Psychotherapy for the Gifted

Jerald Grobman, MD | Madelon Sann, LCSW

Giftedness: The Double-Edged Sword

How does this powerful asset cause existential crises and existential depressions?

The psychological pathways to existential depression Preoccupations with the “Big Questions” and how to answer them Precocious intellectual development, emotional sensitivity and intense curiosity often lead gifted individuals to try to answer big existential questions : the meaning of life and the reason for inequalities ,injustices and moral/ethical duplicity. For normally endowed individuals these are troublesome issues that are best avoided. For gifted individuals, however, these difficult areas can be enticing.

Early recognition that their peers have no interest in these issues as well as their own failure to find solutions to these problems can cause gifted individuals to feel brief periods of alienation, detachment , disillusionment and isolation. When these feelings interfere with daily functioning ,they can become the symptoms of an existential depression.

Learn More about gifted individuals, their problems, and how to manage and treat them.

The Trauma of Precocious Accomplishments

Thinking, understanding, learning and remembering at advanced levels are the most obvious signs of giftedness and the basic building blocks of precocious accomplishment.

For most gifted individuals these endowed processes that make precocious accomplishments possible and the spectacular accomplishments themselves can be enormously gratifying. Both however can be the source of emotional trauma. Hunger for even higher levels of success can be blocked by worries they have already outgrown their peers,parents, teachers and mentors. Their push to develop even more of their own gifts for grand possibilities often conflict with feelings of shame that they have lost their humility idealism and altruism and instead become arrogant and narcissistic. These unresolved conflicts can lead gifted individuals to turn against their giftedness by denying and disavowing it. Suppressing gifted growth energy in this way can lead to the symptoms of existential depression.

The Joys of Being Gifted

An IQ of 130 is the starting point at which an individual’s cognitive skills and processes are considered to be gifted.

For a complete understanding of what it means to be gifted,however, extra-cognitive or non-cognitive skills and processes need to be considered.

Intuition; imagination;the desire for mastery and the need for independence; a capacity to be inspired; a willingness to be energized by big dreams; uncanny physical abilities and aesthetic sensibilities are hard to define let alone measure and compare against statistical norms. Yet these are the qualities that gifted individuals believe facilitate the smooth working and integration of their different cognitive abilities and the qualities they feel are at the core of their gifted identity.

Clarifying the nature of these extra cognitive qualities and how they function to enhance the cognitive part of their intellect helps explain how and why intellect,musicality,artistic ability,aesthetic sensitivity and athleticism have all developed into the exceptional features of a gifted personality.

Understanding the unique aspects of each gifted person’s extra-cognitive qualities also explains why he/she can experience the world in ways that are deep,rich and complex. When their cognitive and extra-cognitive abilities work in synergy, gifted individuals can feel intense satisfaction,pride and a sense of spiritual exhilaration.

Personality Characteristics of Gifted Children, Gifted Adolescents and Gifted Adults

  • An intense drive to explore, understand and master the environment. This drive can feel like a powerful physiological force that is difficult to describe and hard to control or direct
  • Intense motivation to explore “big” ideas and “big problems” in detail and in depth.
  • A capacity for learning that is immediate and effortless:
    • Their unusual capacity to combine razor sharp logical and uncanny intuition makes them bored and impatient with conventional teaching and standard educational settings

Common Conflicts of Gifted Children, Gifted Adolescents and Gifted Adults

  1. Superior abilities and sensitivities are frequently experienced as both powerful assets and annoying disabilities.
  2. Desires for friendship and intimacy conflict with needs for privacy.
  3. Leaps of creative insight can often seem less reliable that knowledge gained from logical cognitive processes.
  4. Feeling grateful for supportive parents and mentors conflicts with feelings of resentment for the prolonged dependency required to develop expertise.
  5. Feeling proud of a superior endowment but feeling ashamed and frightened of envy and retaliation.

Therapy for the Gifted Child and Gifted Adolescent

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…

Therapy for the Gifted Adult

Gifted young adults often develop anxiety, existential depression, mood swings similar to the symptoms of bipolar disorder and the cognitive problems of ADHD or learning disabilities – the twice exceptional syndrome. These problems can develop not because of neurobiological deficits or because their conflicts with peers,teachers,inadequate curriculum or parents but because of unresolved emotional conflicts about their “inner experience” of giftedness. The most troublesome conflicts are caused by guilt about possessing an exceptional endowment that permits spectacular precocious accomplishments, grand visions and outsized ambitions or by insecurity because of the drive to function independently yet the need for intimate relationships on which they can depend. A special therapeutic approach that employs CBT techniques and and understanding of the deeper psychodynamics of giftedness is described below…

Underachievement in Gifted Adolescents and Gifted Young Adults

Although gifted adolescents and gifted young adults can become underachievers because of conflicts with their peers,teachers and parents, they also can become underachievers because of unresolved emotional conflicts about their ”inner experience” of giftedness. Chief among these unresolved emotional conflicts about an exceptional endowment that allows for effortless accomplishments well beyond expectations for people their age…

Common Problems of Gifted Children, Gifted Adolescents and Gifted Adults

  • Underachievement
  • Learning disabilities
    • Reading disabilities: dyslexia
    • Writing disabilities: dysgraphia
    • Math disabilities: dyscalculia
  • Perfectionism
  • Procrastination
  • Low motivation
  • Existential depression

Our Diagnostic, Assessment and Therapeutic Approach

Our assessments have two components:
Psycho Dynamic 

  • The Cognitive Behavioral Component
  • Identifies the conscious cognitive aspect of problems such as:
    • Underachievement
    • Self destructive behavior
    • Procrastination

Gifted Individuals with Learning Disabilities (Twice Exceptionality): A Psychodynamic Approach

A psychodynamic approach is an alternative method for the assessment and treatment of learning disabilities and gifted/learning disability syndromes when educational and neuropsychological methods fall short.

It is a comprehensive method that fills the gap left by these two, yet allows for an integrated interpretation of their findings.

A psychodynamic assessment considers the possibility that environmental and emotional factors may be primary causes of learning disabilities and gifted learning disability syndromes.

Psychoeducational and neuropsychological assessments of learning disabilities and gifted learning disability syndromes are based on controversial assumptions that are ultimately pessimistic.

A Psychodynamic approach is based on assumptions that are optimistic

We Are Your Resource

Our observations and conclusions are based on more than 40 years of psychotherapy counseling and advising gifted individual. This website is your resource for learning about psychotherapy for the gifted and much more. Here you will find our many publications, case studies, seminars, videos and an overall understanding of the power of being gifted, the deeper psychology of giftedness as well as the problems of being gifted and how to manage and treat them.

If you need more information or want a consultation please Contact Us