J. Clin. Psychol. 2020; 76: 286– 291.
Honest communication between therapist and client is foundational to good psychotherapy. However, while past research has focused on client honesty, the topic of therapist honesty remains almost entirely untouched. Our lab's research seeks to explore the role of therapist honesty, how and why therapists make decisions about when to be completely honest with clients (and when to abstain from telling the whole truth), and the perceived consequences of these decisions. This article reviews findings from our preliminary research, presents a case study of the author's honest disclosure dilemma, and discusses the role of therapeutic tact and its function in the therapeutic process.
Here is an excerpt:
Based on our preliminary research, one of the most common topics of overt dishonesty among therapists was their feelings of frustration or disappointment toward their clients. For example, a therapist working with a client with a diagnosis of avoidant personality disorder may find herself increasingly frustrated by the client’s continual resistance to discussing emotional topics or engaging in activities that would broaden his or her world. Such a client —let’s assume male—is also likely to feel preoccupied with concerns about whether the therapist “likes” him or feels as frustrated with him as he does with himself. Should this client apologize for his behavior and ask if the therapist is frustrated with him, the therapist may feel compelled to reduce the discomfort he is already experiencing by dispelling his concern: “No, it’s okay, I’m not frustrated.”
But either at this moment or at a later point in therapy, once rapport (i.e., the therapeutic alliance) has been more firmly established, a more honest answer to this question might be fruitful: “Yes, I am feeling frustrated that we haven’t been able to find ways for you to implement the changes we discuss here, outside of session. How does it feel for you to hear that I am feeling frustrated?” Or, arguably, an even more honest answer: “Yes, I am sometimes frustrated. I sometimes think we could go deeper here—I think it’d be helpful.” Or, an honest answer that is somewhat less critical of the patient and more self‐focused: “I do feel frustrated that I haven’t been able to be more helpful.” Clearly, there are many ways for a therapist to be honest and/or dishonest, and there are also gradations in whichever direction a therapist chooses.