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Require An Exceptional Approach
Issues in counseling gifted children
By Andrew S. Mahoney, M.S.,
While there are many methods of counseling,
there are few specific modalities designed for counseling gifted
children. Because of the exceptional nature attributed to giftedness,
it would be naive to assume that conventional approaches to counseling
would suffice when working with this population. For this reason,
this description contains just a few of the many nuances related
to assessment, the counselor's role, and the counseling process
Beginning with assessment, it is
extremely important that the counselor make a precise distinction
as to the etiology of the child's problem. In other words, is the
problem indicative of a psychiatric disturbance, an implication
of something related to giftedness, or a complex combination of
One of the reasons this distinction
is critical is that a mislabel or misdiagnosis may be harmful to
the child. There are several psychiatric symptoms and diagnostic
categories that resemble characteristics of giftedness. The following
are some of the more commonly observed psychiatric diagnostic categories
which, because of their relatedness to giftedness, counselors should
be consider carefully as they assess and diagnose their patients:
ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Bi-Polar Disorder (Manic Depression)
Borderline Personality Disorder (or any of
the Axis II Diagnostic Categories)
PDD: Pervasive Developmental Disorder
Any other psychiatric diagnostic category that
may be atypical in nature
In addition, the counselor's role
is shaded by subtleties that pertain specifically to her giftedness
and her knowledge issues related to giftedness. To be fully prepared
to effectively work with gifted people, counselors should:
Know their own giftedness.
A counselor needs a clear concept of his or her own identity as
a gifted person, attributes and deficits alike.
Have a strong theoretical
base and knowledge of the characteristics of gifted children.
Be aware of the resources
available for gifted children: support groups, parent organizations,
educational opportunities, bibliographies, etc.
Be creative in the approach
to counseling. Conventional counseling methodologies may not
be the best choice for relatively unconventional clientele.
Remember that gifted children
have exceptional abilities. It is easy to be fooled by exceptional
intellect and interpersonal abilities.
Ask for help. Exceptional
cases require exceptional help. One of the main characteristics
of gifted children is their strong sense of independence. Model
interdependence and seek the insight of more knowledgeable colleagues.
Gifted children often demonstrate
deviant behavior. Counselors should be mindful of their value
structures for deviant behavior and be conscious of their real feelings.
Be an advocate. This
may require you to expand your role as counselor by educating others
involved with the child and coordinating services for them.
Be yourself. Gifted
children require authenticity in relationships. They see right through
contrived methodologies. They seek and require relatedness in their
Some of the more relevant issues
to be addressed in the counseling process are:
Identifying Giftedness and
Forming a "Gifted" Identity The child needs the opportunity
to know precisely how he is gifted, what that giftedness means to
him, and how that giftedness plays a role in his identity and life.
Identity is perhaps the most significant issue to be addressed in
Denial of Giftedness
Many gifted children are distressed because they lack awareness
and acceptance of their giftedness. Help them know and accept the
construct of being gifted as it applies to them. The same issue
applies to the parents of the gifted child.
Struggling with Deviance The
denial that giftedness may exist can happen in part because having
deviant behavior is not always an accepted trait. The childıs deviance
in behavior can lead to a whole host of social and emotional problems.
It is important to assist the client to be aware of his deviance
and develop methods to foster their differences rather than be distressed
Family Issues These
are complex and too numerous to cover here, but it is crucial that
the parents have a strong involvement in the counseling process,
either through family therapy, parent education, or other support
Facing Deficits This
is one of the primary themes and most delicate to deal with in counseling
the gifted. Once the counselor has first assisted the client in
identifying specific areas of giftedness, the process can then move
forward in helping the gifted child identify areas of deficit. Facing
these deficits will be the most challenging aspect for the child
and the counselor and will be the most rewarding for both.
Identifying the issues of counseling
gifted children in the areas of assessment, counselorıs role and
the counseling process will assist counselors in providing an exceptional
approach to these exceptional children.
This article first appeared in Counseling
& Guidance Newsletter, Summer, 1995, Volume 5, Issue 2.
© Copyrighted material from the National Association for Gifted
Children (NAGC). This material may not be reprinted without permission
from NAGC, Washington, D.C. (202-785-4268). On the web at www.nagc.org.
Andrew S. Mahoney, MS, L.P.C., L.M.F.T., is
director of The Counseling Practice of Andrew S. Mahoney , a
counseling center for the gifted and talented. In addition, he
is past chair of the Counseling and Guidance Division of the
National Association of Gifted Children, and a trainer and supervisor
of counselors. For 20 plus years, Mr. Mahoney has explored and
developed frameworks for the counseling and psychotherapy of
Gifted and Talented individuals. His work offers a new and original
perspective for those interested in better serving this unique
population. He is also a professional pastel artist. To view
his online web porfolio, click
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