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Learning to befriend our demons

   by Douglas Eby

   "My therapist gives me permission to accept that I'm human."

Claire DanesActor Claire Danes also explained in an interview that, as a kid, she "was on this whole perfection trip. And that's just totally boring. And arrogant!...

"I finally realized after years of therapy.. that you can encourage yourself to move further in a nurturing way. You don't have to be abusive." [Allure, Nov., 1997]

Taking care to "encourage yourself to move further" is, of course, something that people typically choose to manage on their own, but a counselor or therapist can help us do it more fully and effectively.

And many highly talented people may experience self-limiting traits like perfectionism, or anxiety and other mood disorders, which can be managed better with the help of a psychotherapist.

But counseling is not just about dealing with disorder.

Educational consultant Annemarie Roeper, Ed.D. notes "Gifted people see life in the most brilliant colors and are capable of the greatest joy and the greatest desperation. They try to build all this into a functioning Self.

"They try to live in their crowded inner world and look for ways to make this possible. They sometimes build inner walls to protect themselves and then find themselves lonely in less than splendid isolation.

"They often crave and need the help and support of other people. They may need help to access themselves as well as the world outside. Many gifted people are driven by a desire to explore their Self just as they need to explore the world outside.

"Making sense of themselves and feeling fulfilled are often the forces that lead toward seeking counseling."

[From her article Reflections on Counseling Gifted Adults.]

Woody AllenWoody Allen has commented about his decades in therapy: "There were no dramatic moments. No insights. No tears. People used to say You're using psychoanalysis as a crutch... And I would say, Yes. You're hitting it exactly on the nose. I'm using it as a crutch."

He said therapy has had real benefits: "It got me through periods of my life when I was very unhappy and was insecure. Just the act of having someone to speak to, someone interested in my problems in some way was helpful to me."

But for some people, there can be a negative connotation to being 'in therapy' even if it may be helpful. Even exceptional intelligence may not immunize against some archaic ideas about people being "crazy" and "needing" therapy.

In 1861, Elizabeth P. W. Packard was commited to a lunatic asylum by her husband, without proof of insanity. She later recalled in her book "Modern Persecution, or Insane Asylums Unveiled," her meeting with the asylum director, and telling him: "I don't know why it is, Doctor, it may be merely a foolish pride which prompts the feeling, but I can't help feeling an instinctive aversion to being called insane. There seems to be a kind of disparagement of intellect attending this idea, which seems to stain the purity and darken the lustre of the reputation forever after."

But getting past any sort of prejudice that therapy means you're 'crazy' can be especially valuable for people on the right edge of the bell curve.

Linda Silverman of the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development thinks “Counseling is essential, because the journey to discovering that which is finest in oneself is precarious, and those who embark upon this journey sometimes falter and lose their way.”

That quote is from the article Arousing the Sleeping Giant: Giftedness in Adult Psychotherapy, by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, PhD, author of book The Gifted Adult, who notes, "Individuals usually seek psychological evaluation because of a vague perception that something is out of balance, incomplete, unexplained, or that some vital factor in their well-being equation is missing.

"Rarely do clients enter with more than a list of symptoms and complaints, which are, of course, the very place to sort through the problem puzzle and a necessary part of a complete assessment. Yet limiting an evaluative inquiry to current symptoms is far from adequate for the gifted adult."

She adds that a "simplistic symptom focus often shortchanges the gifted client who has not been accurately identified as such, and therefore has no method of introducing a topic of immense significance or of explaining the existential angst that arises from being vaguely aware of a disparity between potential and fulfillment.

"The psychotherapist is in a unique position to offer the gifted adult accurate information about gifted traits and what giftedness really means over the life cycle."

That idea is also emphasized by Deborah L. Ruf, PhD in her article If You're So Smart, Why Do You Need Counseling: "A reasonably clear perception of self appears to be one prerequisite to advanced emotional development. For people who are outside the norm in any significant way, as gifted people are, obtaining accurate feedback about their abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and the acceptability of their personality characteristics is difficult."

Gaining a "reasonably clear perception of self" may also involve sorting out destructive pathology versus giftedness related intensity, excitability, aberrant thinking and other issues that can get mislabeled as medical problems.

"Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence - whether much that is glorious - whether all that is profound - does not spring from disease of thought - from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect."

Edgar Allan Poe14That is a quote by Edgar Allan Poe, from the article Creativity, the Arts, and Madness, by Maureen Neihart, Psy.D.

Poe goes on: "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. In their grey vision they obtain glimpses of eternity.... They penetrate, however rudderless or compassless, into the vast ocean of the 'light affable.'"

Despite some research that writers, for example, may have a higher incidence of mood disorders than the general population, the "gifted and talented can be expected to be emotionally at least as well balanced as any others," Joan Freeman declares in her article Counselling the Gifted and Talented.

She continues, "In fact, most are well equipped to face the world, to cope with expectations and threats, as well as being particularly sensitive to interpretation and prediction of the feelings and behaviour of other people.

"But because of their exceptionality they do face special challenges, and so to help them a counsellor must recognise and understand these and the effects they can have.

"Personality and experience affect everyone’s reactions to challenge. Some rise to them, seeing them merely as hurdles, while others succumb with poor adjustment, low self-concept and anxiety, all of which can put a break on school success and creativity.

"Informed, skilled and sympathetic counselling can be effective in helping the most able to become well adjusted adults."

Katy SelverstoneActor Katy Selverstone commented in an article, "There's a lot of pressure to believe that a smart person, a capable person, can handle their own problems, that it's a matter of willpower and.. character.

"I just don't think that's true. Like anything else, there are skills involved - some of which may come very naturally to you, and some of which don't."

From article: Soul Workout, by Laura Weinert, Backstage.

The article continues, "Seeing a therapist can be an illuminating way to develop those skills, yet there remains a kind of stigma about therapy with regard to actors. There are plenty who believe all actors are in some sense 'crazy' and that it is this very craziness--those individual quirks and neuroses--that can make an actor's work so interesting.

"'I've heard people say therapy destroys your spontaneity,' said Selverstone, 'that when you understand too much about yourself it messes with your imagination, and your work is going to become less interesting as a result.

'I don't think that's true. My therapy was much more about not being neurotic than about being neurotic. Everybody is neurotic in some way, right? My experience has never been like, "You're going to be like a blank slate, I'm going to strip you down, and you are going to be normal." There isn't any such thing as normal; there's just what is right for you.'

"Proponents of therapy say that one of the great things it can do is to open up your range of emotional choices--giving you a full palette to work with in life and onstage.

"'If, early on, you have the choices of getting really angry or shutting down,' said Selverstone, 'now all of a sudden you have other choices. You can ask yourself, Is this something I want to talk to this person about? Or you can perhaps choose to just let it go.'

"Acting teacher and hypnotherapist Toni Attell said the most common challenge she helps actors through is a fear of success. ...

"Psychotherapist Sandy Kaufman said the most common mental challenge his actor clients face is 'trusting themselves and not trying to get into the minds of other people. Actors are always trying to figure out what other people are thinking about them.'

"One insightful process a therapist may guide you through is simply identifying the reasons you chose to become an actor in the first place."

Therapist Stephen A. Diamond, Ph.D., speaking of his gifted and talented patients - and artists in general - says, "Who wouldn't be a little neurotic having that kind of responsibility? But, as Freud recognized, we're all neurotic to some degree. And as Jung once said, we all have complexes. That is not the question. The only question is whether we have complexes or they have us."

The goal for psychotherapy with artists and other creative individuals, he explains, is "not to eradicate the daimonic, to drug or rationalize the demons out of existence. Not only is this not desirable; it is not possible, at least not in the long-run. As Rollo May put it, the therapist's task is to awaken and confront the demons, not put them to sleep.

"When therapy is done well, the patient has tools to deal more constructively with his or her demons. Artists like Ingmar Bergman, for example, have learned to live with their demons rather than trying to evict them.

"In therapy, one learns to accept and even befriend one's demons - the daimonic - recognizing that they not only make us who we are but that they participate and invigorate our creativity."

From interview: The Psychology of Creativity: redeeming our inner demons.

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   Related Talent Development Resources pages:

Articles :

Counseling Issues with Recognized and Unrecognized Gifted Adults, by Mary Rocamora.

Mis-Diagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children: Gifted and LD, ADHD, OCD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, by James T. Webb, Ph.D.

Misdiagnosis of the Gifted, by Lynne Azpeitia and Mary Rocamora

Pages :

Mental health..

Mental health : teen/young adult...

Articles: mental health

Mental health & fitness posts/articles

Books : mental health

Change / coaching / self-help articles

Counseling / therapy

Counseling resources articles sites books.....

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Strong Imagination: Madness, Creativity and Human Nature

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Misdiagnosis And Dual Diagnoses Of Gifted Children And Adults: Adhd, Bipolar, Ocd, Asperger's, Depression, And Other Disorders

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