Home > getting started, psychology, social-emotional > Clues on finding a therapist for a gifted client

Clues on finding a therapist for a gifted client

This is another topic I get asked about a lot… “My kid is really struggling to adjust, to make sense of himself in a world that doesn’t quite understand him. I think therapy would help, but how do I find someone who really “gets” the whole gifted thing?”

This is a huge problem.   A recent publication from my esteemed mentor, Jean Peterson, showed that most accredited counselor training programs offer zero training in understanding giftedness, and those that do have only very tiny amounts of time spent on the topic.  And I worry, frankly, about what is actually being taught when anything’s being taught… whether they are just continuing to promulgate the same typical myths about how gifted kids “will be just fine on their own.”  There aren’t any studies yet looking at training programs for psychologists, but my sense of it is that, if anything, the situation is worse, since “gifted education” exists as a distinct field, while “gifted psychology” kinda basically doesn’t.  Basically, giftedness is not considered a relevant dimension of human difference or cultural experience.  Gifted folks are just like everyone else except that we got As in school and we’re all just fine.  Aren’t we?  <cough, cough…>

And it’s not just a problem for kids, either.  Gifted adults also struggle to make sense of ourselves in a world that often isn’t even remotely a good fit.  Giftedness isn’t just a school-bound phenomenon, and it doesn’t expire upon graduation — we are who we are across domains and throughout the lifespan.

I wish I had some easy answers.  My dissertation research, on the therapeutic working alliance between gifted clients and their therapists, was useful in that it showed where some of the major pitfalls were.  But it didn’t help with the basic problem that most therapists think they do get it (an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, where the lack of knowledge and metacognitive skills in a domain interferes with accurate self-assessment of skill in a domain — basically, if you don’t know what you don’t know, you don’t know that you don’t know it).  So it’s like in education: if you ask someone if they understand giftedness, they’ll all tell you they do, but that doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot.

Plus, a lot of providers seem to think that “gifted” means “fiscally gifted,” and they see us as high-functioning clients who are likely to provide a nice revenue stream (as Tom Lehrer said, they think they’re specializing in “diseases of the rich“), so they advertise claiming this as a specialty area.  We know that gifted folk are found in every social, ethnic, racial, and economic group, but, well, like I said, a lot of folks don’t know what they don’t know.

So what we need is a way to interview prospective providers to find out what they actually know, rather than what they’ll tell you they know.

I know, we’re all afraid to talk about it (I should really put up a rant about gifties as a closeted minority), but we have to.  If we don’t, they won’t either — remember, they think it’s not relevant.

So, I would advise specifically bringing up the topic of giftedness and multiple exceptionality with any prospective therapist in a nonthreatening but clear way, one which focuses on observable behavior — “What experience do you have working with folks who are highly intelligent?  What do you see as the major risk and resilience factors in this population?   Have you found it necessary to adapt your approach in working with gifted folks?  If so, how, and what is your rationale for that?”

Pay attention not just to the content of the responses, but also to the nonverbal signals and your gut feeling about how they’re responding to the notion. If you feel like you’re getting a dismissive or hostile reaction, go somewhere else and don’t feel bad about it.  Really.  You’re not crazy (okay, you might be, but I’m not going to diagnose you via a blog).  You might be a bit hypersensitive, sure (I see that a lot, especially from adult GT folks who had educationally or socially traumatic experiences in childhood), but in the shrink biz, they teach us to pay attention to those feelings.

Ideally, I would want to hear someone spontaneously identify issues of social isolation, intense imaginations and emotions, and asynchrony between cognitive and emotional development, as all being relevant things to think about when working with gifted folks.  Look up one of the many lists of myths and realities about giftedness (try this one, or this one, or this one), and if they start spouting any of these, try disagreeing gently.  If you get push-back instead of thoughtful dialogue, just thank them nicely and walk.

Second choice would be someone who can at least spontaneously admit that they are not knowledgeable in the area but would be interested in self-educating.  If they want to self-educate, the (btw, I would recommend the Models of Counseling Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults book, edited by Jean Peterson and Sal Medaglio, for a professional to self-educate on the topic).  There are some very good materials available on the SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) website, too.  Or they could call me for a short-term professional consultation — I’m thrilled to be able to spread the knowledge here.

Anyone who frames giftedness as being part of the problem, anyone who defines the intensity and drive and perceptiveness and differentness and postformal reasoning as “the thing that’s wrong with you,” leave and don’t look back.  The goal is not to get our kids (or us!) to act like everyone else.  The goal is to help us figure out who we are and how to act like ourselves, just in an adaptive way.

I hate to have to say it, but I really do think that therapists who work with smart folks probably should be at least reasonably smart themselves, if for no other reason than so they can follow the logic and metaphor, quick thinking, intuitive leaps, and so on.   Also, I would want someone who in your initial interview seems to have some level of personal empathy with those experiences — they don’t necessarily have to have had them themselves, but it helps if they’re close enough that they didn’t experience their own intelligence as always a positive thing.  Both of these showed up in my research as a very common theme in terms of what distinguished successful from unsuccessful alliances.  Someone who is at least moderately bright and who is a good listener is okay for a client who is looking mainly for symptom relief, but for a client who needs a long-term mentor relationship, the respondents in my study were pretty clear on the topic… they need to be pretty smart.  When you’re trying to figure out who you are and how you’re going to exist in the world, you don’t want to have to wait around for the therapist to catch up, or to feel like you’re doing all the work yourself.

Note, however, that the therapist who happens to be gifted needs to have done their own work and come to some level of acceptance and understanding of their own intelligence. If they’ve got unmetabolized “stuff,” it’s going to play out in the relationship.  Some of the nastiest and most invalidating responses I’ve personally experienced or heard about in my research came from professionals who were themselves very likely to be highly intelligent. I’m not saying “contrary,” I’m saying “downright nasty.” (in the biz, we’d call those countertransference reactions).

Another reason why it helps to have someone reasonably smart so that the kid will have a harder time snowing them if they try.  The research on client honesty is pretty solid across the board — therapists tend not to know what clients hide from them.   I’ve heard consistent reports from GT clients that if they weren’t able to leave therapy (many child or adolescent clients don’t feel they have much choice in the matter), they were highly successful not just in stonewalling, but in outright snowing therapists who they felt didn’t empathize with them effectively (my favorite was the tweenaged client who structured her play so as to make her therapist come to certain interpretations).

In general, gifted folk don’t do as well in rigidly manualized treatments (which are, sadly, becoming extremely popular).  Cognitive-behavioral techniques can be really useful as tools, but a flexible and collaborative approach is going to be key. Don’t believe the press about “evidence-based treatments.” All forms of therapy have evidence to support them, and some forms are better than others for some clients for some kinds of situations — it’s all very individual. And what the main body of evidence shows is that, as James Carville might have said, it’s the relationship, stupid.

Before you ask, no, I don’t have a giant network of people I can recommend.  You can try asking me privately if I know anyone in your geographical area, and I’ll try, but no guarantees.

  1. Maryann
    August 20, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    Aimee, great post. I’m not in a position to need counseling, but this makes LOTS of sense.

    I feel like I only came to terms with many aspects of myself when I started researching giftedness (and school acceleration) in terms of my daughter. When her pediatrician said, “really, you don’t want her to start school early, all the research shows…..” I had to find the research myself. Funny how I found different stuff. It also made me really question the physician and her level of knowledge about things that she claims to know. That could really undermine a counseling relationship.

    Segueing a bit:

    It’s really interesting to me to have the “gifted” conversation with people. Many of the friends I identify as gifted have problems discussing gifted issues. It’s as if they are embarrassed by the whole thing. However, if we can’t discuss amongst ourselves some of the problems/issues we have, then how can we deal with them?

    • August 21, 2010 at 12:12 pm

      Maryann, thanks! Yeah, a lot of pediatricians are like educators and therapists… what they think they know isn’t actually so.

      And yes, I so frequently hear attempts to disown the “gifted” label — usually the motive appears to be to avoid sounding arrogant (“Well, I was labeled gifted as a child, but…”). But I agree with you. If something so essential to one’s being is unspeakable, then what messages about it are being implicitly accepted? (And if you can’t comfortably accept your own intelligence, what are you telling your children about their intelligence?) I’ll definitely have more to say on this topic…

  2. Tamara Lichtenstein
    August 21, 2010 at 2:15 am

    Great, insightful post, including the links! Is there a way to post a link to this on my FB page, to encourage others to read it?

  3. Judy Levine
    August 21, 2010 at 2:24 am

    Hi Aimee,

    Here are two proactive ideas for you and your readers.

    I encouraged a favorite local therapist to attend the SENG conference several years ago. He did attend, and he has become a wonderful resource for families with gifted and 2E kids in our community. Now he presents at the conferences!

    This one can be a long term project, but worthwhile if you have a highly gifted child willing to take the SAT before turning 13. The Study for Exceptional Talent provides a significant support network, including free counseling, for students who achieve a 700 or above on the Critical Reading or Mathematics sections of the SAT. Students can live anywhere in the US and do not have to be part of the Johns Hopkins Talent Search. http://cty.jhu.edu/set/index.html

    Of course there is also the Davidson Institute, again providing free resources, including counseling, for highly gifted children. A benefit is that they reach out to children younger than those ready to take the SAT. However, a family may send in IQ scores and a lengthy application, only to have there child turned down. With SET, there is no application, and you know if advance if your child has qualified because the criteria are objective.

    All the best,

    Judy Levine

    • August 21, 2010 at 5:56 am

      We did register my son for SET (you don’t even have to pay the talent search fees, just the SAT fees), when he scored over 700 on both math and verbal sections at the end of 6th grade. (He bombed the essay, though, having never been taught how to write one.) We haven’t noticed much support from SET. They send him a magazine which he rarely reads and ask for an annual update on what he has done—that’s about it. There is a web site, cogito.org, that has some private stuff for SET members, but I don’t think he has ever bothered with it.

      We never got past downloading the Davidson Young Scholars application form. The effort of filling out the form is a much bigger barrier to getting into their program than the 99.9%ile scores needed!

    • August 21, 2010 at 12:14 pm

      Judy, thanks for the ideas! SENG, in particular, is highly relevant to this post, and I’ll incorporate it.

  4. August 21, 2010 at 8:04 am

    Aimee, I am so pleased to see this posting, and I look forward to reading your dissertation. This is such an overlooked area, as you know, and I would encourage everyone to help SENG (www.sengifted.org)in its efforts to educate psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, counselors, pediatricians, and family practitioners about giftedness. This is a real passion of mine!

  5. August 21, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    James, thank you! I am currently arm-wrestling with UMI / Proquest about the dissertation distribution… My intention (and what I paid extra for) is for it to be open-access, but they appear to have, er, not quite done that.

    • August 22, 2010 at 1:27 am

      I believe that you own the copyright to your thesis, even if you are required to let UMI have a copy. You can simply put a PDF of your thesis up as a page on wordpress.com

      • August 22, 2010 at 7:01 am

        I am quite certain I retain copyright. It’s in boldface on the contract. I am planning to put it up in my own space, yes, but am also trying to sort things out with them, since I paid extra for the privilege of giving up my right to receive royalties.

      • August 24, 2010 at 5:44 am

        (Ah, good. They claim to have changed it to open access status, change should take place within two days, I will check then and post about it.)

    • Helen
      August 22, 2010 at 6:26 am

      I sent them an email about that, and their response was to ask me to phone them. Gee, helpful.

  6. August 21, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    I’ve updated the post to include SENG and to reflect a comment from my good friend Shulamit, making it clearer that this is about therapists for any age client. In many respects, the adults have it worse because giftedness is seen so much through the lens of school, and thus it’s barely on anyone’s radar. But we don’t stop being who we are. Although we might be able to manage to choose better-fit environments, very often we still bump up against the world. Plus, the scars of childhood all too often continue to resonate throughout the lifespan.

    • Madison
      February 9, 2013 at 12:25 pm

      Your good friend Shulamit? That’s interesting to hear, since I’m in her area and have been searching for someone to help me. I came across her website, and she seems to be at the top of the list as a potentially effective resource in this area. But the advertising of being geared toward gifted people, including adults, makes me wary (perhaps irrationally so) because no one else so much as mentions gifted except for children. I assume, then, that you would recommend her? Would you recommend her as a comprehensive therapist, for adult life challenges outside of just education/work, and if so, maybe say why?

      • February 10, 2013 at 5:34 am

        I think Shulamit is a good and thoughtful and honest and competent person. The opposite of sleazy, if that’s what you’re concerned about. And yes, one of the few people who recognizes the relevance of giftedness to adult life. As far as whether I would recommend her as a therapist, that has a lot to do with the specifics of the situation, given that she is not (as of this writing) a licensed professional in the field, which can place some substantial limitations on what she can do and for whom and under what circumstances (I know this because I was operating under the same limitations for many years, and boy, it’s tricky!).

        Best to have this conversation in a private forum (email me at aimee@davincilearning.org, or for you to reach out to her directly and share your situation and figure out whether she is the right person to help you.

  7. LizPf
    August 22, 2010 at 12:25 am

    I recently went on a search for a general therapist for Ocelot, who is highly gifted and 2E. We did find someone, who seems to understand 2E, and is within walking distance to Ocelot’s high school, AND takes our insurance.

    When I got her name, I called her and asked her for an interview session — this is common in therapy, and I strongly recommend everyone call their first therapy meeting an interview. As she talked to Ocelot, I scanned the books on her shelves (home office). I mentioned “the G-word”, and she clearly understood that being gifted is not an unmitigated blessing, but comes with its own set of problems and headaches. I mentioned Ocelot was on an IEP and she picked up the ball and talked about 2E, with no prompting from me.

    I also studied her reactions as Ocelot griped about her problems — the therapist responded encouragingly, but also made clear that Ocelot was seeing only one side of the picture. I could see that Ocelot could not “snow” this therapist.

    By the way, the recommendation of this therapist was from one of Ocelot’s friends. Other, more “official” recommendations didn’t pan out.

  8. Belle
    August 24, 2010 at 8:03 am

    GREAT post!!!! This has been a MAJOR problem for our family – my 7 year old is Highly Gifted and has been having a very difficult time dealing with a whole bunch of “gifty” quirks – he has OE’s and is just a really dynamic kid. My husband and I are at a loss many times trying to figure out ways to meet his needs and we need help as well 🙂 Our local public school has pretty much washed their hands of him despite the fact that he has an IEP for speech/OT and gifted and we have been homeschooling going on our 3rd year so getting help through the schools is useless. Great post with great info

  9. August 24, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Belle, thanks!

  10. janet
    August 24, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Thank you for this! I appreciated the questions you proposed to ask of a new therapist. Most are well versed when it comes to answering the, “have you worked with other gifted individuals” question.

    I thought it was just because I live in Hawaii that my resources for good therapists were so limited, and it often led me to question my decision to not move back to the mainland. (Now I’m in Tokyo, so they are all the more limited.) But I suppose it would have been a challenge for me anywhere.

    This issue has been at the top of my list since my PG daughter (a Davidson Young Scholar) was very young. I have experienced so many horror stories with the psychological community that I don’t know where to begin. Among the most humorous was the psychiatrist who scolded me for teaching my daughter (at age 4) the facts of conception using anatomically correct terms. He warned that, like wrongly expecting more mature behavior out of kids who are inordinately tall, I was providing too much information simply because she had a strong vocabulary. “Most 4 year olds only need to know that a baby grows in her mommy’s tummy.” Not my 4 year old! I never went back to see him.

    The greatest frustration for me has been the therapists who appear to judge us (as parents) for giving our daughter too much power or control. At first I was bewildered. How did I, the 5′-2″ small-framed woman who is most often criticized for being too aggressive and bossy, come off as being indulgent or meek? If I knew how to play that game I would have used it to my advantage long before now. My typical response to that now is, “I suspect your opinion of that will have changed by the time you have gotten to know her just a little bit better.”

    I set out recently to find program to study psychology with a focus on issues of the gifted. To my surprise, no such programs are offered. That’s probably a good thing because I don’t really have the time to get an advanced degree and take care of my daughter’s special needs, but it sure leaves a lot to be desired for the psychological community.

    I am ever grateful for SENG and all of it’s resources–I’m not sure where I would be without them, frankly. Based on the negative feedback I’ve had from psychologists, I might have determined that I am simply an incompetent parent and my daughter hopeless. Davidson has been a help in finding professionals to consult with who I am confident are knowledgable about giftedness. I too encourage professionals to study up on the subject, and recommend books, websites, etc. To my knowledge, none of the people I worked with have ever followed through on my recommendations.

    I believe that in order to really educate the psychological community, there will need to be a shift in education that makes it a requirement to take some courses on gifted development. I also would advocate for mandating some continuing education in this area for professional accreditation. It appears that, unless forced to look at it in greater detail, the larger community is unwilling to change their perceptions on their own.

    • Maryann
      August 24, 2010 at 11:19 pm

      janet :
      Among the most humorous was the psychiatrist who scolded me for teaching my daughter (at age 4) the facts of conception using anatomically correct terms.

      I believe that in order to really educate the psychological community, there will need to be a shift in education that makes it a requirement to take some courses on gifted development. I also would advocate for mandating some continuing education in this area for professional accreditation. It appears that, unless forced to look at it in greater detail, the larger community is unwilling to change their perceptions on their own.

      Janet, There are loads of adults who are shocked by the knowledge our 5 year-old has on prenatal development. At this point, I think she wants to be a midwife, obstetrician or pediatrician when she grows up (and Mom & ballerina & teacher…). When, at just 4 she started counseling one of her teachers about how to get pregnant, we had some interesting conversations with said teacher and other parents.

      I think it’s hard for schools or professional organizations to mandate education on what they would consider niche specialties. Depending on your definition of “gifted” you’re looking at less than 5% of society (being generous) with issues that are directly related to giftedness. Most practitioners don’t want to focus on such a small subset. I agree that it’s important that all know that there are issues, but many counselors, psychologists & psychiatrists wouldn’t be appropriate for gifted clients even if they had taken a special class in school (going back to Aimee’s list).

      Thank goodness for the people who do practice in this field 🙂

      • janet
        August 25, 2010 at 12:45 pm

        “Depending on your definition of “gifted” you’re looking at less than 5% of society (being generous) with issues that are directly related to giftedness. Most practitioners don’t want to focus on such a small subset. I agree that it’s important that all know that there are issues, but many counselors, psychologists & psychiatrists wouldn’t be appropriate for gifted clients even if they had taken a special class in school (going back to Aimee’s list).”

        MaryAnn, I agree that there are no easy answers, and I don’t mean to suggest that a single class in giftedness will make the problem go away. However, using that line of reasoning (population statistics), we would then not prepare the psychological community to recognize or treat eating disorders, bi-polar disorder, or schizophrenia–all of which occur in far less than 5% of the population. Leaving giftedness out of professional training is comparable to leaving out ADHD, if you use population figures alone.

        I agree that not everyone can or should specialize in this subset. Nor should everyone specialize in treating, say, substance abuse.

        However, I still maintain that psychological “first responders,” i.e. school counselors, pediatricians, and general practitioners should have at least enough knowledge of this area to be able to recognize it as a contributing factor and explore it more completely when making diagnoses and treatment programs for students.

  11. Maryann
    August 25, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    janet :
    However, I still maintain that psychological “first responders,” i.e. school counselors, pediatricians, and general practitioners should have at least enough knowledge of this area to be able to recognize it as a contributing factor and explore it more completely when making diagnoses and treatment programs for students.

    I agree with you!

    More than anything, I was having a hard time with the blanket requirement. However a first-responder requirement makes *loads* of sense. Being a generalist as a specialty takes a really special & talented person.

    • September 4, 2010 at 2:42 am

      I’m with Janet – since the vast majority of first contacts with the mental health system are with school counselors, pediatricians, adult internists, and general-practice psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other therapists, it is important for those folks to at least be aware of what they need to be aware of, and to have their “common wisdom” be at least moderately accurate. They’re not, and it’s not.

      My doctoral program provided a broad-based training such that I can at least recognize when an issue might exist for other relatively common special populations (and I would say that anything that affects 1/20 of the population is really common in psychological terms), and such that the “common wisdom” I have is at least not going to lead me to do anything really harmful, and such that I will recognize the need to self-educate and/or make a referral when someone’s needs are outside my areas of expertise.

      What I see going on in the professional world around giftedness is rather like what’s going on in the educational world — all too many practitioners think they know what they need to know, and they give out advice that is not just clueless, but actively harmful. Furthermore, I see quite a number of practitioners who seem to think that “gifted” = “wealthy and willing to self-pay for services they probably don’t actually need,” so they advertise themselves as providing services for gifted individuals even though they have no real expertise in the area. Grrr.

      I will point out that it is quite common for practitioners to have specialties (usually multiple areas of specialty, often but not always related to each other), often simply by virtue of what they have “backed into” over time and what kinds of clients they’ve observed themselves being effective with. One happy client is likely to refer other similar clients, particularly when the population is itself in some way insular and/or feels vulnerable (for example, I have a colleague who quite without trying ended up with a specialty in evaluating police officers for fitness-to-return-to-duty.). Plus, when professionals send out referral requests (really common for this to happen — it is not seen in any way as an admission of weakness), someone who has a small amount of experience with something is seen as better than someone who has no experience with that, so a particular practitioner can rather quickly become the “go-to” person on a specific topic.

  12. kcm
    August 31, 2010 at 6:14 am

    Thank you for writing this post, Aimee. I particularly like the section on what to look for in answers when discussing this with therapists.

  13. Grinity
    September 13, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    gasstationwithoutpumps :
    We did register my son for SET … We haven’t noticed much support from SET…We never got past downloading the Davidson Young Scholars application form. The effort of filling out the form is a much bigger barrier to getting into their program than the 99.9%ile scores needed!

    This is true, but I would strongly recommend that you take the time and fill out the form ‘one paragraph’ at a time. SET kids have a higher LOG than Davidson Young Scholars in general, so it won’t be a perfect fit, but there is tons of resource to sample – including seminars with Aimee, and at least you are quite sure of getting in for all that effort. We Davidson parents, as a group, have that ‘yup-that’s how desperate I am/was’ look – I filled out the whole application. BTW – the average time for completion of that application is 1 year. I almost didn’t send mine in because I spent 6 months on it. Who knew?

    Actually – I think the experience of growing up without a reasonable ‘comparison group’ describes lots of the ways that many of us are odd. I call that lack of reference group. I think this is the main reason that so many of the Gifties who are comfortable with their own self are younger sibs of Gifties. Which reminds me, Aimee – I’m waiting for that ‘Gifties as a closeted minority’ Rant. This article is terrific, but I want to read about all that energy I wasted the first 35 years of my life trying to be normal appearing.

    • September 14, 2010 at 12:11 am

      Well, I downloaded the form 3 years in a row and even got my son an IQ test one year to see if he qualified, but I never got up the energy to fill out the whole form. Some of the questions were bizarre and unanswerable, and they changed each year. I looked over the Davidsons’ web site and read lots of “wow” messages on mailing lists from parents who had managed to get past the application barrier, and I just couldn’t see enough benefit to justify the time needed for the application.

      I’m glad that the Davidsons have dedicated so much money and effort to helping very gifted kids, but I don’t really see how their efforts will help my son or me.

  14. Grinity
    September 13, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Grinity :
    I want to read about all that energy I wasted the first 35 years of my life trying to be normal appearing.

    I should say ‘trying and failing miserably’ – it’s quite the glass closet. I found that out when I finally sat down with a few close friends and ‘came out’as Gifted formally. They already knew and were kind of relieved. Talk about example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, I had no clue what a poor job I was doing of hiding myself, I just kept working hard at it!

  15. Grinity
    September 13, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    janet :
    “ However, using that line of reasoning (population statistics), we would then not prepare the psychological community to recognize or treat eating disorders, bi-polar disorder, or schizophrenia–all of which occur in far less than 5% of the population. Leaving giftedness out of professional training is comparable to leaving out ADHD, if you use population figures alone.

    Which brings up the question of ‘Does Giftedness belong in the DSM-5?’ Is it a disease? A Syndrome? In general, the medical community doesn’t want to play unless there is a disease to diagnoses, treat, and hopefully cure, yes?

    I don’t think that anyone would try to do counseling with an African American person without being or becoming aware of the effects of Racism. I think that there is a ‘general thoughtlessness’ in US culture about the ways and needs of young Gifties that amounts to a systematic pressure on a subgroup. Particularly the group that collects around Gifted Books, Blogs, and Events. (Plenty of very highly intelligent people find ways to pass, and never really face the effects of those pressures unless they happen to raise children who can’t or won’t ‘pass.’)

    So ‘Underachievement’ or ‘Hiding how your mind works’ syndrome are more likely to get Psychological attention then just plain ‘support of struggles Gifties are likely to need.’ Glass half full/glass half empty?


  16. Scaredy Kat
    January 20, 2012 at 3:08 am

    Hi Ms. Yermish,

    Can you recommend anyone/anywhere that might be helpful for a GT/2E adult, with major social/emotional problems and a good (bad) amount of childhood abuse/trauma? I am 25, in the SE MA area if that’s any help to you, and I don’t have much money (in fact I don’t have any at all), because I’m unemployed and not currently in school. I don’t venture out too often, and I don’t have friends (at all) or family members who know how to support me; they do want me to feel better and whatnot but can’t afford private counseling. I know I have potential but I just don’t want to fall through the cracks. Please help me 😦

    • January 25, 2012 at 12:48 am

      Hm. I can recommend a couple of specific therapists I know who are a bit closer to you, but I’m not sure if they take insurance. Probably best for us to discuss this over email rather than in a public forum — feel free to email me at aimee@davincilearning.org and I’ll see if I have any ideas for you.

  17. sally lyon
    November 12, 2012 at 5:59 am

    Hi Aimee, Just wanted to mention that on UAGC- family group on FB (Utah Association of Gifted Children)a link was posted to your article. It has been read by 33 people. Thank you for your work. Your work makes such a difference in the lives of many people.

    • November 12, 2012 at 6:02 am

      Thank you, both for the signal boost and for the kind words.

  18. Cynthia
    February 3, 2013 at 12:52 am

    Hi Aimee – great post! I am a RN working as a mental health counsellor in Canada. I am also profoundly gifted and HAVE worked through my stuff (lol). I want to work with others in the gifted population … and via training, not just experience! Where would you recommend I look when it’s time for me to do graduate school?

    • February 3, 2013 at 1:08 am

      Hm… depends on how far you’re willing to relocate, what level of training you’re looking for, and whether you’re interested in being primarily a clinician or also have hopes of being a researcher. There are not many programs specifically related to GT issues, but, for example, I was able to use the flexibility of my PsyD program (www.mspp.edu) to do research on the topic as it interested me, and to bring in outside resources as needed. What are your parameters?

  19. Martha Ruepprich
    February 6, 2013 at 5:43 am

    Hi Aimee,
    great article. My 13 year old has been identified as gifted. He has struggled with anxiety most of his childhood. Do you know of any counselors in the Dallas Fort worth area? I’d appreciate any assistance.
    Thank you

    • February 10, 2013 at 5:25 am

      I don’t know anyone specific in that area, no. Check on Hoagies and reach out to the general GT community and see if someone knows someone. Word of mouth is very often the best way to find people.

  20. April 1, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Thanks for this valuable post. Here is a list of counselors/therapists I have developed over the years – not long, but might be of interest:

  21. overexcitable
    April 1, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    Reblogged this on overexcitable and commented:
    Important to read and think through!

  22. K
    April 27, 2013 at 4:46 am

    I’m a school counselor and am in search of local therapists that work with students who are gifted, specifically in the area of perfectionism. Please let me know if you are aware of anyone in the Chester County, PA area?

  23. Holly
    July 17, 2013 at 10:36 am

    My son has been identified profoundly gifted. He has always managed quite well socially and emotionally. He has recently begun to show signs of anxiety and disordered eating at 9 years old. He is seeing a therapist and medical doctor concerning the issues, but I really feel that he needs a therapist that understandsthe traits of a gifted child. We are in Nashville, tn and I can find no one. Anyone that you know of in my area?

    • July 18, 2013 at 3:23 am

      No, but perhaps you could try calling someone a bit closer and see if they know someone. I don’t know the one person listed on Hoagies in TN, but Ed Amend in KY is excellent and may be able to point you at someone.

  24. Julie Makin
    October 4, 2013 at 1:21 am

    Do you know anyone in orange county, CA who deals with gifted teens who do not sleep because they spend too much time on their homework.

    • October 10, 2013 at 10:40 am

      No, sorry, I don’t know anyone in that area. Try going to Hoagies and asking on the social media related to giftedness for a local referral.

  25. July 11, 2014 at 8:23 am

    Hello there! This blog post couldn’t be written much better!
    Going through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!

    He always kept talking about this. I’ll forward
    this information to him. Fairly certain he’s going to have a great
    read. Many thanks for sharing!

  26. Amy
    October 5, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Hi. I’m so glad you posted about this, even though it’s a while ago now — it really is a serious problem and one that’s almost never taken seriously.

    One problem is the definition of “highly intelligent” — if you ask a therapist whether they’ve worked with highly intelligent people, you’ll get their take on what “highly intelligent” means, which may come down to “has read whatever book was last talked about on NPR”. It would take a bright therapist to ask you what *you* meant by “highly intelligent”. And unless you lived in a large metro area, the answer is probably no anyway. Even in university towns…you know, you don’t have to be all that bright to be a professor, most places. It’s not unlike asking people if they know anyone artistically gifted — if you’re talking about Andre Previn and they’re talking the woman down the street who quilts and sells tchotchkes on etsy, you’re going to have a problem. And they’re also going to get defensive and angry at you if you say no, that’s not what I mean.

    What’s really needed, I think, are therapists who’ll work by skype and get on, say, Blue Cross networks so the sessions are covered. Most places just won’t have enough gifted people for a therapist to have worked with very many, or any. And yes, the therapist needs to be very bright, too. I’ve stopped going to many therapists because it was so obvious they had no idea what I was talking about and had lost me paragraphs ago. Nor, frankly, did they really want to know. They’ve got standard bags of tricks and are just waiting to hear the matching keywords, most of the time.

    • October 5, 2014 at 10:15 pm

      You bring up a lot of good points. What I found in my research, also, is that the notion of giftedness seems too often to be one that the clinicians haven’t really metabolized themselves — akin to a person who has always has major issues with their own weight treating someone who has anorexia, or the ever-popular trend of using people who have themselves experienced addiction and/or domestic violence to turn around and become clinicians for those same populations themselves. If the clinician really has worked through their own “stuff” around the issue, then the common experience or stark difference can be a real source of strength and grist for honest exploration within the relationship. If not, then it’s just a set up for countertransferential crap.

      And yes, what I basically saw in my dissertation work was that if someone needed very specific work around something that is pretty cut-and-dried (simple phobia, minor adjustment issues, etc), then any therapist who was a good listener and not cruel could basically do the job, but if the issues were bigger life issues that needed more in-depth shared exploration, clients were frustrated by therapists who couldn’t really keep track of what was going on.

      I agree that it would be great if there were more skilled therapists who work with GT folks and who could work via telehealth. The problem is severalfold, though.

      (1) The overwhelming majority of insurance plans (including most BCBS products) do not cover sessions conducted via telehealth. This is a very unsettled area of the law in terms of parity, whether they *have* to cover it, but more or less, virtually all insurers will take the easy excuse for why they don’t want to cover it.

      (1b) Insurance pays crap for mental health outpatient services and requires tons of extra unpaid work even to have a hope of receiving even a fraction of that money. Most of us cannot afford to feed our families that way. I have no idea why any profession should be asked to do work in good faith and then find out later *if* they’re going to get paid.

      (2) The laws regarding interstate practice of psychology are *also* extremely unsettled and at present (2014) still extremely unfriendly to psychologists and clients who want to work together across state lines. There are some kinds of coaching and consultative situations where I am comfortable providing services at a distance, but for most “real therapy,” it’s really quite difficult to do legally. Our profession is extremely conservative on this front, and it’s very frustrating for clients and therapists both. You can see (and still comment on) the even very limited *proposal* from the ASPPB, which doesn’t have the power to change the actual laws anywhere, at this link: .

      (2a) and to be fair, when you’re doing therapy, you *do* have to be aware of potential safety issues and be able to respond to them. If someone is suicidal or homicidal, the therapist in the same state can mobilize a lot of resources (read: “call in the men in the white coats”), which the therapist outside the state cannot. That’s the biggest chilling effect. (“Doctor Yermish, please tell the court why you chose to provide therapy to this client when you were aware of the possibility that she might become suicidal in the future and that in that situation, you would be unable to help her. Isn’t being able to provide that service part of the standard of care in your profession? Didn’t your choice to provide service below the standard-of-care function to dissuade the client from seeking out service within her actual state so that she could have actually gotten the help she needed when the crisis occurred?”)

      It’s very frustrating. But what needs to be done to facilitate this is the development of legal structures that *will* bring telehealth within the boundaries of what is feasible for professionals. Call your congressfolk and state congressfolk and get them to work on laws that will break down the barriers to interstate practice of mental health.

      Meanwhile, I am also working to educate my professional colleagues that giftedness is an area of professional competence just like any other, and that if you’re not culturally and professionally competent with the population, then you should do what you do in any other case where you can’t handle it, which is to find an appropriate referral. I’m also hoping to develop CE courses and get books written so that we can spread the knowledge more widely.

  27. Deidre
    January 14, 2015 at 4:07 am

    any suggestions in the greater boston area?

    • January 14, 2015 at 4:35 am

      You mean besides myself? 🙂 If you’re looking closer in to the city, try Liana Pena Morgens.

      • Deidre
        March 17, 2015 at 8:55 am

        I guess I don’t think of Stow as Greater Boston 🙂 And most of my clients don’t have cars! Thanks!!

  28. tintin
    February 2, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    Aimee, thanks so much for bringing up this topic and for continuing to keep this thread open, and I’ll check out that list someone provided above.

    I gave up long ago on therapy because after going through dozens of therapists, telling the life story over and over, I realized (a) they weren’t following in the first place; (b) they have no helpful therapeutic (or personal) framework for “I have a responsibility to a major talent and only so many years to get the work done”; (c) if you say something like, “I’ve been invited to start a new program with national implications,” they’re accustomed to reading this as grandiose, rather than understanding that this is just the sort of thing you do, even though you don’t hold a fancy title, have no money, etc. They don’t get the sleep problems, the energy and capacity for work and holding things together, the importance of doing the work well…it’s all geared to people like themselves, who want to do an okay job, get paid, go home, and spend time with family. And if you cut across categories, as so many gifted adults do (say, living in poverty while doing high-level intellectual work, or needing a highly specific kind of professional situation despite near-homelessness or familylessness) they’re lost. There’s also a really irritating lack of understanding of why it might be important to you (an adult, not an idealistic kid) to do things not directly to your own benefit, but beneficial socially, particularly when the benefits seem highly abstract and the effort makes your life hard. “I can see why the work is necessary, how it’ll help, what harm happens in its absence, and how to make whatever it is go,” doesn’t seem to register.

    In the end they ask me why I’m there, and I say “Because I’m often enough in great psychic pain, to the point of being suicidal, and it’d be a bad thing if I killed myself, not just for myself but for my kid,” and then we stare at each other, and they ask me what I think would help, besides drugs. And I say, “I don’t know. If I knew that, I’d have done it already. That’s why I’m spending time and money I don’t have here.” And then they tell me I’m essentially beyond help, which is, you know, depressing.

  29. Lauren
    December 29, 2015 at 7:08 am

    Thank you so much for this article! I am a gifted adult who has been in therapy for 10+ years, and that entire time I have felt like no one understands me. It has been lonely, and heartbreaking, and so frustrating to feel like I don’t react to life like a “normal” person to begin with, and then to have therapists that try to make me “work on” ways to change myself.

    I have a complicated situation, because I’m dealing with PTSD from a physically abusive coach my first year of college, and I was wondering if you have any literature on whether the gifted might react differently, or more strongly, to trauma? I feel like I definitely do not weather trauma as well as others.

    Regardless, I can’t explain how much relief I feel to learn that there is a good reason for my other-ness, that I might not need to change myself, and that I need a specially trained therapist to understand me. So thank you again, and I hope you continue spreading awareness to others like me. It truly has changed my life.

    • December 29, 2015 at 7:50 am

      Hm. I don’t think there is a whole lot of literature specifically on giftedness and trauma, although I think Jean Sunde Peterson has published a case study and has done some work on bullying. If you look in the literature of the folks who talk about treating adults, you might find some there, but it’s really an area that needs a lot more work done in it. Some of the respondents in my dissertation (which you can find on my website (http://www.davincilearning.org/sketchbook/research.html) had trauma histories. You also might find that if you don’t search on “gifted” per se, but look at Elaine Aron’s work on the Highly Sensitive Person, you may find a fair bit of overlap — the intensities of being GT are similar to this temperamental construct. In general, what seems to be the case is that being GT is a two-edged sword — it may make you more sensitive to trauma but also give you more resources with which to deal with it, once you can learn how to connect with and channel them.

      I hope you’re able to find someone to help you!

  30. Ramona
    February 16, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    Hello, loved your articles and we are looking for a gifted counselor in Michigan area for our 9 year old boy. Do you know anyone ? Thank you

    • April 18, 2016 at 5:07 am

      (I’m sorry, I didn’t get the notification of this comment. I don’t know of anyone in particular — you can check on the Hoagies list and on SENG’s website. Also, try asking on the mailing lists and social media pages — you can find a list of the big ones also on Hoagies.)

  31. Heidi Aronson
    April 18, 2016 at 1:00 am

    I really appreciate the article. I had to work through the bulk of my gifted stuff–and a whole lot of other stuff–before I was ready to start graduate school at age 49. I’m now a pre-licensed marriage and family therapist, and I can tell you that all the knowledge and competency my cohort gained about the nuances of giftedness came not from our program, but from me. Looking forward to paying forward all that I’ve struggled through and all I’ve been taught.

    • April 18, 2016 at 5:09 am

      Welcome to the club! Re-entry students, we’re the best, because we know why we’re here and what we want to do. Glad to have you on track to join the profession. We need all the help we can get! (and yes, I did (and still do) a fair bit of educating my colleagues (and when I was in grad school, some of my professors) about giftedness.)

  32. Audra McCormick
    October 10, 2016 at 11:18 pm

    This article popped up when I searched for ‘counseling the truly gifted child, DFW area.” WOW! I am in tears as every word in your article resonated with me in trying to help my daughter, Amanda, age 10.
    Without going into great detail (you painted her picture in your article) do you have any recommendations for counselors in the DFW area?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated. THANK YOU!!!

    • October 10, 2016 at 11:40 pm

      I’m sorry, I don’t know anyone specifically offhand. Try contacting the state association for gifted kids and see if they have a grapevine…

  33. Ursula Roskoski
    November 28, 2016 at 1:49 am

    Can you help me find a therapist for gifted adults near Willimantic, CT?

    • November 28, 2016 at 10:04 am

      I’m sorry, but I don’t know anyone specific. I wonder if Devon MacEachron, who is in Manhattan now but used to be in CT, might be able to point you at someone closer.

  34. Anita
    December 31, 2016 at 12:27 am

    Wow. I was starting to feel as though I Iwas alone in feeling pushback or hostility from therapists at the mention of seeking help for giftedness depression. I was recently diagnosed as gifted range (145 IQ) following a psychoeducational evaluation for adult ADD, graciously covered by the student disability office of my post secondary institution. I had to drop out of my program unfortunately, and returned to my manual labour job – hopefully to set up some kind of therapy to decide if school is even a good idea for me.
    I am definitely NOT going to attract any gold-digger therapists (referring to the rich-man illness which is in itself an interesting nugget for exploration and discussion) – I have to find someone within the realm of public healthcare in Edmonton AB. The therapists I approached to date were 2- via employee assistance program – and they both strongly recommend seeking long term therapy. The adult ADD clinic in Edmonton dismissed my ADD as sub threshold (but close) and also dismissed the psychoeducational evaluation and suggested I acquire some life skills instead.
    So… yes I am absolutely a closeted person surrounding this issue! I can’t tell you how much that resonates with my experience. Brilliant. I feel so self conscious about the topic – I don’t even feel like there is a way to mention the topic without sounding like I am trying to pit a measuring contest of intelligence . It’s like the unspoken question is “if I’m really so intelligent why can’t I counsel myself?” It positions me as eithet lying about the IQ, or I’m some kind of narcissist/ egoist . Even among friends it’s hard to talk about so I am totally isolated with my depression – wondering if self help trying to counsel myself is my only hope? Can a person do that ? ( have enough of a separation to observe and analyze my own problems ?)
    I don’t know anything anymore… any advice on finding help/ helping myself in Edmonton? I emailed SENG 6 months ago and no one ever replied which just adds to the feeling that my problems aren’t worthy. I consciously try to dismiss those feelings as unproductive and over sensitive but it still feels like crap, and I just want to improve my daily existence. I am so grateful for your post. Please continue discussing us closeted folks!

    • January 1, 2017 at 4:11 am

      Yeah, I hear you. It can be very frustrating. There is absolutely a need to figure out how to make one’s way in the world — if you’re sitting around contemplating your personal angst, you at least also need food in the refrigerator while you do it. But for many people, that figuring out *how* to get along in the world cannot be separated from also figuring out *why*. I’d advise working with someone who will help you do both. Yes, a lot of folks do self-guided therapy, but it’s easy to go down some pretty odd rabbit holes — always good to have a squire on the journey if you can.

      For the kind of self-help you’re looking for, let me suggest Irv Yalom’s highly readable _Staring at the Sun_, as well as Viktor Frankl’s landmark _Man’s Search for Meaning_, and any of the classic humanistic theorists (Rollo May, Abraham Maslow, etc). I might honk people off by saying this, but I have been quite concerned with Dabrowski’s auto psychotherapy leading people down into some not-so-great rabbit holes, so I’m not recommending it.

      Hm. I wish I had a flock of referrals for you. SENG does not list anyone on their website as being licensed in Canada. The only person I know in Canada is Susan Jackson, who is definitely an experienced therapist with a specialty in existential work with gifted clients, and at least at one point, she was open to doing distance work, so you might want to talk with her. http://educationaladvancement.org/grc/the-daimon-institute/ (Note that when you do distance therapy, there are issues around jurisdictional licenses.)

  35. Ellen
    January 19, 2017 at 6:00 am

    Hello. I really enjoyed your article. We are looking for a therapist for my HG son who is in the second grade. We live in Los Angeles. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance.

  36. MHH
    March 4, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    God bless you for this post! Is there anyone in Dallas, TX I might try?

  37. Dianne Heer
    May 11, 2017 at 2:28 am

    I I live in Pewaukee Wisconsin, suburb of Milwaukee. I am increasingly seeing the need to find a therapist for my gifted teenage son. Just thought I’d ask if you know of anyone in the area??

  38. Joy
    May 27, 2017 at 6:34 am

    Hi, I enjoyed your article and am looking for a therapist to work with my 17 year old gifted teenage son who seems very depressed. We are in Nassau County in Long Island New York. I would welcome any suggestions or a list of psychologists in the area.

  39. May 27, 2017 at 6:55 am

    Los Angeles, I’m not sure, but you might check in with the folks from the Summit Center — I think they have an office in southern CA. Dallas and Wisconsin, I don’t know, I’m very sorry. Long Island, you may be in luck — I have a good friend from graduate school who is not a specialist in GT issues, but she is a gifted person herself and is quite familiar with the issues. Tell Sarah Long, PsyD, http://www.portjeffpsychological.com, that I sent you.

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