Facilitating coping and self-efficacy in first-semester college students through psychoeducation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Coping strategies, Freshman college students, Self-efficacy

Subject Categories



First semester college students are faced with three developmental tasks: separating from home, investing in their new setting, and meeting the academic challenge of college work (Medalie, 1981). These social and cognitive demands initiate the use of coping strategies, some of which lead to adaptive outcome and are therefore considered functional while others reduce the chance of adaptive outcomes and are considered dysfunctional (Lazarus, Cohen, Folkman, Kanner, & Schaefer, 1980). Previous research has demonstrated the effectiveness of coping skills training programs with college students (e.g., Williams & Hall, 1988). Using a psychoeducational perspective, a skills training workshop was designed to help first semester college freshmen improve their ability to cope with the normative developmental challenges of the transition from home to college. Subjects consisted of 202 first semester freshmen who were recruited from the university's introductory psychology subject pool. Using the Solomon (1949) Four-Group design, subjects were randomly assigned to four experimental conditions based on the presence or absence of two variables, a pretest and the workshop. The pretest was a self-report measure of self-efficacy and coping strategies; it was included as a baseline against which improvement in coping due to the workshop could be measured. Some of the factors that would contribute to this hypothesized improvement would be the instillation of hope (Yalom, 1985), instruction in specific coping skills (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), and increasing the sense of personal power or self-efficacy (Bandura, 1986).

The results of the study showed that the workshop effected a small increase in functional coping strategies but did not raise the subjects' self-efficacy scores or diminish the use of dysfunctional coping strategies. This finding is discussed in terms of the limited effectiveness of an intervention that is only of two hours' duration. A second finding concerned the effect of the pretest on subjects' coping and self-efficacy at the follow-up session. Unexpectedly, taking the pretest had the effect of reducing dysfunctional coping strategies and increasing self-efficacy. This finding is related to research that shows that brief pretherapy training procedures, analogous to the pretest in the current study, increase introspectiveness and boost the effect of psychological intervention. The finding that a self-assessment exercise has a therapeutic effect also supports the common practice of including self-tests in psychoeducational workshops. Studies designed explicitly to measure the effect of self-tests are needed. Also recommended are comparative studies of workshops of various durations and combinations of psychoeducational components. These would provide an empirical base for the construction of effective skills training programs.