Tips for Mental Health Clinicians

from Lisa Erickson,  MS, LMHC


  • If a parent thinks their child might be gifted, believe them. Parents are often the first to know and have been shown to have good diagnostic reliability.
  • Parents of gifted children can be exhausted keeping up with their children. It is less likely that the parent is pushing the child, and more likely, that the parent is struggling to keep up.
  • Become a good diagnostician. Your differential diagnosis skills are key. Some aspects of giftedness can look like psychopathology. Conversely, high ability can mask deficits in other areas. Read Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger’s, Depression and Other Disorders by Webb, et al. Keep it in your bookcase right next to your DSM.
  • Don’t confuse being atypical with being abnormal.
  • Become fluent in the clinical issues associated with giftedness like perfectionism, existential depression, asynchrony, loneliness, introversion, etc.
  • Understand that just as being 2 standard deviations (SD) BELOW the average IQ confers a variety of affective and neurological differences, so does being on the far right of the bell shaped curve. Become familiar with the affective and neurological presentation of people 2SDs above the mean IQ (or greater). These are often called overexcitabilities.
  • Understand that gifted children may be particularly vulnerable to exploitation by adults especially if they have a caregiver with a chronic problem that has been minimized or denied.
  • Become fluent in the myths and stereotypes about giftedness. Make sure that you don’t collude with gifted stereotypes, inadvertently harming your client by perpetuating those same stereotypes. Read Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude M. Steele. While this book is not specifically about giftedness, it should be required reading for those who work in the field.
  • Check your stereotypes about homeschooling. Homeschooling parents of gifted children have usually tried many other educational options before choosing homeschooling. It is not an automatic indicator of non-mainstream religious beliefs, or an enmeshed family system.
  • Understand that giftedness is an attribute that should be claimed–not minimized, contained or hidden. Healthy identity and good mental health is about owning and integrating all of one’s attributes.
  • Understand that the world of giftedness is incredibly diverse. One gifted child can be very different from another.
  • Remember that wealth enables; poverty disables. Giftedness exists in all cultures, racial and ethnic groups.
  • It is not enough to be gifted yourself, to be a member of a high IQ society, or to be the parent of a gifted child.  To claim expertise in counseling the gifted, you need continuing education or graduate training in the clinical presentation and issues associated with giftedness.
  • If you have been trained as a school counselor or psychologist, check with your state mental health licensing board to make sure that you have taken the necessary graduate coursework to provide mental health services in non-educational settings. The curriculums are different. Many school counseling or psychology programs inform their students that a degree from their program does not prepare them for working in mental health settings or in private practice. This kind of cautionary note is easy to forget.


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