Addressing Counseling Needs of Gifted Students

By Peterson, Jean Sunde | Professional School Counseling, October 2006 | Go to article overview

Addressing Counseling Needs of Gifted Students


Peterson, Jean Sunde, Professional School Counseling


Counseling concerns of highly able students may reflect characteristics associated with giftedness. Yet school counselor training programs give scant attention to this phenomenon and to the social and emotional development of these students. School counselors therefore may be unaware of and unequipped to respond to these concerns. Referencing scholarly literature related to giftedness as both asset and burden, the author explores school counselors' potential roles in responding to the needs of gifted students.

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According to a recent unpublished study (Peterson, 2005) of school counseling graduate programs (53% response rate) accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, preparatory curricula give little or no attention to the unique developmental concerns and counseling issues related to high ability. Only 62% of programs gave any attention at all in their entire preparatory program, and 47% devoted three or fewer contact hours. Such little emphasis on the overlay of characteristics associated with giftedness on social and emotional development, on both assets and burdens of high capability, and on the need for differential counseling responses suggests that school counselors may not understand or respond appropriately to counseling concerns of those students. Furthermore, like other educators who may be unaware of complex affective concerns of gifted students, school counselors may have attitudes and biases that preclude trusting relationships, and therefore effective work, with them (Peterson, 2006b).

Positive media stereotypes and school images of intellectually gifted students usually do not make a compelling argument that there are, in fact, a multitude of social and emotional concerns in this population. Associating the words disability or risk or needs with the idea of giftedness simply may not resonate with educators, including school counselors. Yet pertinent research and clinical evidence support the idea that counseling approaches, when working with gifted children and adolescents, should be adjusted to accommodate their abilities and needs, both the proactive, developmentally oriented guidance and the responsive services related to personal crises, as advocated by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA, 2005) for all students. Unfortunately, and perhaps most importantly, highly able students' serious concerns may be invisible, certainly not easily demonstrated when arguing for services (Jackson & Peterson, 2003; Lovecky, 1994; Peterson, 2002). In general, their counseling needs may be outside of the awareness of teachers and school counselors until one of the well endowed suddenly underachieves in middle school, drops out of college, develops an eating disorder, or commits suicide. Even then, those individuals may be viewed simply as aberrations in a population perceived to be mentally healthy, self-directed, and basically self-sufficient.

This article will offer pertinent information from scholarly literature about social and emotional concerns related to giftedness. Underachievement, a common presenting issue, will be discussed at length. Finally, this discussion will focus on pertinent counseling approaches presented in scholarly literature and other recommendations for school counselors.

HOW DIFFERENT ARE GIFTED STUDENTS?

Regardless of the level of their actual academic achievement, and regardless of cutoff scores for identification in their particular school, gifted students are at the upper end of the bell curve of school abilities. Important for teachers and counselors to understand is that students so identified are as different from their average-ability peers in intellectual processing as are the students in the same small percent at the opposite end of the continuum. At the upper end, the "tail" can continue for a long distance, representing increasingly extreme difference. …

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