What do you do with the clients you suspect are super smart? Clients who talk fast, think fast, and ask probing questions. Who are so articulate and high functioning, you can’t understand why they say they are depressed and anxious. Who are paralyzed by fears of failure and the pressures of their “great potential.” Who have exceedingly high standards and expectations for themselves and others. Who change jobs frequently and express frustration, impatience, and confusion with slower thinking coworkers. Who feel a deep, unrelenting loneliness even if they have many friends and are in partnerships. Who have been bullied and bored in schooling situations while they clearly have an enormous passion for learning. Who have an unusual number of sensitivities to sounds, textures, visual stimulation, chemicals, and emotions. Who feel a responsibility for making a difference on the planet, have extraordinary empathy, and feel despair and idealism about the future. Who have experienced serious trauma in childhood but appear to be unscathed. Who can sense when your attention is drifting, are afraid of overwhelming you, and who, in fact, do overwhelm you with their intensity, depth, intuition, and levels of awareness.
These are some of the contradictions and confusions that therapists experience with their gifted clients.
Who is gifted?
Defining giftedness is difficult and controversial. Concerns over justice and equality can make this discussion tense and uncomfortable. Here is one way to think about it: All humans ought to be valued and appreciated. All humans are worthy of love and respect. All humans differ in their strengths, weaknesses, learning styles, intellectual capacities, sensitivities, curiosities, preferences, talents, temperaments, experiences, and desires. It can get tricky when we talk about intellectual differences. And yet, intellectual differences exist. Giftedness exists. Awkward, I know. But true.
That said, you don’t actually need a clear, concise, undisputed definition to serve clients who fit into this category in one way or another. You just need to understand what they may be dealing with if they have some of these traits.
And just to add to the confusion, there are also many differences among these humans. I am writing about a particular variety of gifted that I call rainforest-minded. You may run into highly intelligent clients who do not fit my description. But there will be many who do. I promise.
Why do you need to know this?
You may be using all of your very effective methods with these clients and yet something is not working. You know you are missing a very important piece of their puzzle. But, what? Giftedness is a phenomenon that has its own set of complications. These clients desperately need you to see all of who they are and all of who they want to be. They need to be able to feel safe to be vulnerable and to trust that you can handle their exuberance, intense emotions, questions, contradictions, complexities, fears, intuition, sensitivities, and, yes, their brilliance.
What can you do?
Get familiar with the traits that often accompany giftedness. Learn to differentiate the issues that come with giftedness from the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family. Look for ways your clients are masking their pain because they are used to practitioners who assume they are just fine and friends and family members who rely on them but don’t reciprocate. They may need to talk a lot without being linear or chronological; take notes if it helps you keep track. Be authentic and sensitive. Get your own therapy. Be careful that you don’t misdiagnose—giftedness can look like ADHD, Aspergers, OCD, and even bipolar disorder. (Note: Some clients can be gifted and also have a mental health diagnosis or learning disability, called twice-exceptional or 2e.) Know your limits and refer if you are frequently overwhelmed.
What resources are available?
These blog posts provide an overview for you and your clients, along with the rest of my blog. Use this quiz with your clients as a light-hearted way to explore the issues. And as luck would have it, my books are the easiest way for you to educate yourself. Your Rainforest Mind is filled with case studies and detailed descriptions of clients, their traits and issues, and the therapy process. Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind is a collection of my most popular blog posts and can be used as a workbook for clients as well as a quick guide for you. And, here are a few more excellent resources. An organization supporting the gifted. A documentary. And, a blog on gifted children.
If you can identify who among your clients has a rainforest mind and grasp their particular challenges, it will make a big difference in the power and effectiveness of the therapy. You will be seeing and understanding them in a way that very few others, if any, have.
And that will change everything.
To my bloggEEs: Share this post far and wide and anywhere you feel therapists might be lurking. And, of course, share it with your therapist, if you’d like, and let us know how it goes. Let me know what else I ought to have included here. Tell us your therapy experiences and let us know any questions you have. Thank you, as always, for being here.
Oh, and, I am part of a free online event coming up March 9-13, 2020. The Shift Network is an organization promoting personal transformation to “help create a sustainable, peaceful, healthy, and prosperous world for all.” I am one of the speakers! Here is a link for more information. It is called the Evolved Empath Summit. Cool, eh?
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