What Psychotherapists Need to Know About Gifted Clients

photo from Anne Allanketner
photo from Anne Allanketner

If you are a counselor or other mental health practitioner or if you’re gifted and want to see a psychotherapist, there are some things that you need to know.

The rainforest mind is complicated. Like the jungle, it’s breathtaking in its capacity to create: Thoughts, emotions, questions, sensitivities, worries, beauty, and iPhones. It’s intense and overwhelming.

The rainforest mind, in counseling, needs deep, empathetic, authentic understanding of its fascinating and convoluted intricacies.

Your counselor will need to recognize how you are different. Here are some clues a practitioner can use:

A gifted adult may have any or all of the following:

  • Advanced vocabulary, existential questions and concerns from an early age, multiple in-depth interests
  • A range of deeper than normal emotions and sensitivities (often underground in men), advanced analytical abilities, need for precision in fields of interest, perfectionism, rapid thinking, talking and learning
  • Excessive worry, great empathy for all living things, unusual insight into oneself
  • Avid reading, unending curiosity and passion for learning (not necessarily for schooling)
  • More complex ethical, moral, and justice concerns, insight about things that others don’t notice, tendency to argue for fun or for intellectual stimulation
  • Idealism, wit, imagination, creativity, questioning authority and the meaning of life
  • Loneliness, anxiety (particularly when bored or during extreme bouts of thinking), existential depression, self-doubt even with seeming successes
  • As a child: Difficulty finding friends, serious schooling frustrations, uneven development, and all of the above

Once your counselor recognizes your rainforest-mindedness, he or she needs to be able to do the following:

  • Help you differentiate between struggles caused by giftedness and difficulties caused by other factors.
  • Be extremely sensitive and authentic.
  • Create a very large container so that you can be as intense and complicated as you are.
  • Be aware that you might hide your pain and level of trauma through your capacity to achieve, your care-taking of others (including your counselor), your sense of responsibility, and your optimism and idealism.
  • Understand why you might have been misdiagnosed in the past. (Giftedness can look like ADHD, OCD, and even  bipolar disorder.)
  • Acknowledge his or her limits.
  • Provide parents with strategies and resources for themselves and their children, particularly around the schooling conundrum.

Places where your counselor can find help:


To my bloggEEs: Tell us about your experiences in counseling. What would you like a psychotherapist to know? What works for you in counseling? What doesn’t work? If you are a counselor, what questions and comments do you have?

Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

110 responses to “What Psychotherapists Need to Know About Gifted Clients”

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  2. Jennifer Avatar

    I am reading your blog Paula after discovering it a week ago. And SO MUCH resonates. I have been through a lot of growth the past few years, realising my parents and some family weren’t who I thought they were, developing a chronic pain condition amongst other things. However after a lot of work on myself I am in a better place than ever before but I have felt so let down by therapists.

    Before and after I realised about my chainsaw family and their narcissistic behaviours I’ve been told “mother’s are just like that”, “parenting is hard though”, therapists talking over me telling me about their parents.. just invalidation and that childhood feeling of being unheard just being compounded again and again. I’m gentle and sensitive even with therapists to try and be understood and not trigger them. It just hasn’t worked. I had a much more sensitive therapist the last time which was something but I’ve realised that though my RFM is constantly thinking deeply and essentially providing psychotherapy for myself in more recent years, talking therapies just end up triggering me partly due to the therapists at times and the approach. Proper CBT with ERP for social anxiety seems to be the thing that has moved me forward compared to traditional therapy where we talk and talk but nothing really changes.

    I don’t honestly think I need therapy now and my last therapist and supportive and honest partner agreed with me. Though I’d never say never to therapy with someone else (other than CBT) again and know there’s gifted therapists such as yourself out there, learning and reading by myself seems to be the trick for me. Though I’ve been disappointed with my various therapist experiences over the years, I think in my case actually working through so much hard stuff just with my partner and basically getting to where I am myself is validating and I think maybe a lesson for me as I have had very much a people pleasing and thinking someone else will know the answers pattern till recently.

    I hope this all makes sense and a BIG THANK YOU for this blog.. I feel like it’s validating so much of my life experiences to date. I never want to seem arrogant to others and don’t think I’m the most intelligent person ever but it’s really helping to understand my mind and though I knew I hadn’t really, that I havent ‘failed’ at therapy .. it’s just none of the many therapists I’ve seen either had the giftedness or insight, or possibly time to really help me.

    1. pprober Avatar

      It can be hard to find a good match in a therapist, Jennifer. It sounds like you’ve figured out what works for you, which often takes time. Glad to have you here!

      1. Jennifer Avatar

        Thanks Paula. I think I finally have! 😉 I have found two similar minded friends in the past few years as well as my lovely husband and just being ‘got’ is so great… Then you don’t always need words so much anyways and lovely seeing them also feeling ‘got’ too. I think part of it from my end, is that I’m beginning to really ‘get’ myself and that’s reflecting in my outer world. I work in mental health myself and I recommend they try and find good fits with therapists.. I know they’re out they’re.. as you say us RFMed folk including therapists might just take some finding. I feel at peace with my therapist process now but your blog is giving me answers to this process that I hadn’t realised before reading also.

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