Counseling Gifted Clients and Their Families: Comparing Clients' and Counselors' Perspectives

By Bourdeau, Beth; Thomas, Volker | Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Counseling Gifted Clients and Their Families: Comparing Clients' and Counselors' Perspectives


Bourdeau, Beth, Thomas, Volker, Journal of Secondary Gifted Education


The literature on counseling the gifted comes mainly from an individual- and pathology-based approach with roots in clinical psychology. This study investigated the application of a systemic and resource-based approach with roots in a postmodern orientation to counseling for gifted families. Two sets of participants were interviewed: three counselors and three families who had recently completed counseling using a postmodern approach. A multiple case study was conducted, using constant comparison of the transcripts of interviews to develop themes describing the experience of participants in counseling. Readings of the transcripts produced categories of themes related to roles and goals of counseling. The themes indicated that counselors saw a process of negotiating expectations, while client family members felt that they received the type of service they expected when they began counseling. The findings suggest that clinicians may want to be overt in their theoretical orientation with clients and be aware of how they are meeting or nor meeting the clients' expectations.

"Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress"---Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

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Since the formal identification of the gifted through Terman's landmark longitudinal study starting in the 1920s (Terman & Oden, 1947; Shurkin, 1992), much work has been done to identify the characteristics of gifted individuals. As this literature expanded, there developed an interest in the families of the gifted and what characteristics were unique to them. Many qualities were found to be common in gifted families: resourcefulness, creativity, and high levels of achievement (Fell, Dahlstrom, & Winter, 1984; Olszewski, Kulieke, & Buescher, 1987; Robinson & Noble, 1991). Gifted individuals, as well as their families, were also found to have a number of more troubling attributes, such as perfectionism, intensity, and high levels of sensitivity, which create a particular set of problems (Colangelo & Assouline, 1993; Moon, Jurich, & Feldhusen, 1998; Moon, Nelson, & Piercy; 1993; Porter & Meyers, 1995; Webb, 1993).

One central counseling approach has been developed over time to address the concerns of gifted families and children. Beginning in the schools, where most gifted children are identified and problems discovered, the approach was heavily influenced by the traditional, individual models of counseling based in psychology that emphasized problem-solving skills and direct advice to families (Mendaglio; 1993; Porter & Meyers, 1995; Silverman, 1993).

Given the characteristics of gifted families documented in the empirical literature, the traditional, expert-oriented approach of gifted and talented (GT) counseling does not seem to be the best fit for this population (Webb, 1993), only because it does not seem to make use of the resourcefulness or creativity that may be found in these families. Intuitively, a more collaborative and empowering approach might better make use of the resources documented in this population, such as those approaches from a postmodern perspective. However, based on clinical experience with gifted individuals and their families, many GT families come to counseling expecting an expert-oriented approach, not a collaborative approach.

To date, very little research has been done in the field of family counseling with gifted individuals and their families. Three such studies involved a case study approach with gifted families (Moon, Nelson, & Piercy, 1993; Thomas, 1995, 1999). These were primarily focused on treatment modalities with specific families. Moon and Hall (1998) elaborated on unique concerns of gifted families and the implications for counseling. They gave recommendations on approaches that counselors might use for work with the gifted. The work by Moon, Nelson, and Piercy and Moon and Hall were concerned primarily with an eclectic theoretical approach to counseling. …

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