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The Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted Individuals

Thanks to a series of workshops by Dr. James Webb, I have been reading more about the social and emotional needs of gifted individuals. Dr. Webb was the President of a publishing company that publishes books on many different topics related to understanding and working with gifted individuals. For more information on Dr. Webb's company, please check I have also included a few links below.

In working with all age clients, I have noticed that individuals who are highly intelligent present with mental health challenges especially with self-soothing, relationships, and at times, sensory integration issues. Because I focus on a client's strengths, I explore possible logical explanations for the client's symptoms.

Young children who are highly intelligent often present in the therapist's office with parents reporting that the child's symptoms include high activity, temper tantrums, difficulty in school, impulsivity such as blurting out questions and being disrespectful to teachers, and difficulty self-soothing. What is especially noticeable with children is the discrepancy between what the child can cognitively think about, but cannot emotionally handle. This discrepancy often is evidenced in emotional dysregulation and difficulty self-soothing and/or calming. Preverbal toddles often struggle until language develops that is commensurate with intellectual level and speed.

Many children who are gifted may have also experienced a range of traumas because they can't relate to other children and struggle socially, adults may have difficulty with these precocious children who asks many questions, and gifted youngsters may be mislabeled with mental health disorders. Gifted individuals may experience existential depression, anxiety, obsessions and compulsions, and varying degrees of trauma. This is where using EMDR with gifted individuals can be very successful. Targeting the client's symptoms through the additional lenses of giftedness and trauma can be very helpful.

Therapists need to assess all clients for level of intellectual functioning and possible giftedness. It isn't always necessary to conduct intellectual assessments, but therapists can ask the older client about what classes the client was placed in school. There are many indications of a client's giftedness that are evident without formal psychological testing.

My goal with this post is to get all therapists providing psychotherapy to consider the role that giftedness may play with each client. I hope this begins your exploration of giftedness in mental health.

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