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I recently had a freshman college student come to my office for she needed help in her studies. She is new to the school and it seemed that she was having difficulty with a number of her subjects to the point that she has come to exhibit psychosomatic symptoms such as nausea, acute headaches and fatigue.

She had come from a small town and when she suddenly found herself in a big university, she felt lost. Before coming to college, she was an A student, she had great scores in the university admission test as well as in the SAT which is why she was accepted in the university, which meant that intellectually, she could cope with the demands of college courses. So the problem for this student was actually her low self-esteem and how she thought that everybody else was better than she was and that she would not survive the term, let alone finish the degree.

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I made her see that by the fact that she was accepted to the university, she actually was at the same level as the other students (Marsh & Hau, 2003). She just needed to realize that some people cope with the academic demands better than others because they study well, they listen attentively to their instructors and they really want to learn from these classes. She said that she have good study habits, she was interested in her subjects and that she enjoyed the lectures, so this was in effect an irrational belief in her part that everyone else was better than she is (Brewer, 1991). By letting her believe that she was good at studying and that she had an equal chance of making excellent grades as her classmates, she felt more sure and confident of herself. I could say that in this case, when she was able to increase her self-esteem, she was able to cope with the pressures of academic life.Self-esteem is a concept that refers to the degree or level of belief that a person has for him/her self (Wilson  & Dunn, 2004). It is different from self-confidence in the sense that self-esteem is based on how other people see us and how we measures ourselves based on those criteria. In the mentioned situation, the student’s sense of self was diminished; she thought poorly of herself and was feeling that she not good enough to be in college.

Self-concept is defined as what we believe ourselves to be, while identity is how and who we present ourselves to the outside world (Wilson  & Dunn, 2004). For this girl, her identity was tied to her accomplishments, she was an excellent student in high school, she was a nice girl but now that she was in a situation wherein she was getting poor scores in exams, her identity came into question, if she was really good, then why does she had poor scores.Agency refers to the behaviors that an individual exhibits in order to express one’s identity and self-concept (Wilson  & Dunn, 2004). Thus, for this girl, she was trying her best to cope with the pressures of college life but she felt overwhelmed by it, but through making her see that she was actually behaving how other successful students are behaving, she felt that she had a chance of doing better in her classes. One would think that motivating behavior change is as simple as pointing out what is good and positive about a person and in the process increase their self-esteem, but what is more important is that the person actually believes and own for him/her self that they are like that and that they actually behave like that (Wilson  & Dunn, 2004).

If the individual does not believe that he/she is a good student, then no matter how much praise and encouragement we give, it will not be enough to really promote true behavior change. 

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