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Gifted adults in psychotherapy

I’ve recently been thinking about what makes gifted adults unique to work with as clients in my private practice.

I’ve created a list of common characteristics that make gifted adults stand out from the crowd.

  1. Gifted adults come to therapy ready and able to do cognitive work. This makes sense because, beginning in childhood, their resilience has been based on their high IQ and intellectual abilities.
  1. Gifted adults make progress at great speed when we’re working cognitively, or “top-down.” They are able to grasp – and own – new concepts quickly. They want to be supported and allowed to run as they put together and explore novel ideas. Because their minds never stop working, they come to session ready to report observations they have made, both about themselves and about the world, between sessions.
  1. Gifted adults are willing participants in the therapeutic process. This is because they quickly see the benefits of therapy when they apply what they are learning about themselves and the world.
  1. Gifted adults are successful in their chosen fields. This is almost a universal observation in my practice, regardless of their age or education. Gifted adults tend to be risk-takers, willing to experiment with new ways of being both inside and outside of session.
  1. Gifted adults are willing and able to push themselves hard. They will frequently read outside of session, which allows them to access additional information and resources. They enjoy working collaboratively, and look to their therapist to be a sounding board to bounce ideas off of.

 

  1. Gifted adults apply themselves with a single-minded focus. This characteristic applies across the board, regardless of whether we are talking about their work life or personal life. They typically want to achieve results quickly and will act on suggestions outside of session. They want to stretch their perspectives – and themselves – as quickly as possible. This requires their therapist to move quickly, too.
  1. Gifted adults may argue that they want to keep our work at a cognitive level. This makes sense because they may feel safest and most confident when in their heads. However, once we establish a trusting relationship and they have made gains, they are often willing to stretch themselves and to venture into the unknown – the emotional and physical – more easily.
  1. Gifted adults are less skilled when we talk about emotions. What has allowed them to succeed in life has often been their ability to be in their heads. When I ask them to identify their emotions, or to “sit” in their emotions, things can initially become foreign and less certain.
  1. Gifted adults are less skilled when we talk about physical sensations they feel in their bodies. Gifted adults are often out of touch with their physical selves – especially if they experienced developmental trauma as children.
  1. Gifted adults struggle when we discuss giving less of themselves to their work or unhealthy relationships. They struggle when I suggest that they “sit in their discomfort.” Their success has required that they use their strengths. But now, suddenly, they are being asked to do something they’re not good at. To go back to being a beginner, and to begin building skills from the ground up can be tough for gifted adults.

Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta

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