Social Anxiety Disorder — also known as social phobia — is commonly treated by either psychotherapy or certain types of psychiatric medications. Social phobia is characterized by a persistent fear of social situations or performance situations (such as public speaking) where embarrassment might occur.
While both psychotherapy and medications have been shown to be effective in the treatment of social anxiety disorder, a combination approach to treatment — utilizing both at the same time — may be the most timely and beneficial.
While some people may find relief from some social anxiety symptoms through trying simple self-help techniques, most people with a diagnosed social phobia condition will need professional treatment in order to overcome it.
Psychotherapy is a very effective method of treatment for social anxiety disorder. Specifically, cognitive behavioral treatments — which include techniques such as exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring without exposure, exposure therapy with cognitive restructuring, and social skills training — appear to be highly effective in treatment social anxiety, in a time-limited manner. Most cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be administered within 16 sessions (usually one session per week). At the end of treatment, a person’s anxiety symptoms are greatly reduced or even disappear in some cases.
In addition to CBT, other psychological treatments have also been found effective in the treatment of social anxiety. These include cognitive therapy (a form of CBT), social skills training alone, relaxation exercises, exposure therapy alone, behavioral therapy, and some other types of less-practiced forms of psychotherapy.
Exposure therapy is often a primary component of psychotherapy treatment of social anxiety disorder. Exposure therapy involves a person learning to understand the irrational basis for their fears (cognitive restructuring), teaching simple relaxation skills to practice while in the moment, and gradually being “exposed” to the situation which causes the anxiety. The exposure is done first in the safety of the psychotherapy office, imagining the scenario and walking through it with the therapist. As the patient’s confidence grows, he or she will begin to apply the skills they’ve learned in the therapy session to outside world events and environments.
Psychotherapy treatments have been shown to be highly effective in treating social anxiety disorder (Acarturk et al., 2009; Powers et al., 2008). Most people who try psychotherapy with a therapist who has experience in treating social anxiety disorder will find relief from their symptoms.
The primary class of drugs used to treat social anxiety are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). This class of drugs was first developed to treat depression and so are often referred to as antidepressants. Since then, however, they have been found to be effective in the treatment of a wider range of disorders. Common SSRIs include Paxil (paroxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Luvox (fluvoxamine).
Another type of antidepressant called Effexor (venlafaxine) may also be prescribed to help with the symptoms of social phobia.
These kinds of medications generally take 6 to 8 weeks in order to start feeling the full therapeutic effects of them. While it may be frustrating to wait during that time and feel little relief, always take all medications as prescribed by your doctor. If you experience any distressing side effects, talk to your doctor immediately.
There is little specific reason to prescribe one antidepressant over another for the treatment of this disorder. Your doctor may choose your medication based upon their own experience in prescribing it, or based upon the typical side effects most people who take it experience. If you are not experiencing relief in 6 to 8 weeks from the first medication prescribed, talk to your doctor. He or she may decide to either up your dose or try a different medication altogether.
In addition to SSRIs, others kinds of medications are occasionally prescribed in the treatment of social anxiety disorder.
Anti-anxiety medications called benzodiazepines are rarely prescribed for social anxiety disorder, because they are extremely habit-forming and act as a sedative. However, because they act quickly in the short-term, they may be prescribed when a specific situation warrants their use — such as an unexpected public speaking engagement that can’t be avoided.
A class of drugs called beta blockers may also be used for relieving social anxiety. Beta blockers work by blocking the flow of epinephrine (more commonly known as adrenaline) that occurs when you’re anxious. This means they can help to control and block the physical symptoms that often accompany social anxiety — at least for a short while. They are primarily used for short-term situations, such as when you need to give a speech. However, like benzodiazepines, they are not generally recommended for the treatment of social anxiety and are rarely prescribed for it.
Grohol, J. (2011). Social Anxiety Disorder Treatment. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 30, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/social-anxiety-disorder-treatment/0009600
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.