Efficacy, Lost and Gained

photo.by.christopher *

My readers might have noticed that it has been some time since I last posted here. The reason is that a few days ago, I defended my thesis in clinical psychology and my time was spent over the last several weeks finishing and revising (and revising, and revising) my paper. Although this should seem like “old hat” for someone with a doctoral degree in educational psychology, I must share that the journey through a master’s program in clinical psychology has been a harrowing process for a number of reasons, including three heart procedures in the midst of it. Aside from health reasons though, I have found myself on a constant roller coaster of efficacy, lost and gained.

A few months before retirement as a professor of gifted education, I received admittance to the clinical psychology program at a local university. In our state, with the master’s degree and successful completion of a national exam, one may practice as a licensed psychological associate under the supervision of a licensed clinical psychologist. A successful defense of my thesis was the last step in completing the degree, allowing me to turn my attention to preparing for the licensure exam.

Why would I, in my seventies, choose to follow this path? Mainly, my decision stemmed from my work as a consultant, where often I encounter parents of gifted children who fear that their child has a disorder that requires the intervention of a counselor or psychologist.  Although it is usually the case that what may seem to be the child’s difficulties are merely the way that giftedness is manifested in the individual.  As an educational psychologist, I am not licensed to clinically assess or to treat disorders. Thus, in my role as a consultant, I cannot tell parents whether a clinical disorder that needs treatment exists or not. My only recourse is to refer the parents to a psychologist with strong knowledge of giftedness and its social and emotional manifestations. Unfortunately for those parents and gifted children in our area, the nearest psychologist with training and experience in giftedness is several hours away.  Often parents cannot travel such a distance regularly, opting either not to visit a mental health professional, or to see someone who lacks comprehensive experience in treating gifted individuals. Therefore, I hope to offer parents and their children a viable choice as a result of my clinical training.

Efficacy, lost and gained.

In my book, Nurturing the Gifted Female: A Guide for Educators and Parents, I described a number of gifted young women who possessed strong self-efficacy. For them, self-efficacy is recognized in their perceptions of themselves as capable of setting challenging goals and as having the ability to accomplish those goals. When I asked one of the girls what was the source of her efficacy, she replied,

“I can do everything! It’s in my Self, my successes, my environment, within me.” (p. 67)

The young women demonstrated efficacy in a variety of ways – intellectually, emotionally, and behaviorally. Intellectually, all of the girls were in accelerated learning environments, taking challenging advanced courses, in which they set high academic goals for themselves. Emotionally, they believed themselves – and demonstrated that they were – capable of coping with difficulties and learning from them. Behaviorally, they showed that they were capable of acting in ways that reflected one’s true Self in different environments.

Returning to my own struggle to go back to school for an advanced degree in late life and in an area of study completely new to me, I have experienced an almost total loss of efficacy a number of times. For example, memorization of new material takes much more effort that it did even as recently as when I studied for my Ph.D. in my late forties and early fifties. Learning and applying observational and therapeutic skills was at times easy since I was able to call on familiar frameworks from my life as an educator. At other times, learning and using what seemed to me to be stiff and unnatural protocols felt awkward and was almost painful.  Perhaps most significant was the diminishing energy I felt. I often wondered where I would find the physical resources to complete hours and hours of a statistics assignment with a computer program that baffled me or to study for a social psychology exam that my fellow graduate students were able to accomplish much more quickly and who were able to function on much fewer hours of sleep than that which I required.

When health problems slowed me down, I asked myself frequently why would I, with a decent retirement and at a time in my life that I could take it easy, put myself through such stress and misery.  Then I would remind myself that I had set a goal and that who I am as an individual is someone who works to accomplish her goals. Additionally, I realize that, were it not for a number of individuals, I would never have re-discovered my sense of efficacy. Firstly, I have a spouse who continued to support my efforts and knew when to push a little to help me get back on track. Secondly, some of my professors – especially my thesis director – went way beyond that which was required of them in assisting me in my learning. Finally, the other graduate students, all much younger than me, were kind, open, and welcoming of me and encouraged my efforts.

Efficacy and the aging process.

How is my story like the aging process for gifted elders? As we age, our bodies and our minds often diverge. What I mean is, while our minds continue to search for new learning and want to continue our creative productivity, our health and our physical capabilities may often curtail or limit those efforts. It is so sad for me when I visit some of “my ladies” whose minds are still so active, yet they are limited by the confines of residential care facilities to a sparsely furnished room and a dayroom that offers no intellectual stimulation.

For those of you who regularly interact with gifted elders, how can you support them and help them to continue to feel efficacious in a world where their dwindling capabilities and loss of personal freedom are constants? Returning to the concepts of intellectual, emotional, and behavioral efficacy, I offer some suggestions.

  • Intellectually. When we visit our gifted elders we can engage them in conversation that allows them to call on their strengths. If the elder was a nurse, ask him or her about some of the most enjoyable or intriguing cases. If you know music lovers, bring in recordings of a favorite composers and ask them to teach you about the piece. Intellectually stimulating conversation, books and other resources, and giving them the opportunity to share their knowledge will reinforce efficacy.
  • Emotionally. One of the residents I visit regularly is confined to a wheelchair. Other than some memory difficulty, my friend is alert and conversational. She is a very gracious person and it is always a pleasure to visit her. Her room is a refuge in an otherwise depressing rehabilitation facility. Although I do not do therapy at this stage, during our conversations, I ask her to share her emotional strengths with me, thus reinforcing her emotional efficacy. If there is something that is bothering her during a visit, we engage in conversation about how she has coped with similar difficulties in the past. Her memories spark a problem-solving process, reminding her of coping strategies she can apply to the present.
  • Behaviorally. It is important to encourage our gifted elders to sustain their physical strength and mobility. If they are capable, walking through the halls of the residence, going out to a porch or garden, are ways to encourage activity. Often, we are the only ones who suggest these activities and by doing so, we remind them that they are capable and that they can initiate the activities on their own or with others.

Our life journeys are filled with experiences of efficacy, lost and regained. Assisting our gifted elders in regaining a sense of efficacy will increase their quality of life significantly.

* Photo by Christopher at Unsplash.com 


Navan, J.L. (2009). Nurturing the gifted female: A guide for educators and parents. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

2 thoughts on “Efficacy, Lost and Gained

  1. There is always a learning curve when we attempt something new. I was discussing with a friend earlier today how frustrating it can be when things don’t come easily or with quick mastery. It is something that we are used to being gifted, and it can be easy to slip into self doubt, washing away all the strengths and abilities we have. It is amazing what you have accomplished, and knowing that you will be able to meet the needs of your patients better will hopefully make it worth all of the effort. Congratulations!


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