The condition, characterized by an extreme fear of interacting with others, can lead people to avoid social situations altogether, even if it means losing a job or avoiding contact with family and friends. Approximately 12 percent of Americans have the disorder at some point in their lives.
“Social anxiety disorder is one of the most prevalent anxiety disorders, with a large impact on the personal life of patients and their relatives, and with huge costs for society,” said study author Pim Cuijpers, Ph.D., of the department of clinical psychology at VU University Amsterdam.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) conducted in a group setting may be particularly effective because it helps people practice interacting with others, said Cuijpers.
The analysis “confirmed what we had expected, and what we hear from clinicians in practice: group therapy works for many patients with social anxiety disorder,” said Cuijpers. Therefore, he added, it should be considered one of the first choices for treatment.
Medications like antidepressants can have side effects and aren’t always effective, and individual CBT doesn’t provide an outlet for social interaction and is less efficient to run than group therapy.
For the review, the researchers analyzed 11 studies that randomly divided participants with social anxiety disorder into several treatment groups. Some patients had gone through cognitive behavioral group therapy. Others either received no treatment, were given medication or continued with their current treatment.
The results showed that group therapy had a “moderate” effect on participants’ symptoms—one in three patients saw an improvement.
“Group treatments for psychiatric disorders are of tremendous interest,” said Dr. John Krystal, chair of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, who was not involved in the new review.
“They reduce the cost of treatment and may increase the access to effective therapy in settings where there are limited resources for mental health treatment,” he added.
Several mental disorders, including social anxiety disorder, are extremely hard to treat. So calling the effects of cognitive behavioral group therapy “moderate” is actually a misnomer, said Krystal.
“This is a rather large treatment effect by the standards of most medication treatments for social anxiety disorder. This is very good news, as it may help guide the efficient deployment of mental health treatment resources,” he said.
Source: PLOS One