What is “Self-Efficacy” at Erikson’s “Young Adult” Stage?

The notion of self-efficacy is very important in the young adult stage.  How might the clinician help promote a young adult client’s self-efficacy beliefs?

“Self-efficacy” is the set of beliefs a person has about his ability to be successful.  The contemporary theory of self-efficacy originated with Bandura’s work on learning.  Bandura’s key insight was that exposure to a model alone is sufficient to promote learning, even in the absence of actual enactment.  Consistent with this idea, Bandura hypothesized one’s beliefs about how successful one can become (for example, in learning a task or fulfilling the requirements of a role) predominantly determines one’s actual degree of success in doing so.  This belief in turn influences the level of effort and initiative one will be disposed to invest in that process and to acquire the skills that are necessary in order to achieve a successful outcome.  One’s self-efficacy also is based in part on one’s past experiences and by real-world constrainers such as SES.

Four major ways a clinician could help promote a young adult client’s self-efficacy beliefs are as follows:

1.            Devise practical scenarios requiring accomplishment of a task that are graded according to an individual’s level of ability and the likelihood she/he will achieve a successful outcome.  Then expose the individual in vivo to the situation and discern whether the individual is able to master it.  An example is learning a foreign language.  Teaching begins slowly, focusing on nouns and simple, frequently-used present-tense verbs.  Only after one successfully can converse in this artificial milieu does one move on to more complex inflections, verb tenses, prepositional clauses and the like.

2.            Create a model showing how actual accomplishment of a task might look.  The individual then can compare her/his progress against the ideal situation suggested by the model.  An example is learning how to ski, play golf, or perform any other sport.  By watching experts on e.g. television one picks up subtle cues as to the appropriate movements to emulate and techniques to apply.  One becomes competent, then on the road to expertise.  Just watching a downhill racer for example can improve one’s form because one has an example to use for reference.

3.            Apply what Bandura called “social persuasion.”  One often has the belief that one is unable to accomplish a certain task or master a technique.  This belief can be challenged and refuted in the manner suggested by straightforward CBT.  Social and peer-group support also facilitates an individual’s sense of accomplishment – that “I can do it!”  An example is the structure offered by classic 12-step addiction programs, e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous.  People are far more likely to succeed in accomplishing an objective (e.g. stopping drinking) if they are surrounded by a coterie of like-minded individuals.  They can offer practical insights and emotional support, greatly facilitating the task of recalibrating one’s behavior.  It would be difficult to accomplish a similar result just acting on one’s own.

4.            An individual may be impacted by factors tending to reduce efficacy, ranging all the way from personal psychological ones (stress) to environmental ones (perceived lack of opportunity).  The impact of these factors can be reduced, enhancing an individual’s perception of her/his own capacities.  An example is the belief one cannot develop a creative skill such as painting or drawing.  The criteria for what count as good work often are elusive, subjective and seemingly-arbitrary.  One can “psych oneself out” and develop a belief one never will be able to succeed.  Yet by practicing and persevering one can improve one’s performance and one’s ability to create interesting and aesthetically-valid work.  One can “reframe” the situation and orient oneself towards a better outcome by developing positive expectations.

David Kronemyer