Therapy for the Gifted Child

From the very beginning, gifted children pose unique problems for themselves and for their parents, both of whom often feel that “being gifted is no gift!”

How can parents provide enough love, support, and resources for developing giftedness without creating an entitled, arrogant child? These are painful and unanticipated choices for parents. The special personality styles, dramatic physical symptoms, and intense emotional reactions presented by a gifted child can be confusing and frightening. Parents often worry whether these are normal for gifted children or the signs of a serious psychiatric or cognitive disorder that require immediate attention. Some of the most important issues that bring children and their parents into treatment are listed below.

Therapy for the Gifted Child: Dependence – Independence

Gifted children have a precocious need for autonomy. Their demand for this early autonomy can push parents away and deprive the child of living through the normal developmental phase of dependence. When parents respond consistently and reliably to a young child’s needs, she/he begins to trust them and depend on them for feelings of safety and comfort. This beginning sense of trust, safety, and emotional connectedness is unconsciously incorporated and becomes one of the building...

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Therapy for the Gifted Child: Perfectionism – Obsessionalism – Procrastination

Gifted young people often succeed well beyond expectations for their chronological age. Their amazing accomplishments seem to come naturally, with little effort. However, trouble may start in school when they elaborate grand visions but cannot execute them perfectly. The desire to create a “perfect” project can reach a fevered pitch in high school when their dreams to be admitted to the best colleges intensify their need to get the best grades. Swept up in the...

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Therapy for the Gifted Child: Empathy – Morality – Anger – Gender

Empathy for others is a common hallmark of many gifted children. They may have an unusual sensitivity for the emotional distress of their friends and an unusual ability to help them resolve their emotional conflicts. However, these valuable personality traits may also create painful moral/ethical dilemmas and emotional conflicts for gifted children when they themselves feel misunderstood and mistreated. These moral-ethical dilemmas are especially intense when gifted children need to express their angry feelings but...

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Therapeutic Assessment of Gifted Children: A Psychodynamic Approach

Introduction: The Need for a Comprehensive Assessment The assessment of a gifted child and his/her problems needs to be comprehensive. Intellectual (cognitive) and intuitive (non-cognitive) aspects of giftedness, emotional maturity, quirky personality traits, passionate interests, personal values (the balance between altruism and self- interest) as well as learning problems, psychological symptoms, and behavioral issues should all be evaluated in context. The gifted child’s parents establish the context by providing a description of the child’s giftedness:...

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Arriving at a Psychodynamic Formulation of the Gifted Child’s Problem

A focused summary of the assessment of a child or adult is called a psychodynamic formulation. This is a concise description of the psychological pathways and psychological mechanisms for how conflicts about particular factors became transformed into specific behavioral and educational problems, as well as psychological symptoms. This psychodynamic formulation is the initial framework within which the therapy begins. The psychodynamic formulation also has several other functions. It allows the therapist to distinguish a gifted...

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The Assessment Process

The assessment begins by meeting with the parents. They are the “experts” on who the child really is. This includes knowledge of their child’s history, family background, and the issues that bring them into the office. A thorough assessment depends on understanding how the school setting, family dynamics, relationship with peers, and general developmental issues interact with the child’s giftedness to create the current problem. This allows us to put the child’s giftedness and his/her...

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Therapy with Gifted Children

Fiercely independent, gifted children jealously guard their thoughts and creative impulses. Not surprisingly, they are suspicious of any therapeutic interventions. Their trust has to be earned. Gifted children do want to know that the therapist appreciates their giftedness, but they want the acknowledgement of their quirky personality, unusual imagination, and passionate interests to be low-keyed and indirect. The best way to establish a therapeutic alliance with a gifted child is to convey that even in...

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Therapeutic Work With Parents of Gifted Children

Parent Guidance Most gifted children and their parents come for therapy in a crisis. Before parents can be helped to manage the crisis, its origins need to be determined. Serious academic problems, anxiety, depression, physical symptoms, mood swings, and suicidal ideation may reflect an underlying neuropsychological disorder or psychiatric disorder. Often, however, these symptoms are caused by a gifted child’s fear of directly expressing their feelings about family dynamics or the child’ gifted development that...

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Moral/ethical dilemmas in a gifted 6 year old girl – Susan

Susan was 5½ years old and halfway through her kindergarten year when she was referred to me by the psychologist in her school for gifted children. Although she was an attentive student and followed instructions, she didn’t want to participate in group activities. More troublesome, however, were unpredictable episodes of anger or inconsolable crying. Neither Susan nor her teachers understood what set her off. Her parents were alarmed by the teacher’s concerns because Susan had...

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