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Unrecognized Intellectual Giftedness: A Red Herring Mill

By Richard Brees 

Unrecognized Intellectual Giftedness (UIG) is a Red Herring mill that has been stamping-out distractive emotional trauma (red herring) since an unrecognized gifted and thereby creative Mesopotamian invented the wheel. I can only assume that’s why the majority of well-intentioned mental health practitioners are more often than not lured away from an accurate mental health assessments when confronted with UIG. Unfortunately, it’s the misdiagnoses that allows the real culprit, UIG, to time and time again slip into the very murky waters of a standardized one-size-fits-all mental health system. Although a global tragedy, for the focus of this discussion I’ll speak to America’s unrecognized intellectually gifted communities and those mental health professionals charged with first evaluating or recognizing and then applying the correct mental health guidance to those in need.  


If you’re seeking mental health guidance, you are not alone! It’s been reliably estimated that in America alone, nearly half of households will struggle with someone in need of mental health treatment annually (American Psychological Association). It’s important therefore to acknowledge the ratio of mental health professionals to those seeking mental health services. About one in four adults in America suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, which translates to approximately 57 million people of which around 100,000 will commit suicide (American Psychological Association). Although unverifiable, I shudder at the likelihood of a much higher percentage of those lost suicidal victims being misdiagnosed UIG recipients.

Given we have approximately 550,000 mental health professionals that translates to just over 100 clients per mental health professional. Therefore, it’s understandable how a busy uniformly trained mental health professional might misdiagnose UIG given their workload combined with the rarity of UIG (about 3%). If we extrapolate those figures further it is safe to assume that the average mental health provider will only encounter around 3-5 UIG recipients in an average year. Why is this important? Because it’s vital that those afflicted with UIG don’t get lost in the crowd as I did! Understanding the psychological significance of UIG is a crucial component to a successful mental health intervention. Applying or suggesting conformity (a gifted person’s kryptonite) as a beneficial treatment upon a UIG beneficiary may in actuality lead to deepened state of disparity and hopelessness as they salute smartly and struggle to blend a few drops of their uniqueness into a sea teeming with normalcy. Pressure to conform or blend is a critical ingredient in a suicidal recipe for those harboring UIG.   


Although admittedly unqualified to pass judgment, and with that disclosure firmly in place, I must admit I am skeptical of the general acceptance and the manner by which our mental health industry apply Persuasive Defense Mechanisms (PDMs) and/or Intellectual Manipulation techniques (IMs) as general coping strategies. That being said, I do feel qualified based on decades of personal experience to challenge the validity and/or effectiveness of such one-size-fits-all strategies when being applied as a knee-jerk reaction upon UIG recipients. In my opinion, mental health providers should first evaluate, by way of probing investigative questions, the intellectual quotations (IQ) of those seeking mental health services in order to insure a more tailored intervention is not required. PDMs and other coping strategies in the hands of trusted therapists should be utilized selectively, cautiously and never upon a higher intellect unless the client is first made aware of the deceptive nature of such generalized treatments.

Compared to childhood intellectual giftedness, there has been little published regarding the lifelong effects of UIG upon unrecognized adults. If recognized in early childhood and nurtured, intellectual giftedness may very well be a so called “gift”, but for those mired in a lifelong struggle with the insidious unrecognized version, it’s a different experience altogether! Therefore, due to a lack of comprehensive clinical studies regarding unrecognized adults, I offer the following personal insights from the perspective of a former “so called” unrecognized gifted person, labeling of which I find excruciatingly misleading. After all, an unwanted gift can be returned, while an intellectual gift has a very strict no return policy! 



Glancing over my sixty-seven year old shoulder, now aided by the magnification of awareness (key to a successful intervention), I see a well-worn and decades-long trail strewn with standardized mental health interventions. Time and time again, I discussed being orphaned, childhood and adult abuses, lacking a formal education, business ventures, legal and other writings, politics, accumulating and losing millions of dollars, introversion, and yes suicidal tendencies. Still, it would take decades of fruitless exchanges with numerous mental health professionals before a correct root cause analyses would finally draw UIG to the surface for all to see. The following is an example of such a fruitless exchange:

A mental health counselor once asked to view some of my writings. When I asked her to define writings, she responded “Oh, whatever you are currently working on will be fine”. The following week I handed her a 12 page legal brief I had recently drafted in support of upcoming oral arguments as a Pro se (on their own) litigant before a three judge panel in the 2nd District Court of Appeals regarding Legal Doctrines as applied in the perfection of jurisdiction and the unauthorized practice of law. Her response: “well that’s interesting.”   

You see folks, it’s the probing conversations we’re not having that allow UIG to undermine those affected, thereby allowing UIG to slip back into the deep end of the psychology ponded with impunity. The mental health provider in the above referenced example was aware that I lacked a basic education, yet failed to engage in probing discussions regarding my ability to quickly grasp complexed legal doctrines and then apply them coherently. In my opinion, the referenced exchange should have triggered an analytical inquiry, but didn’t! I could fill a book with similar examples, but believe the point has been adequately presented. And yes, I did prevail at the hearing on issues of jurisdiction much to the surprise of two opposing legal professionals. But was found guilty of the unlawful practice of law (another missed clue).  


Decades filled with well-intentioned mental health guides who believed their chosen path or intervention would eventually lead away from a nightmarish childhood (Red Herring) failed to recognize UIG as the common catalyst and/or its relationship to the psychological trauma suffered. Metaphorically speaking, gifted recipients need to understand that the trauma of being gored by a bull is significant, but also need awareness of their unintentional displaying of a bright red cape (gifted traits) and, although unintentional, how that beacon will more likely than not cause additional bulls to take notice. Personal research around psychology as it pertains to UIG combined with advances in clinical perspectives reveal a strong nexus between psychological trauma and the underlying traits that accompany UIG. Applying general coping strategies or other standardized mental health interventions to a highly cognitive or gifted client will more likely than not hasten him/her towards a state of false self-awareness, which will not only dampen therapeutic benefits, but may actually heighten suicidal tendencies as the desire to blend into an homogenized society becomes an unattainable reality. They must learn to embrace their uniqueness! Blending or conforming is simply not an option with UIG. Trust me, I tried for decades. Applying common coping strategies upon a UIG recipient is little more than a bandage and will never stop the psychological bleeding.                           __________________________________

I was a vulnerable, tired and beaten-down sixty-four-year-old man, mired once again in another moment of deep suicidal despair by the time relief would arrived in the form of a randomly selected, older, and experienced veteran Mental Health Counselor, by the name of Catharine Gribkoff Ball (named with permission) of Lakewood, Washington, who had been referred by a suicide prevention hotline. With her head tilted slightly downward while peering over the top of classic horned rim glasses held securely in place by a delicate gold chain draped gently about her neck, she would finally ask the probing and revealing question. “You do know you’re gifted, right?” she asked with a measured amount of timidness as another tearful hour came to an abrupt but revealing close!

Normal disbelief quickly faded, as I devoured everything I could find concerning intellectual giftedness. In the following weeks I would come to recognize this moment as truly life changing. The puzzle titled “Why Me” that I had been trying to piece together from childhood was finally solved! What was once random pieces scattered about my life’s kitchen table suddenly began to fit together. Aided now by awareness, I could recognize the corners and edges of my life, as the larger picture came into view. That was four years ago. Four years of looking past all the trauma. Four years of accepting, acknowledging, and liberating myself from the debilitating residuals of Unrecognized Intellectual Giftedness.

In closing, please allow me to provide a quick fishing lesson for those professional mental health anglers trying to catch that elusive trophy, Unrecognized Intellectual Giftedness:

First, generously apply skepticism to the comments by mental health anglers who’ve fished these waters in the past.Second, you’ll need to get past a school of persistent, distractive and obvious Red Herring(s), as they tend to gathered very near a turbulent surface.Third, carefully bait your hook with several intellectually probing questions. (A word of caution, you may be required to re-bait several times as Red Herring are very adept at stealing your bait with razor sharp distractions).Fourth, toss your bait in less familiar psychological waters, as the trophy catch lives in the deep, dark, and cold waters of normalcy.   Fifth, set back and use your ears and mouth in proportion. If a trophy catch is present they’ll bit every time, and there’s no limit as millions exist!  

Good Fishing!

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