Jennifer Bullock, M.Ed., M.L.S.P., LPC – Telling the truth is dangerous to your mental health

With all the hubbub swirling in the media these days about truth telling, embellishing, and credibility, I thought I would share my motto:  I’m pro-lying.

A group therapy client recently confessed that, while at a party, he lied about what he does for a living as a way to get over his social anxiety. He played a character and it worked fabulously in helping him chat it up with new people. His therapy group began to respond in an understandable fashion: “Let’s explore why you felt the need to lie” and “Why can’t you be authentic?”

Anabel Guererro, "Voix Du Monde"
Anabel Guererro, “Voix Du Monde”

The group eventually asked what I thought, and I said that I support lying if it helps our growth and development. After some shock and confusion, they asked what I meant. I shared that I am interested in helping the group grow emotionally. One way to do that is to practice being who you are not, to perform, to have multiple characters. I can say this because I practice a unique and creative approach to helping people called Social Therapy, where the founder, Fred Newman once gave a provocative talk entitled “Truth NO, Honesty YES!”

Social therapists are concerned with collective creativity and human development, not about labels, making people adjusted, or explanations for behavior.

I invite my therapy groups to create stories together with what clients bring to therapy (their pain, sadness, insecurities, fears, etc.) The group as a collective story – maker can help us discover new ways to understand and experience our emotions and relationships. This is very hard, as we are caught up in truth, fact, labels, and interpretations. These are all examples of how we try to make our nuanced world more black and white, clear, unambiguous, and objective. However, these are killers of creativity and of emotional growth.

For example, we get boxed in by our stories of ourselves and their interpretations: ‘I’ve got anxiety disorder because my mother was never there for me’, I’ve got anger management issues because of this experience I had in school’, ‘My bipolar disorder is genetic’, ‘No one loves me therefore I am depressed’. ‘My marriage is just like my parents’ marriage’.  The list goes on.

These personal truths are stifling, because we relate to them as static truth, not as part of the ongoing changing, messy, unclear, subjective flow of life. We change. We grow. We don’t know. We can play, perform, create. That’s all so great for our mental health!

In a world that is in so much pain, we need to practice the power of creativity and play. Go be a character for a day. Invite others to perform with you. Experience the liberation from the chains of a fixed identity, fact and truth. Curtains open.

Jennifer Bullock, M.Ed., M.L.S.P., LPC | The Philadelphia Social Therapy Group