I submitted an [unanswered] question a few months ago regarding my apparent inability to form any meaningful (especially romantic) relationships. I’m now 25, never had a boyfriend, never been kissed, and I only need one hand to count the number of guys who have ever asked me on a date. Nothing’s changed on that front.

I started seeing a therapist a couple months ago, and after telling him about how I frequently burst into anxious tears at crowded events (now I realize it’s a panic attack), and about how I’m always worried about making a fool of myself and being rejected by my peers, he finally informed me that my real problem is likely a nasty social anxiety (stemming from a socially painful childhood).

Oh.

Well, now we have a name for why I’m weird. Although we’ve begun working on things, I can’t really see the big picture or the overall plan, and I wonder, with a once a week therapy schedule, how long would you expect things to take before any real, noticeable progress is made? Yes, I’m impatient. I guess I’m just asking if this is the sort of thing that can be worked through in a few sessions, or if I’ve got myself years of therapy ahead.

A: I’m sorry you were disappointed the first time you wrote in. The number of questions that come in every week far outstrip our ability to answer every one. I try to choose the issues that are representative so that people can learn from each other.

As for your question: The better person to ask is your therapist. It’s absolutely appropriate for you to discuss his treatment plan and how you will know if you have been successful in therapy.

Length of time in treatment depends on so many things: diagnosis, complicating factors, motivation of the client, skill and experience of the therapist, etc. Learning some coping skills to manage social anxiety should generally take months, not years. If you are seeing a therapist who is skilled in cognitive-behavioral therapy, studies show the average length of time needed for treatment to be effective is 12 – 20 weeks. But – other issues may emerge that, while you’re at it, you might choose to investigate. In that case, treatment would take longer. Other factors that can lengthen treatment include: if the issue has been long-standing; if you have tried and failed at treatment before; if you also have a personality disorder.

I hope you will use your impatience to help you be maximally motivated. Do some reading on your own. Commit to regularly practicing the skills your therapist teaches you in session. Stick with it even if some sessions are unsatisfying. (It’s unrealistic to expect every session to be amazing.) Your willingness to be an engaged and active partner in your progress is one of the most important factors in effectiveness of treatment.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 Apr 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). How long does it take to overcome Social Anxiety?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/04/26/how-long-does-it-take-to-overcome-social-anxiety/