Effective Treatment for Social Anxiety: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy


Social anxiety disorder (SAD) can be effectively treated using cognitive behavioral therapy, according to researchers at Stanford University.

A Stanford research study indicates that counseling can effect changes in brain behavior that allows anxious individuals to react more productively to negative thoughts and feelings.

SAD and Therapy

People with SAD are affected by false beliefs and distorted thinking concerning the opinions of other people. They can suffer intensely from feeling criticized, judged or embarrassed, causing them to dread socializing or speaking in public. This creates difficulty in developing relationships and disrupts functioning at work or in school.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people look at the consequences of how they think about or respond to their thoughts or emotions. Then it teaches them to think and respond to those thoughts and emotions in ways that produce more positive outcomes.

The Stanford research showed that CBT significantly reduces symptoms associated with social anxiety disorder, and it also enhances brain activity in regions known to regulate emotion.

The Study

Patients in the Stanford study had been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. The patients attended 16 CBT sessions over 12 weeks. Through a process known as cognitive reappraisal or restructuring, patients learned to revisit their emotional reactions to social situations, and to alter their response.

For instance, if a socially anxious young man failed a series of tests at school, he would think himself a failure and feel defeated. However, after altering his response or restructuring the situation, the failed test results might be viewed as a personal challenge to discover ways to perform better.

The patients' brain responses to reappraising their distorted thoughts and beliefs were measured using MRI scans. The scans were done as the patients read about and restructured autobiographical social events, and then rated how they feeling.

Research Implications

One of the researchers, Philippe Goldin, pointed out that "understanding how the brain responds to and changes with the therapy can help elucidate how and why cognitive behavioral therapy works." With this knowledge, future research can look into how other forms of therapy (e.g., group therapy) affect brain areas involved with emotional regulation.

Goldin believes the Stanford study provides hope for those struggling with social anxiety, since CBT is a treatment shown to be effective and enduring, and does not require the use of medication.

Source: Stanford News


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