Steven I. Pfeiffer

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Psychologist, Educator

Steven I. Pfeiffer is a Professor at Florida Stat e University,

where he directs the graduate program in mental health

counseling. Prior to his appointment at Florida State, Dr.

Pfeiffer served as Executive Director of Duke University’s

Talent Identification Program.

Dr. Pfeiffer received his PhD from the University of North

Carolina in 1977. He is a licensed and board certified psychologist

who served in the U.S. Naval Medical Service. He

served as a clinical psychologist (reserves). Dr. Pfeiffer divides

his professional time among teaching; researching and

writing; test development; counseling children, adolescents,

and families; and public speaking.

He is the lead author of the Gifted Rating Scales, a newly

published test to identify multiple types of giftedness; the coauthor

of a book for parents, Early Gifts: Recognizing and

Nurturing Children’s Talents; a member of the editorial

board of eight journals; and the author of almost one hundred

scientific articles. Dr. Pfeiffer is a recipient of the Excellence

in Research Award from the MENSA International Foundation.

Steven I. Pfeiffer

Let Your Dreams Evolve

. . . my family circumstances seem to set the stage. . . .

Even before the age of ten, I felt certain that I would one

day be a pediatric cardiovascular surgeon. I was the first

born to a second generation Jewish family of modest means.

Source: Printed with permission from Steven I. Pfeiffer.

My family lived in New York City, where my father worked as

a salesman. No one before me in my immediate family had

attended college.

When I was four, my younger brother was born with a lifethreatening

medical condition. My brother died only a few

short years after his birth. Some of my earliest recollections

are waiting patiently and alone outside of my brother’s hospital

room. What I recall with particular clarity are a few brief

conversations with my brother’s surgeon in the corridor of

Mt. Sinai hospital. This recollection is vividly etched in my

memory, undoubtedly because my parents imbued medicine,

in general, and my brother’s pediatric surgeon, in particular,

with magical, even God-like qualities. Dr. Baronowski, my

brother’s primary physician, was—at least in the recesses

of my early memory—a frequent topic of family discussion

at the dinner table. As I look back on my childhood, my family

circumstances seem to set the stage for my need to pursue

a profession that would afford me the opportunity to help


While in college—during the turbulent 1960s—my interest

in medicine waned and was preempted and transcended by a

fascination with philosophy, sociology, and psychology. The

often contentious and highly emotional era marked by campus

peace demonstrations reinforced a growing personal

interest in social and societal issues. I developed a close and

special relationship with one college professor, Raymond

Rainville, whose passion for psychology inspired in me a

newfound intellectual interest and potential career track.

Dr. Rainville was one of the more popular professors on

campus, in part because he was blind and yet in no way handicapped

or disabled by his lack of sight. Ray was fresh out of

graduate school, handsome, physically active, a bit cocky, and

outspoken. He was a brilliant, provocative, and entertaining

lecturer. I was intellectually enamored. During my senior year

I was privileged to take an independent study with Ray. We

frequently met at his home and would stay up into the wee

hours of the night discussing topics such as what makes us

distinctly human, how can we reconcile living in the present

when preoccupied with the past or future? Does the knowledge

of our mortality provide us with motivation to seek

meaning in our life? Is human nature basically deterministic,

driven by irrational forces, unconscious motivations, and environmental

contingencies or instinctual drives? Or are we free

to choose and motivated by conscious goals and purposes?

My experience with Ray, my first true mentor, riveted my

decision to become a psychologist. It has been more than 25

years since I completed my doctorate at the University of

North Carolina-Chapel Hill. I have worked in a variety of settings

and in a variety of capacities as a psychologist. I have

served as a psychologist in the department of pediatrics at a

tertiary care hospital, the director of a research and clinical

training institute, on the faculty of a number of universities,

and as a consultant to child guidance clinics, adolescent

psychiatric hospitals, and public and private schools.

For the past five years, I have had the pleasure of serving

as director of Duke University’s internationally recognized

program for gifted children (TIP). Over this quarter century,

the profession of psychology has afforded me the personal

satisfaction of working in a variety of settings as a health care

professional. As a psychologist whose clinical work, teaching,

and research has focused on children, youth, and families,

I have been able to satisfy my early interest in working with

a pediatric population and my later-developed interest in focusing

on the psychological, social, and existential rather than

medical. In other words, I’ve dealt with the issues that children

most often face.