patterns of deception. Do we bring this up when it is not what they are coming to counseling to discuss? Maybe the client feels the need to be in control of the therapeutic relationship and engages in dishonest behavior in order to “pull one over on the counselor.” There have been times when I have called out discrepancies in a client’s story, and sometimes it has opened the door to a great therapeutic relationship. But what about the other side of the relationship? What happens when a counselor feels the need to be the “expert” with a client who struggles with control issues? The power differential can equate to a motivation for deception.
As I am growing and becoming more comfortable with my role as a counselor, I am finding that maybe it isn’t so important to scrutinize the truth or lack of truth in a client’s words, and that it is all part of their personal growth. I think a more effective strategy would be to assume that a client is being truthful. I am finding a tendency for counselor wariness at client honesty, and am saddened by this. Maybe it’s because I am still new to the field. As a new counselor, I would love to hear your feedback on coping with client dishonesty. Is it important to stop it from the start or let the client work out their discrepancies at their pace?
Maureen Werrbach is a counselor who works at a hospital and provides clinical assessments in the areas of mental health and substance abuse.