Psychological therapy for social anxiety

Dr Lara Lagutina, London SE16, UK



What is social phobia and social anxiety?

    DSM-IV defines social phobia as a "marked and persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations... The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be humiliating or embarrassing". Such fears are actually very common, with one out of eight people suffering from social phobia at some point in their life (Leahy & Holland, 2000). Often social phobia first manifests during adolescence, when children develop more awareness of themselves in the social world and become more self-conscious. When the fear of social situations becomes intense, people often start avoiding these situations, which can lead to growing isolation and their lives becoming more limited. Milder forms of social fears are often referred to as shyness or social anxiety.

    Some commonly feared social situations include public speaking, attending parties, meeting new people, using the telephone, speaking to people in authority, expressing one's opinion or disagreeing with others, asking for dates or eating in public.

How can psychological therapy help with social phobia or anxiety?

    Social phobia or anxiety are broad terms, simply labelling the type of fear and anxiety. The psychologist can help you explore the underlying reasons for your fears, such as specific negative believes you may hold about yourself or other people (e.g. that others are generally critical and are likely to judge you negatively). Once the individual picture underlying your fears becomes clearer, a number of therapeutic strategies can be used to help you challenge and transform these fears. It may also be useful to work on developing better social skills. Some commonly used therapeutic approaches with social phobia are cognitive behavioural therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

  For information about the practical aspects of therapy, such as length of sessions please see FAQ.


Social Phobia