Social Anxiety Disorder and Helpful Treatments


Social phobia, or social anxiety disorder, is characterized by a fear of social situations that is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by such situations. People with social phobia often fear that they will act in a way that will be embarrassing or humiliating, and that they will be judged harshly by others. These fears often result in physical symptoms of anxiety (e.g. increased heart rate, sweating, panic attacks), and may lead to avoidance of social situations.

Stressful Situations for people suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder Include:

  • Attending parties
  • Participating at meetings or classes
  • Meeting new people
  • Using the telephone
  • Eating or drinking in front of others
  • Talking in front of a group
  • Performance situations (e.g. sports, dancing)

Individuals with social phobia engage in a number of “safety behaviours” when unable to avoid anxiety provoking situations.   Common safety behaviours include reassurance seeking, bringing a “safe” person with them places, making excuses to leave events early or drinking alcohol.  Such behaviours can perpetuate their fears and maintain anxiety over the long term.

Effective Therapies

CBT is considered the premier psychological treatment for anxiety and improvements are often maintained well beyond the end of treatment.

Both individual and group-based CBT have been shown to be effective treatments for social phobia.  CBT treatments for social phobia often involve several components including restructuring negative thoughts/beliefs  about one’s social competence, graduated exposure to social situations, elimination of safety behaviours, and social skills training.  Some research also indicates that the most effective component of CBT for social phobia is exposure therapy alone.