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Deceit and Dishonesty

Understanding lies, malingering and deception

10135815_xxlNot every person who is seeking a doctor, a psychiatrist, a psychologist or a counselor is always honest. Some patients deceive because they suffer from a psychiatric condition.

But dishonesty from mentally healthy clients in the doctor’s office is much more frequent, than most people would believe! Their misleading information can adversely influence the diagnosis, the required treatment and ultimately the prognosis.

Examples of Deceit at the Doctor’s Office

  • The gambler knows that he has an addiction problem but tells the therapist –“I’m not addicted – I can stop gambling at any time”.
  • The NS man in Ah Boys to Men, who plans to avoid military service – feigns suffering from various illnesses. This behaviour is termed ‘malingering’(another way of lying).
  • The homemaker who swears – against her better knowledge – that she has taken her medication as prescribed by the doctor, has actually just been too lazy to take her daily dose.
  • The bank manager who gulps down a bottle of whiskey every day, but strongly denies having an alcohol issue when challenged in his therapy sessions.
  • A mother seeking psychological help deviates from the truth when asked about her relationship with her abusive husband –  she describes it as happy and warm.

 Reasons for Lying

All of these individuals in our examples lie for various reasons. Most people deceive in order to gain something (e.g. rewards, wealth, pleasure, advantages, etc) or to avoid trouble, physical or psychological pain or punishment.

Military service in Singapore is tough. To avoid physical or mental pain, a few irresponsible individuals resort to lies. They falsely claim mental or physical illness and thereby successfully gain leisure time.

The homemaker who “perjures” to the doctor and never took her medication does it to avoid losing face (also a kind of pain) for her laxity and laziness.

The bank manager fears occupational consequences based on his alcohol abuse history. He therefore conceals his drinking problem thus avoiding trouble, i.e. being terminated from his well-paying job (punishment).

 Lying Methods

Lies of Omission

Many clients stay with the truth while omitting important details that could create trouble.deceit and dishonesty

Example: A wife is aware of her husband’s pornographic addiction but colludes with him in concealing it from the counselor in an effort to protect him from shame. If questioned about an omitted detail, they can say “they simply forgot” to mention.

Also, an abusive husband admits to the therapist he “once slapped his wife in the face,” but fails to mention the fact that he actually broke her nose.

 Lies of Fabrication

Omitting parts of the truth is easy. It is much more challenging for clients to falsify the truth, because liars must have a good memory for details, must be smart, and must be able to not contradict themselves while fabricating lies.

Example: A businessman categorically denies having had sex with a younger woman on his business trip to China. He “assures” his wife and the therapist of his (fabricated) “food poisoning”, which kept him from returning to Singapore on time. He claims that this young woman was a doctor who was called by the hotel to see him for his illness. Regrettably the bell boy who called her is not working at the hotel anymore and thus cannot confirm his story. Due to his high fever he can’t even remember the female doctor’s name or whether she was in his room to treat him. Wouldn’t you be suspicious about all these fabricated details?

 How to Detect Lies

We all have learned to listen but we have not been taught to observe the many non-verbal signals that can tell us that a person is lying. Often we are not aware that our bodies and faces subconsciously reveal many subtle cues that can contradict our deceiving words.

“In couples’ therapy, the wife says she loves her husband dearly, but while saying these words, “her eyes look at her wrist watch wishing the session would end quickly”. Her words do not match her facial expression!

Talking to a psychologist, a husband consciously proclaims that he does not have an affair with another woman, but he subconsciously (unknowingly)  nods his head as if he wanted to say, “Yes I am having an affair!!”

Note: Liars tend to focus on their words but not on their body movements or actions. Therefore experienced health professionals listen to the words and particularly watch the client’s body language as a source of deception clues.

Lying is Pure Stress and the Body Shows It!

When people are telling the truth they are relaxed. The contrary is true for lying. This is very stressful. Dishonest people rehearse the words they use. Thus, health professionals, who are merely listening, are missing the powerful messages being communicated through non-verbal channels, which occur subconsciously and spontaneously and not by chance. Trained health professionals use this knowledge to read split-second flashes of emotions on a liar’s face, known as micro expressions. Though brief, they are impossible to hide and thus provide reliable clues to what a client is really feeling. Clients’ gestures and movements can reveal startling insights into their thoughts, feelings and intentions. Hand, leg and eye movements, change of voice tonality, where and how clients stand or sit in the health practice, all say more about the clients than they realise.

Once health professionals (and their clients) know what and where to look for, the signs of deception are obvious and unmistakable. Those health professionals who can spot the lie and thus find out the truth are the ones who will truly be able to help clients, versus the therapist who is trying to treat something that is superficial and isn’t actually the real problem.

Dr Wolff von Auer, SAC Registered Counselor, is a Director of Counseling & Hypnotherapy Hub (CHH). He is known for his Deception & Malingering Detection Seminars & Mental Wellbeing Workshops. He also is a Service Provider to HPB and the Speaker of the IACT (Singapore Chapter). Visit for more information.
Posted by ezyhealth on Aug 7 2013. Filed under Mental Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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