Your Rainforest Mind

Support for the Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive

(Almost) Everything You Need To Know About Psychotherapy And Giftedness


photo courtesy of Semir Ahmed Douibi

Is this you? You’re articulate, insightful, sensitive, and extremely capable. But your anxiety keeps you awake nights. You feel unmotivated or sad much of the time. You question the purpose of your life and wonder if it’s pointless. You get frequent migraines or weird physical symptoms. Your self-criticism is out of control.

You’re aware that you were raised in a dysfunctional family and you can analyze the chaos with calm accuracy. You’re clear that you don’t want to repeat the patterns of abuse or neglect handed down to you. So, you’ve tried numerous ways to improve your life: exercise, antidepressants, chocolate, support groups, massage, journaling, yoga, art, Argentine tango, more chocolate, hiking, fly fishing, meditation, and hiding under the bed with your cat.

These techniques help. But they aren’t enough.

So, you finally get up the courage to try therapy.

But where do you start? How do you find the right person? What type of therapy will work for you? How are you different from regular clients and how do you share that with your therapist?

Well, my dears, I’ve compiled five of my older posts to answer these burning questions. Click on the links to get to the full articles. And, if you’re already in therapy, share this post with your counselor.

It can be scary and frustrating to start the psychotherapy journey. But I promise you, it’s so worth it. I’ve been in and out of therapies for many years, working with different folks as my needs changed. I started in my 30’s. And, if you must know, I was a mess back then. And I am so much less of a mess now. Ask my sister. She’ll corroborate my story. And, hey. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the children in your life, in your community, and in your world. Stopping your family’s dysfunctional legacy will heal future and past generations. It just might make the world much less of a mess. You never know. 


What Psychotherapists Need To Know About Gifted Clients 

“If you are a counselor or other mental health practitioner or if you’re gifted and want to see a psychotherapist, there are some things that you need to know.

The rainforest mind is complicated. Like the jungle, it’s breathtaking in its capacity to create: Thoughts, emotions, questions, sensitivities, worries, beauty, and iPhones. It’s intense and overwhelming.

The rainforest mind, in counseling, needs deep, empathetic, authentic understanding of its fascinating and convoluted intricacies…”


How To Find A Psychotherapist Who Loves Your Rainforest Mind

“How do you find a psychotherapist who isn’t overwhelmed by your fast talking, fast thinking, complex emotions, difficult questions and multiple sensitivities?

How do you find a psychotherapist who isn’t frightened by your uncanny ability to notice when s/he’s distracted or slightly out of whack?

How do you you find a psychotherapist who isn’t fooled by your articulate insight, your wit and your idealism; a psychotherapist who sees beneath the surface to the deep pain and shame that suffocates you?…”


If I’m So Smart, Why Do I Need Psychotherapy 

“…The thing is, you probably took on lots of responsibility in your family when you were younger. If things were dysfunctional or traumatic, you may have been the one who picked up the pieces. Or protected your siblings. Made everyone laugh. Or got out as soon as you could. You were likely quite resilient at the time and developed very effective coping strategies.

But now you may notice that you’re anxious or depressed. Maybe you keep picking the wrong partners. Or you’re way too angry at your kids. So, of course, you say you should know better. Smart people don’t fall into painful patterns that are the result of early losses—losses of confidence, identity, safety or trust. 

Oh, yes they do…”


If I’m So Smart, Why Do I Need Psychotherapy, Part Two 

“…What if you start. With yourself. And your family. What if you take some time to examine your very own fears, doubts and despair. What if you take a trip into your past to understand the legacy your dysfunctional family handed to you. Locate your true Self. And pull her/him out from under the rubble. Think about it. If all humans would recover the self-acceptance, compassion and creativity that was smooshed or buried or broken or clobbered during those early years, might we create a path to a better world?…”


Giftedness, Therapy, and Your Dysfunctional Family — Diving Into The Abyss 

“…As a child, you were so vulnerable, that you had to believe what your parents told you. It was inevitable that you’d misinterpret their dysfunction to mean that something was wrong with you. Even though you were smart, the intensity of parental shame, fear, rage and who-knows-what got transmitted to you. So this is what needs to be dismantled: Your misunderstanding of who you are. And that requires diving into the abyss. Poet Adrienne Rich calls it Diving into the Wreck…”


To my blogEEs: Tell us about your experiences with therapy. I know that some of you have had bad experiences or have had trouble finding someone. I hope these posts give you some ideas that help. Those of you who have had positive experiences, let us know how you found the person and what they did that worked for you. If you want more details about therapy, check out my book! Sending you all love and appreciation as we move together into 2018.

(Note: For those of you who are wondering, I’m only licensed in Oregon as a psychotherapist so can’t practice outside of the state. It’s best for you to find someone local for counseling. I do, however, consult internationally. You can find details here.)



Author: Paula Prober

I'm a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in counseling gifted adults and consulting with parents of gifted children. The label "gifted" is often controversial and confusing. I use the metaphor of the rainforest to describe this population. Like the rainforest, these individuals are quite complex, highly sensitive, intense, multi-layered, and misunderstood. They're also curious, idealistic, highly intelligent, creative, perfectionistic, and they love learning. I've been an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I've written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, and Advanced Development Journal. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, was released in June 2016 by GHF Press and is available on Amazon or at your independent bookstore. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists, was released in June 2019.

85 thoughts on “(Almost) Everything You Need To Know About Psychotherapy And Giftedness

  1. Thank you, Paula, for reminding gifted people that psychotherapy can be a “gift” to themselves. And that finding the right fit in a therapist is critical. Don’t give up if the first therapist you find is not a good fit – and don’t assume you “must” go through your insurance network. Listen to Paula’s wise words.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I had therapy years ago until my insurance changed. Life changing. Truly. She was a person of faith, like myself. Introduced me to a book called Boundaries that helped me form healthy boundaries in my dysfunctional family. Once I had healthy boundaries I had healthy relationships. Healthy relationships meant I found the company of other’s mostly enjoyable. My emotions began to level out some and I began to get a lot of insight on myself and others. Understanding myself is key to everything in life. It all starts with therapy. That insight was so very valuable for me. I’d love to have therapy again sometime.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Mine is a gift from God, I think. Found him years ago when I added PPD to my severe panic disorder and depression, learned some things about my childhood that I’d buried away, and decided it was time for professional help. We were broke at the time (dual unemployment didn’t help the situation), and a pastor friend of mine suggested a local pastoral counseling center with a sliding-scale fee. I had one of those rare good matches on the first try. (Psychiatrists took a lot longer, alas.) He doesn’t totally get rainforest minds, so to speak, but he’s learned to get *me* and that’s close enough for now. We’re at the other end of the sliding scale at this point in our lives, fortunately, and I was doing well enough to be out of treatment for awhile. Had a brief call in when I dealt with cancer in case I needed backup, and started serious therapy again this year for severe depression issues. (Knowing it’s okay to go BACK is important too.) I like that he knows the right things to say, and when he doesn’t (or I misinterpret it), he’s good about me calling him on it and asking questions. I am painfully shy and he’s gotten me to trust opening up to him … that’s big. On a funny note, I went in one time recently just ranting and fuming and deciding I didn’t care if I ever got ‘better’ and stopped being so darn sensitive to the jerks of the world … the rest of the world is what needs changing, not me, I’m not the one with the problem! (I was on a roll!) He waited till I paused for breath, and then just calmly asked, “Did *I* ever say you had a problem?” And while that may sound like an odd thing for a therapist to say to somebody who clearly has problems, it was exactly the right thing to say, and actually true. There are old situations and new ones that I need to deal with, and sensitivities that need to be dialed back, and things like that … but I’m not sure he ever characterized them, or me, as a problem. He’s good like that. 🙂 And good at getting me to slow down a bit when I’m going overboard like that. I hope everyone who needs somebody like him can find one, but I know it’s not that easy.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you so much for this reminder! I am currently seeing an excellent therapist who, though she isn’t officially an expert in rainforest-minded types, works very well with my thinking style and understands the kinds of weird, tangled, frustrating, existential-angst-tinged thoughts I can get stuck in when I’m in one of my moods. I’ve also ordered your book and should be receiving it tomorrow or Saturday. I’m looking forward to it.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. If I would live somewhere in Oregon, I would certainly get on your waiting list 🙂 I did visit a therapist a few times, who was also gifted and totally understood everything I said – that alone, being understood, was so valuable.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I often work with gifted clients who are already in therapy and I make the suggestion that, with the right resources (including your writings), the client and the therapist can learn about giftedness together. I can’t think of a better use of the therapeutic hour.


  7. For me the big problem is actually finding a therapist in my area who is gifted/understands giftedness. There don’t seem to be many therapists in Australia who specialise in gifted adults, and certainly none in the western suburbs of Melbourne that I’ve been able to find. All the reading I’ve done has been a great help, but I do think I’m ready to dive into the abyss, but only willing to do it with a therapist who truly gets the rainforest-minded. Maybe I’ll just have to move to Oregon 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi, Paula! Thanks for always making everything clearer! I’ve started therapy when I was 20. Tried with different therapists and always ended up giving up. None of them have mentioned giftedness and now I understand this was the reason I always ended up quitting: even if I didn’t understand why, I knew they didn’t have a clue about what was going on in my mind. I was 30 when I’ve started considering that thanks to a psychiatrist that made me understand, helped me to answer those questions, fill those gaps and move on. But unfortunately I had to move and quit again.

    I didn’t give up but never found a good therapist since then. Everything you’ve described is so true! They feel overwhelmed, threatened (?) or I could see they were bored, or that they had no idea of what I was talking about. Despite that, I’m much happier now and feeling much more capable dealing with those issues and many others.

    Coincidentally, it has just popped out in my twitter feed: an article about people who have found out they were gifted when they were adults.

    Unfortunately it’s in Spanish, anyway I’m sharing it in case there’s anyone who’s interested:

    And I’m asking myself: What’s the price to pay when you spend such a long time unaware, hiding or feeling inadequate?

    Thanks again a happy new year! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a great question, Laura. Let us know your thoughts, if you want to share. It’s a good topic for discussion. One thought, though, is that it’s never too late to become aware and to stop hiding. Thanks for sharing.


  9. I had psychotherapy with a ‘good enough’ psychotherapist. She introduced me to the term ‘gas lighting’ which took the lid of a 3 decades of unconscious and (hopefully) unintended psychological torment by my family of origin. The insight revolutionised my life completely, as you can imagine. I was a counsellor myself at the time and utterly resistant to the process, constantly analysing my therapist, it was an exhausting process but oh so worth it. I am now, several years later, on a strikingly different trajectory as a result of doggedly sticking with weekly sessions for 12 months, despite the discomfort. I’d love to do another 12 month stint soon. Thanks for the great article Paula and Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Therapists can be challenging clients kind of like doctors can be difficult patients. And sometimes a “good enough” therapist is good enough! Thank you, Devon, and happy new year to you.


    • I am 57 and FINALLY seeing a therapist for my dysfunctional upbringing.

      I was a straight a honor student for 6 and 7 grade. I always did well in English-math was my Achilles heel. My family had their favorites. My Dad’s was my older and my Mom’s was one of my younger sisters. So, I got lost in the shuffle and gradually just shifted away from caring about my grades to not caring at all. I had to blackmail a teacher in the 12th grade in order for him not to flunk me. My Mother only cared about my younger sister’s grades while Dad never gave a crap.

      I wonder how farI could have gone if someone had given me the encouragement. Oh, as for the younger sister? Well, let’s just say she turned out to be HUGE disappointment in Mommy’s eyes when she got pregnant in her junior year. There went the scholarships Mom bragged about.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hello Paula! A happy new year to you!

    Thanks for your replies on the other posts! I didn’t get notifications for them, so it was a bit tricky to backtrack them haha.

    Again, your post resonates with my experiences. I just wrapped up a 9 month session with a psychotherapist whom I felt she didn’t understand me very well. Some of the things you pointed out in the posts fits my experience well, e.g.: “How do you you find a psychotherapist who isn’t fooled by your articulate insight, your wit and your idealism; a psychotherapist who sees beneath the surface to the deep pain and shame that suffocates you?”

    I felt we made little progress in the 9 months because I kept analyzing over my feelings and thereby kept my pain out of sight 😦 But okay, now I’m moving on to a new psychotherapist who is up to date of my (probably) giftedness and wants to do ISTDP with me. So we’ll see how that goes.

    Thanks for another great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Love the new photo Paula! I think I am doing pretty good staying healthy. However, my oldest wants to go to a therapist but we live in an extremely rural area and they are few and far between. I’m hoping she finds someone but worry about her some. I went to therapy for a bit after my first husband left. I don’t remember it very well but it was a good experience. I think I got lucky.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good for your oldest for expressing interest in therapy. I hope she finds a good fit. About the photo, I thought it might be a change of pace to let my over-excitable hair express itself fully!


  12. Yes, it seems to me they can’t see under the surface. They see my strength, drive and capability, but not my the deep hurt, fear and sensitivity. So I’ve always felt they didn’t care. And I suppose they didn’t (“you’re strong, you’ll manage”). I have always wondered: How do I show them all the sides of me they need to see?

    In my teens I was aware of that I was repeating my parents dysfunctional patterns, and in my early twenties I realised I was not able to deal with them on my own, but needed help. In those days I believed the people working in mental health care were professional, now i don’t.

    As I didn’t get much help to deal with the patterns in therapy, later on I did it on my own anyway. But I still need someone to see and confirm me and help me with my fear of people.

    I live in Sweden, and here the existence of giftedness has been denied and still is by most people. Though, since a few years back there are a few people who are trying to inform about it, and there has been a little writing and talking in media and on the inter-net lately. But with one or two exceptions, that’s about gifted children in school. (Last summer there was a course for teachers about gifted children. To my knowledge, it was the first one in this country.) In mental health care there seem to be no awareness. Also, the mental health care here is undeveloped, still very much like in the 1950’s or so, the personnel believing that everybody who seeks help is unaware, don’t understand and are unable to reflect. Therapists don’t believe me when I tell them I’ve done a lot of work on my own, that I’m aware of what my problems are and what kind of help I need. What’s most difficult might be that a vast majority of the Swedes are convinced this is the most modern and humane country in the world, and that you will always get help if you ask for it. So there’s not a big chance getting support elsewhere either.

    And my fear has turned into terror. And not one person i this world has got a clue of who I am, and it hurts.

    Laura was asking what price you have to pay if you spend a long time unaware… Me, I think I’ve lost my whole life, developing the person I am and my talents, building a life containing things I like to do and people and nice memories.

    However, there are some things I’m very proud of: having been once a little child who was so confused about who she was, I have found that out, and even if nobody else knows who I am, I do. And, no matter how much family and therapists and others have diminished me and tried to make me into someone I’m not, I’ve never let them.

    This took me hours to write. Let’s see if I dare to click on post comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you so much, K, for writing this and for your courage in posting it. My heart goes out to you. I’ve heard this from others about Sweden. It seems that there are many countries where this is the case. I’m so glad that you’re here and I hope that my blog provides a small bit of relief and a sense that you’re among friends who embrace and celebrate your radiant rainforest mind.


    • There was a “the” too much.

      I was really scared writing that, but thought I should because some people don’t have a chance. It’s a relief to learn that you have heard this from others about Sweden. It is a very homogene country and I guess it will take a long time before people here accept differences of any kind.

      I do feel at home here. I have enjoyed reading the blogg and the comments, relating to so much of it. And people seeing things in the same way as I do.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Isn’t entering therapy just willingness to be self-deceived? Just swap my sense of self with someone else’s of me? That is, is my ‘self’ merely a mental construct without any real ontological significance, therefore maleable? If so, why is what I ‘tell myself’ any less significant or real than what anyone else tells me? If anything, aren’t externalist views less reliable because I’m paying them? Or as one clinical psychologist sees it: a form of phenomenological prostitution…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Paul. I would say that the purpose of therapy is to examine your sense of self, to determine the roots of your anxiety, depression, etc. To heal from past trauma. The therapist doesn’t tell you who you are. The therapist provides a safe, empathetic container for you to grieve the past and discover your true Self. To find some inner peace and a sense of meaning and purpose. And, for rainforest minds, to understand what it means for you to be gifted and how your experiences have influenced your beliefs and behaviors; how to appreciate your rainforest traits and live your most expressive, creative, and compassionate life.


      • ^^ Totally this! It was hard to start therapy, but the first time I did, I was at a point where it was therapy or Nothing. And with a small baby to consider, Nothing (to put it euphemistically) wasn’t an option. My therapist has rarely tried to impose his ideas of what he thinks I should be thinking or doing on me … mostly that’s been in the range of trying to calm my mind enough to meditate or something (he’s not used to ADD brains either, been a learning curve all around, LOL but he does adapt). It has been GOOD for me. He’s helped me identify which traumas were at the roots of different anxieties, so I could deal with the pain and the grief and start to let them go, or deal with them in healthier manners. My anxiety issues are so bad, they very nearly qualify as PTSD, to be honest. Without this therapist, I probably wouldn’t be here. That, and my family doctor, who was the first one to listen and to help get me on meds to keep me stable enough for therapy to help. Living the intense-minded life along with severe trauma NEEDS help to recover from. That may not be where you’re at, but it sure was the right answer for me. And I don’t self-deceive … I’m a stubborn sucker and refuse to change the core of who I am. I go very slowly and make sure every change is for the better of ME, keeps the essence of ME, but a better Me who can function rather than be crippled all the time. THAT is so worth it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for sharing your example, Kristen. Certainly, therapy isn’t for everyone and there are some therapists who shouldn’t be practicing, just as in any profession. So selecting the right person is essential. But what you describe here will be very helpful to readers. Thank you.


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  37. Can’t agree more – as “usual” on here 😉 I’ve had indeed had many counterproductive, even devastating experiences with therapy and therapists. I am now seeing a lady who is paid by one of the main two congregations in my country and whom I find to be a very attentive, empathic, even compassionate listener and “empathic witness” as Alice Miller coined it. I just wish I could see her at least once a week, possibly more often than that, which given the nature of her affiliation is a no-no (and of course, I have to make myself understand that there are other clients who need her to be available for them).

    And now I’m in the midst of applying for a position that is in my “old” walk of life in order to escape from this rather impossible situation that I’ve landed in in my country of residence. (that position will involve indeed leaving my country, which I’m dying to do for a number of reasons, like e.g. get a fresh start all over, make new friends, keep only one or two from my life here, and also for political reasons; and living conditions are likely to be better in this new position, if I can land and – more importantly – manage to KEEP it and manage my sensitivities in a way that is neither infringing on my well being too hard nor sabotaging the “friendly playing along” game…).

    Yikes… all those gifts… don’t always feel that exact way in certain situations… 😮

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad that you’ve found someone for now, renovatio06, even if it’s not as often as you would like. That may help you to feel more confidence that you’ll find a therapist again if you have to move.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The very first weeks will be critical in how I come across, Paula. Been there, done that – and it didn’t end well at other times. Will have to put authenticity and well being 2nd or 3rd for a while in order to simply get over the hump of blending, at least initially, so I can find my footing as I go along. Or along those lines, I guess…. (isn’t it funny that I’m not in the least worried about the job and specific tasks or the prepping that goes into the itinerary and such, but no… what keeps me awake at night or sends me to the bathroom with panic are the interpersonal dynamics I’ve turned out so often being made the loser for my rainforest-y being… )

        Liked by 1 person

        • Good that there are things that you aren’t worried about! Remember that it’s OK to be strategic in the beginning to check out the situation and people. It’s fine to protect your more sensitive parts.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Just completed reading your blog entry about being strategic in relationships and I can’t thank you enough for being here, for doing the work that you do (I’m watching your shorter interview again and I agree with that lady about you being possibly the best resource on all things giftedness I’ve come across so far; your book(s) are on the reading list, too, of course;).

            Remember, I rejected the entire idea of being highly sensitive or “gifted” for myself initially and it’s been only about a year or so that I’ve opened up enough to the idea of accepting those traits as part of my being – which comes at the price of realizing, “oh no! I can’t get this OFF!” ( 😉 Guess, overreacting is another given with me – and that might be needing to repress the more subtle, softer aspects of me for …. ever.)

            Yikes! Whoever “landed” me on the planet – what the heck were they thinking?!!! (To be taken with a bit of a twinkle by now…. I’m begining to make peace with the entire concept, idea, “package”…)

            Liked by 1 person

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  39. I’m only slowly begining to feel how RIGHT you are and how right your tribe is for me, Paula. There literally hasn’t been a single blog post yet that did NOT resonate with me.
    I will now scrape out the bits needed to order your book(s) in order to get a better handle on how to proceed. I do see a lady at the moment who is empathic, attentive, doesn’t seem to be scared of or frustrated with my intensity. Whether or not she has tools that may further my healing, we haven’t gotten to that point just yet.
    Also, I realize I must now put FIRM and LASTING boundaries in place with bio family. It was an error of epic proportions to think that I could let them back into my life and the latter move inspired by a hope or wish to see other outcomes as earlier and again, the latter presumiing that even them had a chance to have insights and change (which they have to a modicum of extent, but not enough to have me feel seen, let alone accepted or respected or ….loved enough; when I say “enough”, I mean ALL of me in all my complexity. Clearly, they’re incapable of the latter)

    So…. *sigh*….the journey continues. If only it was more fun to travel. (Here’s to hoping it will eventually be fun at some point, when I’ve found a tribe in real life as well, living conditions that nurture my now suffocated curiosity and a purpose that gives me good enough reasons to put up with the insanity that is my life at this point).

    Thanks so much for everything you do. You do a lot, where I’m concerned. I appreciate this to no end.

    Liked by 1 person

  40. “them”=”they”, sorry. Typo/error from speed of thinking and fingers lagging.

    Liked by 1 person

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  53. I have had some so-so and some great experiences with therapy! It is well worth finding someone you feel comfortable with and who “gets” you . They can help you examine your thinking and basically re-parent yourself.

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