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Gifted adults in psychotherapy

I’ve been thinking about what makes gifted adults unique to work with in my private practice. Ten common characteristics make them stand out from the crowd.

  1. Gifted adults come to therapy ready and able to do challenging cognitive work. This makes sense because their resilience to adversity is 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 sessions ready to report observations they have made between sessions both about themselves and about the world.
  1. Gifted adults are willing participants in the therapeutic process. They quickly see the benefits of therapy when they apply what they are learning about themselves and the world in their daily lives.
  1. Gifted adults are successful in their chosen fields. This is an almost universal observation in my practice, regardless of the age or educational-level of my gifted clients. They tend to be risk-takers, willing to experiment with new ways of being both inside and outside of session.
  1. Gifted adults are able to push themselves hard. They frequently read outside of session, which allows them to access more information and resources than I can give them in an hour-long session. They enjoy working collaboratively and use me as a sounding board to bounce ideas off.
  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 want to achieve results quickly and will act on suggestions outside of session. They want to stretch their perspectives – and themselves – as much as possible. This requires me 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. Once we establish a trusting relationship and they have made gains, however, they are often willing to stretch themselves and to venture into working in less known areas – with emotions and somatically – more easily.
  1. Gifted adults are less skilled when we talk about emotions. Their ability to be in their heads is often what has allowed them to succeed in life. When I ask them to identify their emotions, or to “sit” in their emotions, things can feel foreign and less certain initially.
  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. Being asked to do something they’re not good at yet, 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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