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What Are the Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Social Anxiety?

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  • Written By: Emily Daw
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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Social anxiety, sometimes also called social phobia, is an anxiety disorder in which the patient experiences extreme, irrational nervousness in some or all social settings. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective methods of treatment for this disorder. A full course of cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety includes cognitive restructuring, exposure therapy and sometimes group therapy. Most patients experience significant decrease in social anxiety symptoms as a result of this therapy, which has longer lasting results than pharmacological treatments.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety is effective because it addresses both the causes and the symptoms of anxiety. A person suffering from social anxiety disorder usually knows that his or her fears are disproportionate to the situation, but is not able to control the thoughts that lead to anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy addresses this problem by means of cognitive restructuring, in which the client is taught to replace negative, anxious thoughts with constructive thoughts.

In addition to cognitive restructuring, cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety will usually contain exposure therapy. For this part of treatment, clients visualize themselves succeeding in social situations. They are then introduced to controlled social settings and eventually progress to less controlled settings. This is the behavioral part of cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety.

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Exposure therapy often takes place in group settings specifically tailored to those with social anxiety. Therapists facilitate a non-threatening environment therapy group where clients are encouraged to participate in various social tasks, such as introducing themselves, making small talk, and giving presentations. This prepares patients to enter real-world social settings with increased confidence.

When compared with other types of treatment for social anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy is considered one of the best, longest lasting forms of therapy. Pharmacological treatments for social anxiety, such as antidepressants, are often effective in masking the symptoms of anxiety, but symptoms often reoccur once treatment is stopped. A combination of therapy and medication may be necessary in early stages of treatments, but many patients are able to stop taking medication following a full course of cognitive behavioral therapy.

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