Potential Treatments for Pathological Lying

Updated November 2, 2022
Liar with fingers crossed

Do you have a friend, family member, or coworker who lies constantly? From your perspective, their fibs may seem unjustified. It might also seem like the consequences of their lies outweigh the benefits. These are all signs of compulsive lying.

Compulsive liars, also known as pathological liars, often struggle to tell the truth. Sometimes, they might not even be aware that what they are saying is a falsehood. Although this behavior is persistent, it is not impossible to manage. Psychologists have found several treatments to help people manage compulsive lying.

Behavioral Disorders Associated With Lying

Pathological lying itself is not considered a psychological disorder. In fact, the field of psychology has yet to come to a consensus on an exact definition of the behavior pattern. The lack of research and understanding about the condition has also led to a lack of clearly-defined treatment options for compulsive lying itself. However, research shows that habitual lying is often a symptom of a larger mental health concern that can be assessed and managed by a mental health professional.

If you or a loved one experiences habitual lying, you may want to speak with a behavioral specialist to learn more about your potential diagnosis and treatment options. You can also explore the list below to learn more about some conditions associated with pathological lying.

  • Addiction disorders - People can become addicted to different elements or activities, such as gambling or alcohol. When a person develops this dependency, they may lie to hide the truth from people around them to continue gaining access to whatever they have become addicted to.
  • Antisocial personality disorder - Associated with a constant disregard for the rights or personal space of others. It is often linked to breaking the law, exploiting others, and reckless or aggressive behavior.
  • Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) - Associated with impulsivity and a lack of self-control. For this reason, it is believed that those with ADHD may tell falsehoods in order to gain immediate rewards or satisfaction without considering future consequences.
  • Borderline personality disorder - Often linked to unstable patterns or shifts in mood. The disorder involves difficulty maintaining interpersonal relationships and distressing self-image.
  • Factitious disorder - This condition, once called Münchausen syndrome, is linked to lying about physical or psychological symptoms of illness so that others presume a person is sick and give them excess attention.
  • Histrionic personality disorder - Associated with the constant need to draw attention to oneself and is often linked to dramatic behavior that aims to cause excitement in a person's life.
  • Impulse control disorders - Revolve around a person's inability to maintain self-control or self-restraint. People with these disorders often struggle to inhibit actions that lead to immediate gratification, even if they lead to negative consequences.
  • Narcissistic personality disorder - Associated with a pattern of self-importance, exaggeration of accomplishments or talents, and a lack of empathy for others.

Possible Treatments for Pathological Lying

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), compulsive lying is defined as "a persistent, compulsive tendency to tell lies out of proportion to any apparent advantage that can be achieved." It is often associated with excessive lying behaviors that can have negative consequences on social relationships and other aspects of a person's life.

As mentioned above, the act of compulsive lying cannot be treated outright. However, psychologists approach lying behavior by treating the larger mental health concern associated with this symptom. For this reason, many different factors go into assessing which treatment option is best for an individual. You can explore the list below to learn more about different treatments that are available for compulsive or pathological lying.

Therapy

One treatment that is commonly used to manage behaviors of compulsive lying is therapy. Mental health professionals, such as counselors, therapists, and licensed clinical social workers can help people assess why they tell lies and also uncover any underlying mental health concerns that might be connected to the behavior. There are several different therapy options available, including:

  • Aversion therapy - This treatment is used to condition a person to suppress unwanted habits or behaviors by linking them to an unwanted stimulus. For example, the habit of biting one's nails would become associated with a bitter taste that would motivate them not to put their nails in their mouth.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy - Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a treatment centered around a person's constant thoughts, distortions, and beliefs about the world. It is often used to treat a wide variety of personality disorders, such as antisocial, borderline, and narcissistic conditions.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy - This treatment is often used to help people manage emotional dysregulation. It helps people repair relationships by processing their emotions and developing adaptive behaviors.
  • Schema-focused therapy - Schema-focused treatment is centered on lifelong patterns of behaviors and thinking. It uses effective change techniques and the therapeutic relationship to address unhelpful behaviors.

Not everybody responds the same to therapy treatment, and it might take a few tries to find the right match. It's important to find a mental health professional that's a good fit and that makes whoever is seeking treatment feel comfortable and understood. A strong client-therapist relationship is important for the therapeutic process and can make people feel more comfortable opening up.

Medication

Some mental health conditions are also treated with medications alongside therapy. For example, antipsychotics and antidepressants are often used to help stabilize a person's mood while they work with a mental health professional to treat their mental health concern.

Not every person that has a mental health condition or who experiences habitual lying is prescribed medication. Treatment practices are personalized to fit an individual's specific needs in order to best address their own concerns and fit their lifestyle. Some commonly prescribed medications include:

  • Antidepressant medication - Antidepressants can help boost a person's mood by increasing the amount of norepinephrine, serotonin, or dopamine in the brain. Some common antidepressants include monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
  • Antipsychotic medication - There are two categories of antipsychotic medication used to treat a variety of mental health conditions associated with constant lying. They are known as first-generation and second-generation medications. First-generation prescriptions have been linked with more severe side effects, while the newer second-generation medications are associated with less severe symptoms, such as dry mouth.
  • Mood stabilizers - There are a wide variety of mood stabilizers, such as lithium, valproic acid, and carbamazepine. They are used to help treat mood disorders that are cyclic, as well as symptoms and episodes of mania.

If you are curious about medication options for yourself be sure to talk to your healthcare provider. They can work together with your counselor or therapist to find a treatment option that is right for you.

The Treatment Process for Compulsive Lying

Therapy can be intimidating for anyone, especially for people who haven't been to therapy before. If you are the one going to therapy, you might be nervous talking about your behaviors or personal history, and that's okay. Your mental health provider will work to create a safe and comforting environment that helps you feel open to sharing your experiences.

One way to help ease your nerves about therapy is to increase your understanding of the therapeutic process. This way you will know what to expect when you arrive and have more information about how mental health professionals collect information in order to form a holistic view of you and your life in order to form an accurate diagnosis.

Interview and Observation

During the therapeutic process, mental health professionals will ask you a variety of questions to get a better understanding of who you are as a person. They might ask you about thoughts you currently have, how you feel on a day-to-day basis, and past experiences that may have helped shape the way you view the world.

However, this doesn't happen overnight, so don't feel pressured to share before you're ready. You and your therapist will work together to form a bond that will help you feel comfortable expressing these intimate aspects of yourself.

At the start of treatment, your provider will most likely ask you what brought you to therapy. At this time, you can talk about lying behaviors and how it has impacted your professional and social relationships. Your provider will note this information and use it to increase their understanding of your struggles and goals for treatment.

Assessment and Diagnosis

Your mental health professional might perform a psychological assessment during therapy. Typically, these assessments include a series of questions that you will be asked to answer honestly in order to give your provider the most information possible.

This is part of the overall diagnostic process. It helps clinicians make a more reliable and valid diagnosis, which helps them create a treatment plan moving forward. There is no "passing" or "failing" with these exams. Rather, they help clinicians categorize where the lying behavior might stem from and how it might best be managed.

It may take several sessions, but your mental health provider will eventually provide you with a diagnosis. Then, the real therapeutic process can begin. You and your provider will work together to get to the root of your lying, manage your behavior patterns, and find coping strategies that work for you. It's not easy to change behaviors. However, with the support of loved ones and your mental health provider, you will be able to work through the process and take the necessary steps toward a brighter, more honest future.

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Potential Treatments for Pathological Lying