Do Counselors Lie? An Inquiry on Dishonest Behaviors among Filipino Counselors

Estesa Xaris Que Legaspi
Jose Alberto S. Reyes
Counseling and Educational Psychology Department
Original article published in the Philippine Journal of Counseling Psychology (PJCP), Vol 21 No. 1

We all like to think of ourselves as honest persons. But can anyone really say that they have been truly honest in all situations, and towards everyone they have interacted with? It would be highly unlikely for anyone to say “Yes” to this question. In fact, if one answers “Yes,” then one is probably lying. A review of the literature on dishonesty shows support for this assumption as there is evidence for lying to occur in as much as one in every three social interactions. People have been found to be dishonest with each other in various settings . As dishonesty seems to be inevitable, one might surmise that perhaps there is some function to why people cannot be truly honest all of the time. Studying dishonesty is relevant in the counseling profession, as there is emphasis and importance placed on genuineness of counselors. Genuineness has been known to positively influence the therapeutic alliance, and a strong alliance between counselor and client can help clients meet their counselling goals and help them recover from their issues. Clients, including Filipino clients, also expect and prefer counselors who exhibit honesty.

Eighty four Filipino counselors with at least one year of active practice participated in the study by answering a survey to gather dishonest behaviors and motivations. This survey was an which was an adaptation of the situation sampling method. The findings have given us a more detailed look at dishonesty in the counseling setting as they have provided documentation of counselors’ actual dishonest behaviors. Although counselors more frequently reported being dishonest towards their clients, this does not necessarily indicate that the behavior is malicious or harmful. Counselors reported being dishonest to accommodate the client even though they did not feel ready or willing to do so, to lie about their perception of clients’ attributes to give hope to clients about the client’s situation and try to make the client feel better. This is a promising finding, as this means that counselors tend to uphold the client’s welfare as recommended by Sokol for patients. Some reports of dishonest behaviors pertained to disclosing case information without the client’s consent, but these were mostly done when the counselor believed that disclosure would lead to better case management, such as in consultation with superiors or colleagues. This implies that counselors tend to regard client welfare over simply following guidelines, which is noble. However, this also suggests that counselors may depend on their own good judgment as to when and to whom to disclose information, regardless of the clear guidelines of keeping confidentiality. This finding may merit further inquiry as this behavior poses a risk for the practice, and there may be a need to develop clear decision-making steps in situation where existing guidelines do not seem to apply.

In the situations outside work, counselors reported being dishonest towards different people that they interact with presumably on a daily basis, including friends and family, acquaintances, service providers, and strangers. An analysis of what counselors are dishonest about include dishonesty about their feelings, evaluations or opinions, such as expressing a positive emotion even when feeling the opposite, pretending to be okay when actually feeling tired or angry, or not disclosing a dissenting opinion. The dishonest behavior manifested masks an emotion, condition or opinion that if revealed could damage the smooth interpersonal interaction between the person engaging in the dishonest behavior and the target. This finding is consistent with the previous research on Filipinos, asserting that they value smooth interpersonal relationships and strive to maintain harmony with people they interact with. Data also show that dishonesty about one’s feelings, conditions or opinions tends to be a common theme across the different targets. This means that in identified situations, the participants were not candid about how they felt, and actually tended to present a more positive feeling or evaluation to the target. This supports the findings of DePaulo et al., which identified this theme as one of the most common that people lie about in everyday life. This suggests that smooth interpersonal interaction is perceived as more beneficial, and thus more important than simply being transparent. This is similar to how counselors use dishonesty in the workplace setting, which suggests that the tendency to be dishonest about one’s feelings, conditions, or opinions cuts across contexts for counselors.

To answer the very first question forwarded, finding show that counselors do lie. The findings of this study however show that lying and dishonesty cannot simply judged as is. As has been shown in the results, counselors do engage in forms of dishonesty, but the context of these behaviors has to be considered. Client welfare, better case management and maintenance of harmony, among others, are worthy matters that appear to be behind the said behavior. Further inquiry is needed to further help us understand how cognitions and judgments, as well as behavior tendencies operate, when counselors decide to engage in a behavior that is dishonest.