HELPING GIFTED ADULTS
When we hear about coaches, we usually think of them for athletes performing individually or on sports teams. Occasionally, we associate them with helping adults personally or professionally to improve their life or work situation. For gifted adults, learning through coaching would maximize their potential since they already have the mental ability to learn complex concepts and skills quickly and to retain them. Many gifted adults have goals to attain, challenges to cope with or issues to resolve but hesitate to have someone experienced or knowledgeable to help coach them. Without coaching, an individual may not accomplish as much or fulfill their potential; they may also put up with or tolerate undesirable situations and scale down their goals and expectations. I will present positive aspects of coaching that will include how coaching would work, what benefits would be gained, what areas would be selected, and what reasons would be considered to make coaching worthwhile.
A coach for gifted adults will encourage their client to identify needs, goals, and issues that they want to attain or change. The coach will help the individual focus on taking action, producing results more rapidly, and doing more than what they might have done on their own. To accomplish more, the coach will provide support, structure, techniques, and strategies to the client. The gifted adult should be willing to include someone to help them identify, strategize, design, and implement this plan of action to attain a successful outcome. Coaching methods include training, providing structure, and sharing information which can be done in face to face sessions, by telephone consultations, or by use of the internet. In addition to conversations, the client will be given homework to read, study, and learn, will be asked to document behaviors to integrate into a regular routine, and to take action. Coaching sessions usually occur three to four times per month and are paid monthly in advance.
Not just any lifestyle coach would be best for gifted adults. The coach should understand and be knowledgeable about child and adult giftedness. The coach should be experienced in working with them, know research about them, and understand issues that they are likely to face. Thus, the coach should understand the client’s specific level of ability and potential. Other factors in gifted coaching include awareness that further assessment of abilities, skills, and characteristics may be beneficial, that not all parts of a person work at the same level, that love of learning is understood, and that society’s perception of giftedness is less positive than that for gifted athletes. Coaching gifted individuals has been previously described and case examples were cited by Dansinger (2001).
Coaching is effective for a number of reasons. Coaching interaction requires using communication skills of listening, guiding, supporting, clarifying, truth telling, challenging, training, and caring. The client receives an intellectual challenge, outside objective influence, continual and quick access, creative collaboration, and full confidentiality. The coaching techniques come from psychological and behavioral research, education and training skills, theories of management and business, sports and teamwork skills, parenting and self help skills, motivational techniques, practical judgment and proven wisdom. Thus, the gifted adult benefits by gaining sharper thinking, rewarding goals, more money and/or security, faster results, meaningful achievements, rapid personal development and a happier and more fulfilling life. (Dansinger, 2010) Client goals could include career advancement, personal development, financial independence, healthy lifestyle changes, communication and thinking skills, family and home life enhancement, problem solving, organization and executive skills, job satisfaction, or improved relationships. Many of these coaching techniques are stated in “The Coaching Starter Kit” (2003) by CoachVille.com.
When a client contacts a coach about services, there are a number of emotions and thoughts that arise before a first session occurs. Feelings such as excitement, uncertainty, fear, contentment, doubt, curiosity, or worry would be expected and considered normal even though the person is ready to make a positive change. One should expect to give the coach honest reporting, feedback, a positive attitude, an effort to build trust with the coach, completion of assignments, timeliness, direct communication, and fee payments. In turn, the client should expect the coach to work hard to build trust, to be confidential, available, and constructive, to be tenacious about progress, to be respectful and nonjudgmental in attitude, to show commitment and integrity, and to focus on goals and action plans so that the client will have more of what they truly want in life. The coach will ask the client questions to clarify, encourage, challenge, and strengthen their desires so they can refocus, develop, take action, and fully use their talents and resources to make the best decisions.
Five years ago I presented a workshop session at the Annual Conference of the Minnesota Council for Gifted and Talented Children entitled “Counseling Needs and Concerns of Gifted Adults and Children”. The topics I discussed would also apply to gifted adults in need of coaching. The topics included areas of self knowledge and awareness, personal and interpersonal skills, pursuit of excellence, and gifted with a disorder or a disability (twice exceptional). Many of these topics were listed in an article by Susannah Wood (2010) in Gifted Child Quarterly, 54(1)42.
Reasons to consider coaching under the category of self knowledge and awareness involve strengthening a person’s insights about and attention to others. These characteristics include recognizing my emotional and behavioral impact on others and their behaviors on me; understanding my personal options, choices, strengths, and weaknesses; recognizing my differences from others – my different learning styles and values to live by; identifying and correcting distortions in my thinking; establishing a desirable balance between work, family, and social/recreational activities; attaining social maturity, and overcoming resistance to beneficial advice or suggestions.
In the areas of personal and interpersonal skills, these behaviors are not usually taught directly at home or school yet are highly valued in daily living and maintaining relationships. Skills in these areas include developing friendships, conflict resolution, problem solving, coping with the stress of daily living, giving myself affirmations and positive self talk, developing leadership skills, sustaining motivation, developing independence and self regulation of behavior, learning executive skills, and developing creative thinking.
More than others, the gifted adult has to deal with topics related to the pursuit of excellence. These areas include understanding of others’ and society’s definition of “gifted”, dealing with emotions such as loneliness, isolation, boredom, worry, unhappiness, and frustration; recognizing the high expectations they have for themself, producing a high level of work, designing an appropriate career path, understanding what it is like to be a person with a gift or talent, recognizing the pressure to achieve and contribute to society, understanding the value of sustained effort, persisitence, and struggles, and developing a high level quality of life.
Gifted adults who also have a disability or a disorder would be considered “twice exceptional”. They would not only have to deal with their gifts and high potential but also have to cope with their disability. There are a number of executive skills to learn such as time management, organization, planning ahead, task initiation and completion, prioritizing, and emotional regulation. Developing coping skills for their disabilities and integrating important daily routines can be established through coaching.
About two years ago I surveyed about 20 gifted adults that I had as clients. I asked them to indicate issues in which they had concerns and problem areas that they would like to change. Out of a list of 23 possible issues, they indicated an average of 10.4 problem areas. The issue list was published in a research study by Paula Prober (1999).
The most common problems are listed below in descending order with percentages of clients who indicated this problem:
1 Lack of intellectual stimulation (78%)
1 Boredom and frustration with repetition (78%)
3 Isolation (72%)
3 Perfectionism; relentless self criticism (72%)
5 Guilt (67%)
5 Conflict over not doing enough or doing too much (67%)
5 Dumbing down (67%)
8 No time to save the world (61%)
9 Career on hold or balancing career and family (56%)
10 Overwhelmed by others’ needs (50%)
10 Painful memories of school (50%)
12 Societal and self expectations to be superhuman (44%)
12 Conflict in partnership (44%)
12 Child’s intensity together with own sensitivities (44%)
Another survey performed at the Gifted Development Center in Denver, CO reported by Betty Maxwell in 2011 indicated a common list of specific issues of gifted adults. Some of the problems are:
- Multipotentiality – too many gifts; have to make choices
- Loneliness – Where are others like me? Who is my peer group?
- Too excitable; too conscientious, too intense, too many problems
- ADHD and giftedness
- Heightened empathy and awareness in a callous world
- Expectations; living up to one’s own and others’ ideals
- Career choices
- False feedback; negative input from others who misunderstand
- Fitting in; dealing with flawed environments
- Self actualization - Who am I? Where am I going?
- Overcoming pain and anger at being punished for being gifted
Another reason for coaching gifted individuals centers on the theory of K. Dabrowski regarding “Positive Disintegration” that was written about in the late 1960s and 1970s. Essentially, this theory states that some gifted individuals with their high potential and over-excitabilities and sensitivities will experience emptiness. As emptiness continues, these gifted individuals become supersensitive, isolated, unmotivated, and less functional in their work and home lives. Clive Hazell (1999) describes clinical case examples of this situation with gifted adults.
In conclusion, coaching for gifted adults makes a great deal of sense. Gifted persons have high abilities and learn at a rapid rate. They would be much more satisfied if their potential were fulfilled and their talents were developed. However, many gifted individuals have not reached their expectations and are stuck in mediocrity. If a gifted athlete was stuck, they would automatically reach out to a coach for help. This should also be true for persons gifted in other areas since it affects their daily life to a great extent. The outcome would likely be success, fulfillment, reduction of problems, and greater happiness.
CoachVille.com (2003) “The Coaching Starter Kit”. WW Norton & Co, New York
Dansinger, S.S. (2001) Academic Coaching for the Gifted Learner. In Perspectives in Gifted Education: Twice Exceptional Children. Ricks Center for Gifted Children, University of Denver, CO, 108-113
Dansinger, S.S. (2010) Assessing and Counseling Gifted Children and Adults. In (S. Walfish, Ed) Earning a Living Outside of Managed Mental Health Care: 50 Ways to Expand Your Practice. American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, 211-214
Hazell, C.G. (1999) The Experience of Emptiness and the Use of Dabrowski’s Theory. In Advanced Development, Vol. 8, 31-45
Maxwell, B. (2011) Counseling for Gifted Adults. On website of Gifted Development Center, Denver, CO
Prober, P. (1999) Gifted Women and Motherhood–A Workshop Model. Advanced Development (8) 77-86
Wood, S. (2010) Best Practices in Counseling the Gifted in Schools: What’s Really Happening. Gifted Child Quarterly 54(1) 42-58