Learning to befriend our demons
by Douglas Eby
"My therapist gives me
permission to accept that I'm human."
Actor 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!...
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
"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
"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 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
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
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
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.
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
That 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."
Actor 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..
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
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
"'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
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
"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
"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.
~ ~ ~
Talent Development Resources pages:
Issues with Recognized and Unrecognized Gifted Adults, by Mary
and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children: Gifted and LD, ADHD, OCD,
Oppositional Defiant Disorder, by James T. Webb, Ph.D.
of the Gifted, by Lynne Azpeitia and Mary Rocamora
Articles: mental health
health : teen/young adult...
health & fitness posts/articles
Books : mental
/ self-help articles
Counseling resources articles sites books.....
~ ~ ~
Imagination: Madness, Creativity and Human Nature
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And Dual Diagnoses Of Gifted Children And Adults: Adhd,
Bipolar, Ocd, Asperger's, Depression, And Other Disorders