Treating Social Anxiety Disorder

In a previous blog, I discussed the nature, prevalence, signs and complexities of social anxiety. I urged readers to seek help for the disorder as soon as possible to prevent future complications. In this visit, I will discuss recommended treatments for social anxiety. Since the prevenance of anxiety is so high in various aspects of society, it is almost certain that the reader will have recently, or may soon, interact with someone displaying symptoms of social anxiety. Therefore, the information will have some sort of value to you. 

According to Reichenberg and Seligman (2017:191), “Exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring are the typical interventions for social anxiety disorder. This type of treatment helps to extinguish fears related to socializing with people, public speaking, or talking to strangers and is more effective than exposure alone in the treatment of social anxiety disorder (Ougrin, 2011). 

Exposure therapy includes various techniques that introduce situations to help someone “get over” their fear of something. For instance, someone who may be afraid of meeting new people may be challenged to greet five new people for the week. Cognitive restructuring refers to exercises that encourage the person to re-think the logic and implications of certain ideas that they hold to be true.  

Since a centerpiece of anxiety is often “irrational thoughts” meaning thoughts that do not sufficiently match up with lived realities, cognitive restructuring can be very helpful.  For instance, a student may believe that if they approached a classmate with whom they are not friends and ask how their day is going, the person may tell them to get lost, or otherwise think that they are strange. If this does not happen, they may re-think what they believed about how strangers may respond to them.  

These examples may both seem like exposure therapy to you. If so, then that is the point of why they both work so well together. Exposing ourselves to situations that cause us to face our fears will likely disprove our negative thoughts about such social situations. This may then rewire or restructure our thinking in ways that allow us to see that our fears are primarily irrational. Then, our life experiences, and refined way of thinking will combine as active ingredients to overcome social anxiety.   

If this makes sense to you, and or others you know who are experiencing social anxiety, be encouraged to set up an appointment with a therapist to see if a combination of exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring will make positive differences. This is not intended to suggest that the combination of these techniques is the only way, or even the best way to address your own version of social anxiety.  Please visit a therapist to know which approach may be best for you.   

The sooner, the better.  

Written By: Peter K. B. St. Jean, Masters Level Intern


Lourie W. Reichenberg, Linda Seligman 2017. Selecting Effective Treatments: A Comprehensive, Systematic guide to Treating Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. New Jersey: John Wiley & Son.  

Ougrin, D. (2011). Efficacy of exposure versus cognitive therapy in anxiety disorders. BMC Psychiatry, 11, 200. 

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