Expanding Academic and Career Self-Efficacy: A Family Systems Framework. (Practice & Theory)

Article excerpt

Scholars such as Bandura and de Shazer (Bandura, 1986; de Shazer, 1988) have articulated two lines of inquiry that can provide school counselors with a framework to guide their interventions to promote the academic and career development of students: self-efficacy theory and family systems theory. Self-efficacy refers to people's judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances (Bandura, 1986, p. 391) and determines personal agency and then predicts academic- and career-related choice and performance (Hackett & Lent, 1992). Furthermore, it is logical to assume that self-efficacy and familial factors are intertwined. For example, self-efficacy beliefs about math and science, and family interaction patterns that obstruct or support achievement, can foster or hinder development in school and later development in career choice. Systems theory, in general, refers to studying a group of related elements that interact as a whole entity; this definition includes general systems theory and cybernetics (the analysis of the flow of information in closed systems). Therefore, a family system is a group of people who interact as a family and create, in the process, a whole entity (Nichols & Schwartz, 1994). Specifically, family structure determines how family members interact and explains how they create coconstructed beliefs that determine acceptable academic and career decisions, formulated within a highly charged emotional learning environment (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). Because beliefs about academic performance and acceptable career choices are forged within the family context, school counselors must know about systems theory so they can work at least "indirectly" with parents (i.e., consider various systemic factors when counseling children).

Systems theory predicts that behavioral interaction patterns can be known and traced and that when one family member changes, all the family members change if they are to incorporate or support the changed individual (Downing, Pierce, & Woodruff, 1993; Nichols & Schwartz, 1994). Therefore, a particular school counseling intervention may not last if the family system senses a "threat" regarding established familial patterns (e.g., current level of closeness) because of an academic or career decision made by a child due to the intervention. If the family fails to support a choice, a child may experience conflict between his or her academic and career decisions and his or her desire to remain "connected" with the family. For example, a student may be ambivalent about academic success related to career attainment because he or she may hold "pathogenic beliefs" (Weiss, Sampson, & Mount Zion Psychotherapy Research Group, 1986) of imaginary harm that could occur in relationships with family members if he or she accomplishes a desired goal. This anxiety, in turn, can create a sense of guilt that exists along with the developmental strivings in which actual success could be perceived as carrying harmful consequences to oneself, to loved ones, or both (Bush, 1989; Friedman, 1985; Glover, 1994). To illustrate, imagine a son whose highly intelligent father could not attend college because of limited financial resources, and so he has worked in a factory for 25 years and is now a first-line supervisor. Imagine further that this son now obtains an academic scholarship that pays the entire cost of a 4-year college preprofessional degree at a prestigious private liberal arts college. The son, knowing that he is able to accomplish something his father has always desired, and knowing that his father's opportunity to do so has irrevocably passed, may suffer from survivor guilt, or anxiety about making his father feel surpassed or outdone, coupled with the idea that his success comes at the expense of his father (Shilkret & Nigrosh, 1997). The expense to his father is incurred when his acceptance and scholarship clearly indicate that he is highly talented and is deepened when he and his father realize that the father could have accomplished a similar success if he had had the opportunity. …