"There is no off position on the genius switch."
David Letterman

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. "
attributed to Albert Einstein

"People think genius is fine thing if it enables a man to write an exciting poem, or paint a picture. But in its true sense, that of originality in thought and action, though no one says that it is not a thing to be admired, nearly all, at heart, think they can do very well without it."
J.S. Mill

"It is never too late to be what you might have been."
George Eliot

"It isn't easy being green."
Kermit the Frog


Understanding the counseling needs of gifted people is important. Being gifted and talented is about more than grades and high IQ. It affects emotions, sensations, energy level, concentration, and imagination as well as other attributes. Most importantly, giftedness does not disappear with childhood. Gifted and talented children grow up to be gifted and talented adults, and sometimes, they need psychotherapy.

A common way to understand the challenges associated with being gifted is to think about a physical equivalent. If you were a gifted and talented athlete, you would be treated with high regard, encouraged to train with others of equal skill, given accolades and encouragement. People would ask about your accomplishments and pat you on the back. Your trophies would be proudly displayed. No one would look at you oddly, or think you were weird. People would be glad to know you.

If you are intellectually gifted, the opposite can be true. You may be thought of as weird or geeky. You may be admonished to fit in and not draw attention to yourself. You may be criticized for alienating others or be perceived as elitist. Your intellectual peers are hard to find, because there isn't a cultural mechanism to support or celebrate you. You may find yourself feeling lonely and isolated.

Women who place high value on community may fear being socially ostracized. Many gifted people, and women in particular, simply don't know they are gifted! Or they may have forgotten due to the demands of parenting and partnering, believing that they left their gifted qualities behind in school. If you add being a person of color on top of that, things get even more complicated.

  • Have you been told you are "too sensitive" or "too intense"?
  • Are you a perfectionist with yourself and/or others?
  • Are you easily bored when not mentally stimulated?
  • Do you question rules and authority? Do others think you are a "pain"?
  • Are you curious and perceptive? Do you notice things other people don't?
  • Is it hard to stay focused on just one thing?
  • Do you have a lot of energy?
  • Do you have an off-beat sense of humor?
  • Is it easier to be alone than be with others? Are you an introvert?
  • Can you entertain yourself easily?
  • Do you feel exhausted or irritated around other people sometimes for no apparent reason?
  • Do you compare yourself to other smart people and decide that you are not as smart as them?
  • Do you have strong feelings about ethics, justice and human suffering?
  • Do you feel different? Do others think you are weird or quirky?
  • Do you like games, puzzles, words, complexity, and/or mathematics?
  • Do you value precision and exactness in work, life and language?
  • Are you sometimes deeply moved, even to tears, by nature or by works of art or music?
  • Do you have a child, parent, or partner who is gifted?

How many of these questions did you answer "yes"? To better understand your giftedness, you can read the article Coming out Gifted. Or listen to Misdiagnosing Gifted Children and Adults.

Giftedness and Counseling

Why does understanding giftedness matter in psychotherapy?  Giftedness can lead to difficulties at work and in relationships. Very few therapists understand or even consider giftedness as an important factor in working with people. It is not a topic that is taught in graduate school.

I have experience working with gifted people and have trained other clinicians to recognize the unique needs of the gifted. Finding a therapist who understands the differences between giftedness and psychopathology can mean the difference between having a successful therapy experience in which you feel better about your life and circumstances versus one that leaves you feeling frustrated and misunderstood. I also know from personal experience what a difference this knowledge can make. 


Think of the gifted brain as an engine.   Its horsepower is not just limited to intellect. The brain with more horsepower runs faster and more intensely in other areas as well. These intensities occur in five main areas--psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational and emotional and can mimic some diagnoses.

Giftedness may be  misdiagnosed as narcissism, bipolar disorder, OCD, ADD, or other diagnoses.  Gifted people may get depressed given their heightened sensitivity, awareness of injustice, and sense of isolation stemming from a lack of peers and tendency towards introversion. Experience with giftedness can lead to an accurate diagnosis or the removal of an inaccurate one. What if you discovered that there wasn't anything wrong with you, but rather there was something quite right about you?

Beliefs and Misconceptions about Being Gifted and Talented

Giftedness is just about intelligence or IQ.
No, there is more. The gifted share personality traits like perfectionism, intensity, sensitivity, idealism and introversion.

Ability automatically leads to high achievement.

It does not.  Gifted people may not realize their gifts or may not care about societal definitions of success.

The gifted do not need any special support.
They might.  Gifted people often feel misunderstood.  Depression and other issues become concerns.

Being female and gifted presents no unique challenges.
It might. Giftedness among girls tends to go underground especially during the middle school years. Girls may choose social acceptance over developing their gifts.

Being gifted and a minority presents no unique challenges.
It might. There is more to overcome when you are not from the dominant culture. This can interfere with the identification and expression of giftedness, and may limit your access to resources.

Children are the only ones that are gifted.
Giftedness does not disappear with childhood. It doesn't go away, but it can go underground.

Intelligence overcomes all obstacles.
If this were true, the gifted would be well represented in visible positions of leadership and acclaim.  This is not the case.

You can identify a gifted person by how well they do in school and in work.
Not necessarily and for some, the opposite might be true if they get bored and tune out.

If a person knows they are gifted, they will have "a big head".
Actually lots of gifted people minimize their gifts or feel self-conscious about them. Some gifted people might not know they are gifted but feel different from others. Or they may compare themselves to someone else who they think is smarter, and use that as proof that they are not smart. Giftedness looks different from person to person.