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Group Therapy: Ironic Treatment of Social Anxiety Disorder

Armen Hareyan's picture

Social anxiety disorder

Do you get the jitters when interacting with others? Oddly enough, group therapy may ease your social anxiety, say experts at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

"Although it is normal to get the jitters in some situations, it is abnormal for anxiety to interfere with social and occupational functioning," said Dr. Lisa Miller, a therapy group coordinator at BCM. "People with social anxiety disorder find their anxiety negatively affects their work and interpersonal relationships."

Miller and her colleague, Dr. Stephanie Sim, coordinate a cognitive behavioral group therapy session for social phobia at BCM's psychiatry clinic. They say the following are common symptoms of social anxiety disorder:

  • Fear of communicating with others

  • Fear of working in front of others

  • Fear of eating or drinking in front of others

  • Fear of being assertive

Using a combination of therapies, the sessions work to correct the abnormal thought and behavior patterns associated with social anxiety disorder.

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For people suffering from this disorder, even potential social interactions can spur negative thoughts that trigger anxiety. While medications can elevate the mood in order to counter negative thoughts, therapists believe that if people can change their thoughts, they can also change their feelings - without having to rely on medication.

Due to their apprehension, people with social anxiety disorder often avoid social interactions. This behavioral component of the disorder is very crippling because lack of social experience hinders the development of communications skills.

"Because people with social anxiety disorder feel they don't have what it takes to socialize, they tend to develop low self-esteem," said Miller. "This lack of confidence adds to their anxiety."

As part of treatment, patients are given the opportunity to role-play different social scenarios before trying them out in the real world. For example, if someone has trouble asking for a raise at work, the group will simulate that situation. The goal is to help them confront and overcome their anxiety so they will begin to function better in social situations.

The therapy extends beyond group sessions with homework assignments in which patients participate in the situations that were simulated during in-session role-play. They are then asked to reflect on how they handled their anxiety during the interactions.

According to Miller and Sim, cognitive behavioral group therapy targets all aspects of social anxiety disorder and provides members with a comforting environment.

"People with social anxiety disorder often feel they are the only ones with these fears, so it is helpful for them to meet others who suffer from the same problems," said Sim. "It has surprised me every time how quickly group members gel together and open up to one another. It is very powerful."

For more information on cognitive behavioral group therapy for social phobia, contact the Baylor Psychiatry Clinic at (713) 798-4857.