Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

Family Therapy with Gifted and Talented Adolescents

Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

Family Therapy with Gifted and Talented Adolescents

Article excerpt

Family therapy has been recommended as a counseling modality For gifted adolescents and their families. The purpose of this article is to propose and discuss 3 guiding questions that can help counselors conceptualize and differentiate family therapy with gifted and talented adolescents: (1) What is the problem? (2) Who is in the room? and (3) What approach to family therapy will be most effective? For each question, we first summarize relevant family therapy theory and research. Then, we provide recommendations based on a small, but growing literature on counseling with families of gifted and talented youth plus our own clinical experience as family therapists working with families of gifted and talented adolescents. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of this literature for clinical practice, counselor training, parents of gifted adolescents, and future research.

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Most counselors in the field of gifted education have been trained in individual counseling modalities such as clinical psychology, counseling psychology, school counseling, or school psychology. Hence, the natural inclination of counselors with these types of training is to conduct individual sessions with gifted adolescents who are experiencing social/emotional difficulties or who are underachieving in school. However, individual counseling may not be as effective as family therapy in working with gifted adolescents for several reasons. First, research suggests that family therapy is an effective treatment modality for a number of adolescent mental health problems, including internalizing and externalizing disorders (Chamberlin & Rosicky, 1995; Estrada & Pinsof, 1995; Goldstein & Miklowitz, 1995; Prince & Jacobson, 1995). Second, family functionality has been shown to predict positive and negative development outcomes among gifted children (Sowa & May, 1997). Third, the family plays a crucial role in facili tating or inhibiting talent development during the adolescent years (Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde, & Whalen, 1993). In addition, family therapy has been recommended by professionals in the field of gifted education for counseling dysfunctional families with gifted adolescents (Wendorf & Frey, 1985) and for issues related to giftedness such as underachievement and dual-exceptionalities (Moon, in press; Moon & Hall, 1998). There are converging lines of evidence that suggest that family therapy can be an effective counseling approach for gifted and talented adolescents, especially those with adjustment difficulties, serious mental health problems, or dysfunctional family systems.

Unfortunately, few counselors who specialize in working with gifted and talented adolescents are trained in family therapy, and few family therapists receive training in how to differentiate family therapy for gifted and talented adolescents and their families. Both groups of counseling professionals need guidance to be effective in using family therapy with gifted adolescents. The purpose of this paper is to propose and discuss three guiding questions that can help counselors conceptualize and differentiate family therapy with gifted and talented adolescents:

* What is the problem?

* Who is in the room?

* What approach will be most effective?

Our goal is to provide guidance grounded in our own clinical experience that will assist counselors who want to use family therapy to promote the development of gifted and talented adolescents.

What is the Problem?

Problem Definition

A key issue in family therapy is problem definition. Family therapists distinguish between the presenting problem and the therapeutic problem, in much the same way that creative problem solvers distinguish between the initial "fuzzy problem," or "mess," and the problem statement that emerges after it has been thoroughly explored (Feldhusen & Treffinger, 1985; Isaksen & Treffinger, 1985). …

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