What to Do When Your Client is a Pathological Liar

By Marie Miguel posted 12-17-2018 14:36

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Photo by Ty Williams on Unsplash

When a client comes to you and wants help, you’re going to assume that they’re telling you the truth. They want to heal from whatever pain they’re going through, and that’s why they’re coming to therapy. The problem is that when you realize that a client is not truthful, it’s difficult to help them because you don’t know what their actual problems are. What do you do as a therapist when you recognize that your client is lying?

Pathological liars aren’t deliberately deceiving others

Not all lying is malicious. It certainly can be, and there are people who have personality disorders who compulsive lie so that they can manipulate others; however, some people lie to survive, and not to hurt their loved ones. People that struggle with pathological lying have usually learned to do this from a young age. They've seen evidence that telling the truth didn’t get them what they wanted, and they likely used lies as a survival mechanism. Maybe as a child, the person was severely abused. They learned to lie to appease their abusers. Their lying serves a purpose, and it’s your job to solve the mystery; what is your client gaining by lying to you and their loved ones?  

Learn why your client lies

Even if you realize that your client is lying, don’t call them out. It will embarrass them, and it won’t result in them getting the treatment that they need. If you want to help them, always believe your client, or act as if you do. You can ask questions and gain insight into their character. But, don’t accuse them of lying. A pathological liar has trust issues, ironically, and if you accuse them of being dishonest, they’re going to shut down. Even if they don’t realize it, they’ve come to you for help. They want to stop lying, but they do not know how to do this. You can help them get in touch with themselves. This process is life-changing, but it could be painful; especially at first.


People who have addictions such as substance abuse issues lie frequently. They want to cover up their addiction, so they don’t tell the truth about how much they are using. They’re not doing this to hurt others, but in the process, they are harming the people that they love. Here’s where asking questions comes into play. You need to find out where in their addiction they are. Are they in denial? Are they at a point where they want help? To help a client, you need to meet them where they’re at, and support the person on their journey to wellness.

Breaking the cycle

Lying is a vicious cycle, and your client is accustomed to hiding from the truth. It feels safe for them to stray from the truth, but the reality is that it's dangerous. One of your jobs is to show your client that their deceitful behavior can get them into serious trouble; it deteriorates relationships and can destroy their career. When a person lies they’re putting themselves at risk for legal issues. Their behavior needs to stop unless they want to make their life more complicated and painful than it already is. The hurdle is that once someone starts to lie, this behavior is normalized. When telling the truth is an aberration, it’s hard to make the transition from fabricating tales to being upfront and honest. Lying can impact friendships, and romantic relationships. Your job is to break the cycle of lying, to help the client realize that telling the truth is the norm and that lying deviates from this behavior. The client may be resistant to letting go of lying because they’ve done it for a long time. However, there is hope, and they will be able to stop their toxic behavior. Whether you’re working with a client online or in your local area at a private practice, you can help and support them in learning to tell the truth.

This is a sponsored post by BetterHelp.com.