The Importance of Talk Therapy in Treating Social Anxiety Disorder

By Kevin P. Caputo, M.D.

It’s not some form of extreme shyness or the result of an introverted personality. Social anxiety disorder severely limits the lives of sufferers, who live in fear of being judged in social or performance situations. People with social anxiety disorder often retreat into the perceived safety of living life alone, having few social or romantic relationships. It can leave them feeling like they have no power, ashamed and lonely.

Unfortunately, social anxiety disorder is common and affects up to 15 million adults in the United States. The standard for treatment is a combination of medicine, such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and talk therapy. However, a new study shows that talk therapy may be the most important part of the treatment equation, even more so than medication.

Talk Therapy, Not Just Medication, Is the Key to Treatment

In the recent study, researchers split people with social anxiety disorder into four treatment groups. The first group received talk therapy only, the second group received talk therapy and a SSRI, the third group received the SSRI only, and the last group received a placebo.

They discovered the group who received only talk therapy experienced greater improvements than any other group, including those who received medication and talk therapy combined. This improvement was seen both at the end of the study and 12 months after the study was over.

The researchers concluded that people who receive medication may rely too heavily on it for a cure. Patients think the medication will provide a quick fix for their social anxiety when in reality learning strategies to overcome negative thoughts and feelings is more important. In addition, medications used to treat social anxiety disorder can have strong physical side effects, and when sufferers reduce the dosage of their medication, many of the symptoms of their social phobia return.

Are You Suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder?

As many as 36 percent of social anxiety disorder sufferers wait up to 10 years or more before seeking help for their condition. They wait because their symptoms make it difficult to pursue treatment, or they don’t think there is any help for their condition.

Recognizing that you have a social anxiety disorder is the first step to effectively treating it. You may have a social anxiety disorder if you experience any of the following behaviors or emotions consistently:

  • Fear of being judged or humiliating yourself
  • Fear of interacting with strangers
  • Avoiding situations or people out of fear of embarrassment
  • Experiencing anxiety in anticipation of a social event
  • Overanalyzing social interactions to identify your flaws

Physical symptoms may include a rapid heart rate in social situations, upset stomach and diarrhea, dizziness or lightheadedness, and a feeling of being “out of body.” It may also cause you to avoid normal social situations that do not bother other people.

It’s important to see your doctor if fear of embarrassment, worry or panic around social situations causes you severe stress or disrupts your life. Your doctor can help identify a potential solution, which should almost always include talk therapy to learn strategies to overcome social anxiety disorder.

About the Author

Kevin P. Caputo, M.D.

Dr. Caputo believes a trusting, open relationship is important to facilitate the healing process. He feels it is important for patients to be educated in order to create the best outcome.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Caputo, please call 610-874-5257.

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