Dear Life Matters,

I met you at the Taste of Abbot Kinney food event. As I told you, I was there because of the food. I had no idea what the charity was about and even though you tried to explain it to me, I am still confused about what self-efficacy is. I really thought it was the same thing as self-esteem and would appreciate it if you would explain it.




Dear Confused,

I appreciate your question because I imagine many people do not know the difference. The event supported Inside Out Community Arts, an organization that has won numerous awards, including national ones for their excellent curriculum.

When I was a doctoral student I learned about the importance of the arts to enhance learning. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Dr. James Catterall, a member of my doctoral committee at UCLA, had done research on the results of the educational programs at Inside Out.

If you look into their curriculum, you will see that they have a number of after-school programs and a weekend program where students camp in the Santa Monica Mountains and write a play together.

More importantly, Dr. Catterall’s results show that the students learn how to work together, how to be team members, how to deal with interpersonal differences, problem solving skills and how to cooperate and make friendships. They also learn how to express feelings and use their imagination and to develop metacognition, which basically means to be reflective, which helps us learn, think, come up with new ideas and think before we act.

All of these things are important and certainly lacking in many young people today through no fault of their own. We need a lot more of this type of help for kids and we need to have the arts put back into school curriculums. Santa Monica is lucky to still have it and for those of us who had it understand how lucky we were.

Don Novak, one of the owners of Hal’s restaurant who helped fund the event, told me that as a businessman, joining Hal in the restaurant 25 years ago definitely increased his ability to deal with interpersonal differences and increased his sense of cooperation and sensitivity. Joining others in artistic adventures can be incredibly fruitful and rewarding.

Now you specifically asked about self-efficacy and I deliberately left it for last.

It is not self-esteem, but it could be considered similar.

Self-esteem is the worth we place on ourselves. It is also called self-worth.

We are not born with it, we develop it after we develop our sense of self and it is directly related to how we see, think or feel others are seeing and reacting to us. If those around us think we are truly special, we usually will come to believe it. Unfortunately the reverse is also true. I have seen many people who really do not think they are worth much because they were treated as if they weren’t.

But things can also happen along the way to change our self-esteem. Really bad situations, like repeated sexual assaults, being bullied, or having a parent divorce or die makes us feel bad about ourselves. The list is endless but self-esteem is fundamentally based on deeply rooted beliefs that we hold about ourselves. The good news is that they can be changed with work in psychotherapy, if need be.

Self-efficacy is related, but it is not the same. Self-efficacy is the belief in ourselves that makes us feel effective. It’s a feeling that we can do it if we try. Some people who like themselves and have self-worth can be greatly lacking in the feeling or belief that they can be effective in general or at something specific.

An example might be a woman who knows she is beautiful and worth more than she has but feels helpless to make something different for herself. Another might be the guy who is great at sports and popular with the girls but cannot imagine getting through college; doesn’t believe he can do it.

So you can see that it certainly is a branch of that same tree of self-esteem but it is really about how effective we believe we are or can be. What are we capable of, what can we accomplish or contribute to this world?

In this economy, many unemployed people have given up and are losing their self-efficacy. Students without a decent education can be in the same boat. And it is a boat called hopeless.

We all need self-efficacy to help us try and to accomplish and then, to keep or build self-esteem.

Inside Out is doing a great job at building self-efficacy and we really need more programs like it.

Hope I answered your question and I hope you have self-efficacy.



Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at or e-mail your anonymous questions to Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters, because it does!

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