Dr. Judgement And Our ‘Professional’ Lies

Dr. Judgement And Our ‘Professional’ Lies

29 Aug 2019

Before looking into the troubling trend of lying to professionals, here’s some quick relief courtesy of LifeSearch data:

Who's most likely to lie to their doctor about their drinking? Males, 16-24, living in Leeds.
Most likely to lie to their partner about their drinking? Males, 25-34 with well-paid jobs; living in Manchester.
Lying about drinking to an employer? Again, young and male but this time living in Brighton.

If you suffer from the same pesky human condition as the rest of us, chances are you've told a lie here and there. In fact, a prominent 2002 research project from the University of Massachusetts concluded that people will lie, on average, two to three times in a ten minute conversation.
A quarter (25%) of Brits say they'll ''happily'' (not reluctantly, not shyly) tell a fib if they deem it harmless and only one in 20 (5%) of us reckon lying is “never” (ever, ever) acceptable.

Two pints of lies please

According to 2014 research published in the Daily Telegraph, the most common lies Brits tell concerns their vices, with one in four (25%) saying they chiefly lie about how much they drink.

That figure chimes with LifeSearch research conducted in early 2019, which found that 33% of us lie to the doctor in general and 11% admitting to lying about their drinking habits.

Overall, men are more likely than women lie to their doctor than women, and younger folks (in both the 16-24 and 25-34 age categories) are especially prone to massaging their drinking truths.

Assuming respondents weren't lying to our pollsters, it's worth saying that UK data seems to pale in comparison to US data. In the US, 28% of people admit to lying to their GP and in the state of Utah an eye-opening 52% of women say they routinely lie to their doctor about all manner of things: sex, smoking, drinking, eating …

The main reasons why we lie are depressingly simple: it’s to avoid punishment; to mask or downplay our reality; to save face; to assert dominance and to gain/ keep control over a situation. It's not rocket science.

Dr. Judgement

But what's troubling is that those reasons for lying - which make sense in a world where personal brand equity, social ego and bravado all matter - have made their way into the confidential, trust-based environs of the doctor's surgery. 

According to a large-scale US academic study, the main reason over four in five (81%) of us lie to the doctor is because we fear being judged.
During an important window of opportunity to consult expert help and begin addressing our problem behaviours, it seems we are overly embarrassed as to what the white coats think of us. 

But that's the doctor. It may be fair to say that, over a generation, the patient-doctor dynamics have changed and many of us – especially younger folks – don't have a longstanding or even personal relationship with the doctor. What's more, it's hard to build one in ten or twenty minute blasts every few months.

So assuming there are more doctor-patient familiarity barriers now than in years gone by, maybe we're more willing to open up to other professionals? Those with whom we do have long-running relationships - a therapist for example?

Therapeutic lies

Even in the intimate, “safe-place” setting of the therapist's office, where appointments require significant investments of time and cash, we're even more liable to hide our truths than at the doctor’s surgery.

For obvious reasons, conclusive data on this subject is thin so we turn to two eye-opening studies in the US as laid out in 2019 book, Secrets and Lies in Psychotherapy.

The book lays out the findings of several major studies about lies in therapy and reveals that 93% of patients admitted to telling at least one lie in therapy. The most common lies? Not fessing up to feeling bad (54%), the severity of one's symptoms (39%), and having suicidal thoughts (31%).
Another study from the book examined ongoing lies (as opposed to one-off lies) and found that 84% of patients actually keep lies running from one therapy session to the next. The most (ongoing) lied-about topics were sexual desires and fantasies (34%), concealing details about their sex life (33%), and suicidal thoughts (21%).
At LifeSearch, we commissioned our research on lies to gauge how many people would hide the truth to their insurer, perhaps to secure better coverage. Inevitably, our angle is that lying to an insurer is largely pointless because it may well trip you up in the long term. Lie about smoking, for example, and then develop a related illness - it’s you who risks non-payment.

The embarrassing truth, the greater good

As an insurer we expect a few lies. We don't judge – we’re all of us human – we simply suggest that it’s counter-intuitive because your untruths may come back to bite.
But away from our world of insurance, it seems people are – based on the data – routinely fudging their truth with health professionals for no better reasons than fear and embarrassment. 

Our recent research reported that 60% of people who lied to their doctor suffered consequences, including a deterioration in mental health, greater impact on physical health and a delayed diagnosis. 
Not worth it, right?

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