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The following treatment approaches are often effective for treating social anxiety disorder. You can learn these techniques during counseling or treatment by a mental health provider.

Cognitive-behavior therapy is very useful in treating social anxiety disorder. The central component of this treatment is exposure therapy or systematic desensitization, which involves helping you to gradually become more comfortable with situations that frighten you.

The exposure process often involves three stages:

  • The first stage involves introducing you to the feared situation.
  • The second stage is to increase the risk for disapproval in that situation. This builds your confidence that you can handle rejection or criticism.
  • The third stage involves learning techniques to cope with disapproval. In this stage, you imagine your worst fears and are encouraged to develop constructive responses to those fears.

Cognitive-behavior therapy for social anxiety disorder also includes anxiety management training—teaching you techniques such as deep breathing, relaxation exercises, or meditation to help control your level of anxiety. Another important aspect of treatment is called cognitive restructuring, which will help you to identify unrealistic thoughts and develop more realistic expectations about the likelihood of danger in social situations. The duration of this treatment varies from one to four months. Approximately 50% of the patients show symptomatic improvement.

Supportive Therapy

You can also benefit from supportive therapy, such as group therapy, which helps you learn how to interact comfortably with other people. Couples or family therapy can help to educate your significant others about the disorder. You may also benefit from social skills training.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

The idea behind this type of psychotherapy is that symptoms of social anxiety disorder may be the result of mental processes which the patient is not aware of. The psychiatrist or clinical psychologist could help the patient clarify these mental processes, thus relieving their symptoms. The duration of treatment is approximately 12 weeks.

Stress Management

Any program to relieve stress and anxiety (such as yoga, meditation, exercise, hypnosis, learning to delegate work) and assertiveness training will help to relieve the anxiety that is felt in various social situations. These stressing relief techniques could be added to cognitive behavioral therapy.

References:

Mortberg E, Clark DM, et al. Intensive group cognitive treatment and individual cognitive therapy vs. treatment as usual in social phobia: a randomized controlled trial. Acta Psychiatr Schand. 2007;115:142-154.

Rowa K, Antony MM. Psychological treatments for social phobia. Can J Psychiatry. 2005;50:308-316.

Schneier FR. Clinical practice. Social anxiety disorder. N Engl J Med. 2006;355:1029-1036.

Social anxiety disorder (social phobia). Anxiety Disorders of America website. Available at: http://www.adaa.org/GettingHelp/AnxietyDisorders/SocialPhobia.asp. Updated October 2008. Accessed October 30, 2008.

Social phobia (social anxiety disorder). National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/social-phobia-social-anxiety-disorder.shtml. Updated October 2008. Accessed October 30, 2008.

Last reviewed November 2012 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.