Navigating Guidance & Counseling for Gifted Children
As parents, we worry. There are times when our children are stressed out, sad, or impulsive in ways that may make us wonder if it is appropriate to reach out for professional counseling. When your child is gifted, trying to walk the tight rope between what is “normal” for your quirky, bright child and when it is time to be concerned can be especially difficult. In this article we will review some of the main reasons parents of gifted children might seek counseling, how to select the right professional, and provide special considerations for counseling gifted children within the context of therapy.
When Should I Seek Counseling for my Gifted Child?
Gifted children present a unique challenge to parents because of their asynchronous development and their intensity around different topics. It can be hard for parents to parse out gifted characteristics, from developmental milestones, from real causes for concern. While it may be frustrating to hear, there is no one answer to the question of when you should seek counseling for your gifted child. This will depend on your child’s individual profile and patterns as well as the goal for seeking professional guidance. However, there are several situations where finding a gifted therapist could benefit your family.
- Professionals like psychologists can be a part of any family’s ongoing health and treatment team. Gifted children often reach developmental phases earlier than their age-peers and may benefit from having a professional to talk through the various challenges of adolescences, such as fostering social skills or a sense of confidence to pursue their goals.
- Parents might pursue professional counseling for their gifted student to help them through a rough patch or specific traumatic incident. This may be triggered by the loss of a family member, bullying in school, or moving to a new town. Because they often present as “little adults” or much wiser than their years, we can sometimes forget that gifted students are still children first, and they still need scaffolding to help them process big emotions or overcome obstacles even if they aren’t outwardly showing signs of distress.
- As with any child, counseling or therapy should be sought when there is an ongoing psychological issue or pattern of behavior that negatively affects their quality of life. Common examples for gifted children may include episodic depression, prolonged anxiety, re-occurring impulse control and emotional outbursts, or the use of illegal substances.
Of course, parents may choose to seek counseling for their gifted child for reasons other than those listed above. You know your child best, and as such, it is important that you pay attention to your “parent gut.” If you’re feeling uncertain, you may want to track how often the issue arises, the intensity of the issue, and how long the issue lasts to determine if there is a cause for concern. The guidance and counseling of gifted students is vitally important.
How Do I Select a Gifted Child Counselor or Therapist?
Gifted therapists or gifted child counselors can help with the emotional needs of gifted students. Once you decide to seek a gifted therapist, you may be asking yourself how to select the right one for your child. “Shopping around” for a therapist is a normal part of the process, and it may take a few tries until you find one that aligns with your family values and fits within your financial and logistical limitations.
Some of the following considerations and questions may help your family as you seek guidance and counseling for your gifted child:
- Does your child feel they could trust this person? The initial rapport-building process can reveal a lot! Therapy is relational, and without the buy-in of your child, it likely won’t go far. Your child needs to trust that they will be heard and respected when they choose to share. Similarly, your parent gut may provide early warning bells that aren’t to be ignored.
- Does the therapist or counselor have the proper training to assist your family? There are a variety of specialists and treatment approaches that may influence your decision.
- Is the therapist familiar with gifted and talented individuals or are they willing to learn more? Sadly, few professionals receive training on gifted children, and you might need to be prepared to provide a gifted crash-course for them. As when selecting schools, if they respond with answers like “all children are gifted,” then you need not inquire within! An openness to learning about giftedness in the absence of training is a good indicator that the professional will really take the time to understand who your child is.
Some therapists are specifically trained in the guidance and counseling of gifted students. To begin your search for the right therapist for your gifted child, you might start by:
- Asking trusted family members and friends for recommendations
- Ask around within local or state gifted associations or by other gifted groups who get you and your gifted child
- Search the listings on state licensing boards
- Reach out to one of the following gifted services for more information:
Are There Special Considerations for Counseling the Gifted and Talented?
Gifted and twice-exceptional students may be at risk for missed- or misdiagnosis. These students often have over-excitabilities, advanced self-awareness, or existential thinking, which may not necessarily be linked to any psychological distress. On the other hand, their high functioning may be masking their difficulties. This is why it is crucial for the gifted therapist or gifted child counselor to establish the gifted child’s profile before mistaking their gifted characteristics for a possible pathology.
Gifted students can be demanding patients. They often have high expectations on themselves. This may make a genuine rapport difficult if they see the therapeutic process as another high achievement opportunity where they can earn praise. In addition, they may be used to working through issues independently and try to conclude sessions prematurely. They also have high expectations of others. While they are children, gifted students may disengage in the process if they feel their intelligence isn’t being respected.
Gifted or not, the general stigma around seeking professional help may create a sense of shame for children who think there is something “wrong” with them. Framing it as a family endeavor may prevent children from feeling singled out, especially since they may already feel that way due to their giftedness. In addition, family involvement may be necessary to address household dynamics or help provide additional insight to therapists when working with pre-adolescents.
What Can I Do to Help My Gifted Child in the Meantime?
The following articles provide additional insight for parents who might be considering a gifted therapist for their child:
Understanding Psychotherapy and How It Works
Gifted Challenges: A gifted person’s guide to therapy
Anxiety, Sensitivities and Social Struggles among Profoundly Gifted Kids
Episode 39: Part One – Suicide Among the Gifted and Twice-Exceptional — The Neurodiversity Podcast
Existential depression in gifted individuals
Supporting Emotional Wellness at Home for Gifted and 2e Students
Underachievement in Exceptionally Gifted Adolescents and Young Adults: A Psychiatrist’s View
25 Year Review: Gifted Children – Youth Mental Health
Disclaimer: The appearance of any information in the Davidson Institute’s Resource Library does not imply an endorsement by, or any affiliation with, the Davidson Institute. All information presented is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve in place of expert medical or psychological advice.