I absolutely love being a therapist, especially love being a Play Therapist. It's my jam. I think that I love it so much because my clients are so darn interesting. I love that I have the opportunity to help people find their groove and own their space in this big world. But if I am completely being honest, I really love learning especially from my clients..it just geeks me out.
Lately, my entire caseload of clients have been comprise of overachievers and gifted humans. I often tell my clients that I am not sure why I am afforded the opportunity to work with such extraordinary humans but I will claim it...joyfully. Currently, my caseload of clients range from 9 years old to mid 40s, male and female, private school and public school educated and are/were raised in divorced, single or married homes. It is important to note that if you find one gifted and high achiever then you usually find more under the same roof.
Recently, after spending time researching and reflecting on ways I can better serve my people, I came across interesting information that gave me an ohhhhhh I understand now moment. Dang it, I knew that...silly therapist! Please allow me to unwrap the box.
Overachievers verses Gifted- What's inside their box?
Actually there's quite a lot. Check it out.
Strives for all As Desires intrinsic rewards over grades
Studies hard. Not going to study unless interested in topic
Knows the answers and proves how. Gives novel responses and multiple perspectives
Top Student. Seems defiant at times because of their questioning
Completes assignments Starts projects until mastery and then loses interest
Listens well and open minded. Outside the box thinking and intense
Likes order. Needs originality and is an innovator
Pleased with progress and outcomes. Self-critical
The Connection can be a real Debbie.
Most people assume all "good" things when they hear someone being described as an over achiever or gifted. You might even see a few eye rolls but the truth is quite different for the individual and those who parent and love them. This unique population of humans are quite complex and often struggle with great emotional and social challenges. It's not all peaches people! They are more likely to suffer with anxiety and depression. They often report feeling weird, broken and disconnected from their peers. They are usually more comfortable with older people and tend to be introverts. Perfectionism is their greatest enemy... All of these challenges don't just stop because of adulthood...the struggle continues. They aren't always happy in their careers or lives, they struggle with motivation and the list goes on.
When it comes to mental health, these gifted and over achievers are more often misdiagnosed, too. Most use maladaptive behaviors and negative coping strategies to handle everyday stressors and symptoms of mental illness.
Parenting and Supporting
Stop assuming...It's not easier because they are "smarter" than you or your kids. Parents themselves are more likely to be gifted and over achievers themselves which makes things doubly complicated. Parents of gifted students are not all helicopter parents either, they aren't pushing their kids to this level of living, they actually are struggling to help decrease the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Parents often share that it is exhausting and their worry is creating discontent in their lives and relationships.
The Gifted person is more complicated
There is just more to it than just being gifted. Gifted makes up 2.2% of population which is exactly the same number of intellectually disabled humans, the rest fall in what we call the bell curve (neurotypical norm). With such a tiny number, we as a society envy, we celebrate and often assume more than we should when it comes to the gifted person. The gifted population probably has more research dedicated to them than most but I can't say as I blame them...the researchers are probably gifted, too.
Most of what I experience in my practice has to do with Asynchronous Development. Fancy word that means that a person's development is out of sync with age appropriate peers. When we are not developing like our peers we are impacted negatively emotionally, physically, intellectually, spiritually, and socially. Let that sink in... The thoughts of being weird, broken and not liked are absolutely connected to their feelings of anxiety and depression. These individuals may sound and perform like an adult but make no mistake they want to be appreciated and accepted by their peers. It hurts when we are left out, isolate and misunderstood.
Another factor that shows up with some of my clients is a term called Hyperarousal. This basically means being on high alert and sensitive. For some, the struggle will be with a keen sense of awareness and vigilance, intense emotional and behavioral responses and sensory struggles. With these situations, an unsettling event, even something small can turn into trauma especially in school aged children. The gifted person isn't acting "smart" and "should know better" is not helpful. Brushing it off might not work in these case either.
Overexcitability is often seen in giftedness, too. This is broken down in 5 separate categories:
Psychomotor- lots of energy and drive. Might display tics.
Intellectual- lots of questions, curiosity and a need for details.
Imaginative- "space cadets" with dreams and creativity.
Sensual- highten sense of taste, smell, sight. Loves the spot light and admires beauty.
Emotional- intense feelings, mood shifts and often feelings of loneliness
Man, can I spot my people now, can you?
Once we know, how can we not know? Knowledge is power...you get it now, right?
Basic understanding, education and honesty makes a huge impact on all gifted people and their families. The strongest therapeutic skills I use with my clients are:
Displaying transparence with them.
Understanding and believing in their struggles and challenging those irrational beliefs that tend to plague their thoughts.
Tapping into their right brain by using Sandtray Therapy or a creative intervention which are not only helpful but can be great tools to practice feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable.
Being the self proclaimed fidget Queen, I love sharing my fun fidget tools. (It's important that I show them how to use the fidgets as a tool not just a distraction to avoid interactions).
Exploring existential and identity issues for a better sense of self awareness and purpose.
Identifying and addressing Suicide Ideation and mental health concerns like mood disorders.
Exploring healthy coping skills.
Unwrapping my own gift.
I have no problem owning the fact that my clients are truly smarter than I am, their gifts run deep. I will own it and you might even hear me brag on myself because I also know that my talents run deep, too. I am willing to be real, flawed and bring my creativity to the next level. I will embrace the challenge and match you with grit and determination because I know living outside of the box is cool.
The greatest gifts we can bring to those living outside of that bell curve is really quite simple.
Listen to them.
Empathize with their struggles.
Stop assuming...its not cool and you aren't right.
Check in with their parents and loved ones...they need you. Trust me.
Counseling can be the shift needed to see their gifts...as gifts.
Accurate diagnosis is vital for success.
Don't miss my next blog, I will address the gifted child with the exceptionality or exceptionalities (2E or 3E). So, much to explore and understand but so worth the time for understanding.