Highly Sensitive Person

Sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) is a personality trait characterized by a high level of sensitivity to external stimuli. A person with a particularly high measure of SPS is considered to be a highly sensitive person.  A highly sensitive person experiences the world differently than others. Due to a biological difference that they’re born with, highly sensitive people have a greater depth of cognitive processing and high emotional reactivity. This can have both positive and negative implications. Highly sensitive people tend to be more empathetic, creative and insightful, but are also more easily overwhelmed and stress prone. They may “feel too deeply” or “feel too much.” If you think you may be a highly sensitive person and are having trouble managing on your own, a qualified mental health professional can help to teach you emotional and sensory immunity strategies. Reach out to one of TherapyDen’s highly sensitive person experts today.

Meet the specialists

Highly Sensitive People make up about 15-20% of the general population and possess a unique sensory processing trait that allows them to pick up more on subtleties in the environment. As such, they may become overwhelmed very easily, absorb other people’s emotions, or have difficulty navigating mainstream culture’s expectations. It’s important to work with a therapist who is knowledgeable about this trait and can provide a strengths-based approach as opposed to pathologizing one’s inherent sensitivity. I have undergone specific training to be listed on the hsperson.com website as an HSP-Knowledgable Therapist.

— Arianna Smith, Licensed Professional Counselor in Littleton, CO

Tired of being told you're too sensitive? Join the club. I've managed to make a career out of it, but I know the hazards of living in a too fast, too loud culture with a sensitive nervous system. Half the battle is knowing there's a name for it. The other half is figuring out how to design a life and community that treats these qualities as the strengths they are, rather than as liabilities.

— Ann Stoneson, Licensed Professional Counselor in Austin, TX

Are you an empath? Empaths feel "everything"! Many have developed anxiety in social settings due to feeling overwhelmed around others. I specialize in helping empaths develop boundaries. I do this through the process of therapy, and also through the use of energy work tools.

— Sara Rotger, Marriage & Family Therapist in Montrose, CA

Oooh, guess what? I ALSO wrote about this topic on my blog! In short, HSP qualities can include: Being easily overwhelmed by stimuli Being affected by other people’s moods Being easily startled Needing to withdraw during busy times to a private, quiet place Getting nervous or shaky if someone is observing you or competing with you Check out my blog for a longer explanation AND a link to a quiz!

— Wendy Curtis, Licensed Professional Counselor in Portland, OR

High sensitivity (also called Sensory-Processing Sensitivity) is a well researched genetic trait shared by 15-20% of the population (as well as in at least 100 other animal species too!). Being an HSP does NOT mean that you have a disorder that needs to be fixed – it simply means learning to understand how your nervous system works, as well as the tools and skills for navigating life and relationships more easily and effectively. That’s where therapy can be helpful.

— Danielle Bush, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Santa Rosa, CA

I am an HSP having learned this about myself at the age of 47. It was life-changing. I am listed as an HSP Knowledgable therapist on the Highly Sensitive Person's website.

— Vicki Quarles, in Louisville, CO

A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), or sometimes called having a Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS), has a set of innate, genetic traits and comprises about 15-20% of the population. An HSP’s nervous system is wired differently and they experience stimuli (sights, sounds, touch, smells, and tastes) and emotions at a deep and intense level. Therefore, they are overwhelmed easily, have difficulty making decisions, detail-oriented, very observant, intuitive and generally self-aware. Our culture and society is usually not conducive to living as an HSP, but by using their strengths to their advantage, having regular self-care and learning methods for emotional and physical regulation, HSPs can thrive. Having a psychotherapist that is familiar with and knowledgeable about these traits can help a person better understand themselves and identify what works best for managing their sensitivities. 

— Carmen Schmidt Benedetti, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Santa Rosa, CA

If you are an HSP, you might notice yourself asking: -Why am I so emotional about things? -Why does life seem so exhausting? -Why is it so difficult for me to enjoy others and have fun? It’s natural to want to withdraw when we are under stress, but being highly sensitive without support can cause you to isolate, or spend more time alone, just because life doesn’t seem “doable” anymore. For HSP's, it could be challenging for you to interact with others and to handle your daily responsibilities.

— Lisa Knudson, Counselor in Asheville, NC

I work with HSPs to help you to recognize your unique tendencies, and to learn to build a life that embraces those sensitivities while setting boundaries and creating a personal support system to help you thrive.

— Angela Albert, Marriage & Family Therapist in Los Angeles, CA

You feel as though you are constantly under a microscope and everyone is judging. You're overly concerned with others' evaluation of you. You have been told not to be "so sensitive". It is almost impossible for you to be free from worry an just be in the moment. I can help you discover your strengths and embrace your true self. It helps to have someone outside your circle available to listen to your unique perspective. I want to help you explore ways to keep perfectionism and over-thinking from stealing your joy. Being an "empath" or a "highly sensitive person" is your superpower!

— Allison Glorioso, Mental Health Counselor in Fort Myers, FL

Being an HSP and/or HSS may make you feel out of step with the world. I see it as a superpower; a trait that seeks deep insight, attunement with the world around you, a strong sense of justice and care for the world and creativity in your approach to life. This depth of processing may also lead to feelings of overwhelm, difficulty protecting your energy or managing relationships with others who do not share the trait. Therapy can be an excellent way to harness this superpower!

— Jeanne Higgs, Clinical Social Worker in Houston, TX

Highly sensitive persons have an an amplified and intense sensory set of experiences and interpretations that are sometimes unrecognized, overlooked, and misinterpreted by others. As a highly sensitive person myself, with a first career in art as an artist and teacher, I have a personal basis for understanding the difficulty inherent in being a highly sensitive person. In addition to exploring the experience of this, we will develop new ways of relating to this experience and new tools.

— Mary Bruce-Owenby, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Los Angeles, CA

Have you been told you are "too"--too sensitive, too picky, too thin-skinned, think too much, worry too much? Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs) have AMAZING gifts to offer the world! I have such a passion for Sensitives, that I created a podcast called Unapologetically Sensitive, where we talk about the strengths you have BECAUSE of your sensitivity. It's not uncommon for HSPs to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, self-critical and not good enough. Let's work together and find your superpowers!

— Patricia Young, Licensed Clinical Social Worker in San Diego, CA

According to research by Dr. Elaine Aron, High Sensitivity, otherwise known by its research term of Sensory Processing Sensitivity, is an innate trait dispersed equally among all genders and found in over 100 species. It is a temperament variation found in 15-20% of the population that allows the brain and nervous system to process subtleties and details that others miss. This trait is often confused with Introversion, but actually 30% of HSPs are Extroverts. All Highly Sensitive People (HSP) share four main characteristics (D.O.E.S.): Depth of Processing Overstimulation Emotional Responsiveness/Empathy Sensitive to Subtleties/Sensory Stimuli There is a misperception that Sensitivity is caused by adverse childhood experiences (abuse, neglect) or induced by traumatic experiences. Although these events can increase the likelihood of depression, anxiety or other mental health issues for the Highly Sensitive Person, the trait is innate and something you are born with.

— April Snow, Associate Marriage & Family Therapist in San Francisco, CA

I provide individual therapy and couples counseling to introverts and highly sensitive people who struggle with managing deep emotions, feeling easily overwhelmed or overstimulated. The flip side of the HSP trait may be a strong sense of justice or empathy or noticing details that others often miss. There are tools that we can learn to help cope with the overwhelming feelings and sensitivities while honoring the strengths that go along with the HSP trait.

— Rachelle Miller, Counselor in Spokane Valley, WA

I work to support the highly sensitive person in finding calmness, clarity, and self-acceptance by utilizing their natural ingenuity and intuition. I promote balance and interconnectedness between spirit, mind, and body to support whole person wellness.

— Kristen Henshaw, Licensed Professional Counselor in Austin, TX

As a highly sensitive person myself, I know firsthand how it can impact daily life. I have specialized in developing treatments to address the overwhelm often associated with high sensitivity. While treatment will focus on anxieties- it will also focus on what it means to be highly sensitive and how to embrace it as a strength. Sometimes sensitivity is accompanied by other issues which enhance daily challenges which we can navigate together.

— Sheilagh McGreal, Creative Art Therapist in Rochester,

Highly sensitive people make up most of my practice and my family. As an HSP myself, I have a deep understanding of the benefits and challenges that come with feeling deeply into oneself and one's environment. This is not pathology! This is evolutionary humanity and my goal is to help people lean into their sensitivity not away from it. The world is not suffering from an overabundance of sensitive people!

— Susan Pease Banitt, in Portland, OR

My expertise with Highly Sensitive Person (also called sensory processing sensitivity) is based on personal and professional experience. I've completed Dr. Elaine Aron's books and video training. I'm a member of several groups for ongoing consultation and growth in this area.

— Nancy Lee, Counselor in Aurora, CO

I specialize in working with the 15-20% of people who have the innate trait of high sensitivity. I enjoy supporting people in understanding the gifts of the trait and in better coping with some of the challenges.

— Louisa Lombard, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor in Los Angeles, CA

Those who describe experiencing the world as a "highly sensitive person" or "empath" generally have a much harder time fitting into the prescribed cultural and social norms. These folks typically have intense emotions, mood swings, sleeping difficulties, and very high anxiety. Learning what types of environments and people are right for them and learning how to communicate their needs is critical to their overall well-being and fullness of living. Discernment skills are also important for the HSP/empath, as they often feel the feelings of others, not knowing what feelings are their own or someone else's. When a highly sensitive person is traumatized, or has been traumatized in childhood (and the memories have gone underground), the results can be very confusing for both the HSP and their caregivers/loved ones. They may hear voices, see visions, and report paranormal activity. I can help navigate this confusing journey and have extensive experience doing so.

— Lisa Wheeler, Licensed Professional Counselor in Austin, TX

Do you feel everything? The emotions of others? Places? Animals? Can’t watch certain shows or the news because you feel it all? Being a highly sensitive person or empathize can be exhausting and overwhelming. You are drained by others and love helping. Learn vital tools that support you and help you thrive as an empath.

— Margaret Bell, Counselor in Denver, CO