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CBT Treatment for Social Anxiety and Social Phobia

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is feeling markedly nervous or tense in situations that involve other people. Most experience some degree of social anxiety on a regular basis. However, when social anxiety causes significant distress or negatively affects your functioning, it may have risen to the level of a social phobia. Approximately 7% of Americans meet the criteria for social anxiety disorder in any given year, and if left untreated, can become debilitating, leading to other psychological disorders such as major depression and agoraphobia.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the treatment of choice for social anxiety. Follow this link to a chart comparing the effectiveness of CBT to other treatments for social anxiety disorder. Through CBT, people learn different ways of reacting to thoughts and feelings, and they learn to engage in different behaviors that result in decreased fear. CBT also helps people learn and practice social skills when there is a deficit. Unlike traditional talk-therapy, CBT for social anxiety is an active treatment, involving use of skills training and behavioral homework assignments. Through learning and practice of CBT skills, people learn to become their own therapists, which is why CBT for social anxiety is a relatively brief treatment, usually lasting 16 sessions. Click here to learn more about what CBT is.

Treatment for social anxiety disorder generally includes the following interventions:

  • Assessment: Learning to analyze and identify what it is about specific situations that triggers anxiety
  • Cognitive restructuring: Learning to identify thoughts responsible for undue anxiety, and take a scientific approach to examining their veracity, subjecting them to rigorous tests of logic.
  • Mindfulness training: learning to attend to the present rather than getting caught up in one’s negative interpretations about the future.
  • Systematic exposure: Learning to reduce anxiety by putting yourself in anxiety-provoking situations while using mindfulness and cognitive skills. In systematic exposure, you begin with situations that trigger the least amount of anxiety. Once you master these situations, you work your way into increasingly anxiety-provoking situations until you master them as well. In this way, you can work at your own pace without feeling overwhelmed.