Lisa Erickson, MS, LMHC is a psychotherapist with a full time practice in Seattle,WA working with gifted adults. She is on the faculty at Antioch University and teaches and trains other therapists. She is on the Parent Advisory Committee of the NAGC. You can learn more about her at www.lisaerickson.net
I got an email last night from a father looking for a therapist for his gifted elementary school daughter. He’d already gone through six referrals before he got to me. The catch? He wanted someone in his very limited insurance plan. How can I help this kind and caring father find a needle in a haystack? Sound familiar?
I wish there were a good answer. You’ve read the advice—ask parents of other gifted children for recommendations. Ask your school’s counselor for names. If you live in an urban area, you might know of a school for gifted children. Call their counseling staff and ask them for recommendations. Search online for a “gifted therapist” and see the names that crop up. Check out the therapist lists on SENG, the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, High Ability and Hoagie’s Gifted websites. Good ideas, all!
You get some names. What next? Does the therapist really know about giftedness? Be wary of the therapist who says that they understand giftedness because their child is gifted, and implies that this is sufficient. Or the related claim that the therapist is gifted or a member of a high IQ society. Are these two scenarios enough to claim expertise in giftedness? Partially. After all, you do want a therapist who is smart, and personal experience can be very helpful. But you also want a therapist who has professional training in the clinical presentation of giftedness. How do you find out?
Here are some suggested questions to ask a therapist. They can be asked relatively quickly, saving you time and energy:
1.) “What experience do you have working with gifted children?” Yes, this is obvious. Remember, you will learn more asking an open-ended question.
2.) “If you do psychological testing and assessment, what is your experience doing psychotherapy with children? How do you think these two roles are different?” The two are related, but different skill sets. Skill with one does not imply skill with another. You want to look for an answer that acknowledges the difference between these two.
3.) “What do you think of Kasimierz Dabrowski?” Look for an intelligent and informed answer. Maybe they will mention his Theory of Positive Disintegration or overexcitabilities. You are looking for some familiarity with this central figure in the treatment of gifted people. Yes, there are many important people in the realm of giftedness, but Dabrowski is so fundamental that a lack of familiarity with him is a red flag. If they mention overexcitabilities, skip to question #5.
4.) “What are overexcitabilities and how might they play a role in my child’s current difficulties?” Look for an answer that implies familiarity with the concept. Don’t expect a specific answer to the question. After all, the therapist hasn’t met with you and your child yet. A specific answer would be premature.
5.) “What books or learning resources about giftedness can you recommend? “ This is another question to determine the therapist’s level of familiarity with the subject. A long answer is better than a short answer especially if you pick up some enthusiasm and intensity from the therapist about giftedness.
These questions can help you zero in on whether the therapist has a basic clinical knowledge of giftedness. No one wants to see a therapist who doesn’t “get” it. You want to save yourself and your child from false starts. You want to find the right person sooner than later.
I think about the usefulness of having a certification for therapists that would establish a standard knowledge base about giftedness. Imagine how much easier it would be if you knew you could go to a database and find a therapist with a credential that documented their training. It would also establish giftedness as a specific clinical specialty that would attract more therapists and inform insurance companies. That would be good!
What of our kind father searching for a therapist? I will find out where he lives and give him some more names. You see, I don’t work with children; I work with gifted adults. But I teach and train other therapists about giftedness. I’ve built a list of therapists in Seattle who I have trained and who have expertise with gifted children. I know how they will answer the questions above. I have vetted them all.