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Social Anxiety Disorder - Treatment Overview

Treatment for social anxiety disorder involves psychological counseling and sometimes medicines (such as antidepressants) to reduce related anxiety and depression.

A combination of medicines and professional counseling may be effective for long-term treatment for people who have generalized anxiety and fear over many social situations. For those who fear only one or a few social situations (such as public speaking or eating in front of others), professional counseling to overcome the fear may be all that is needed.

Unfortunately, many people don't seek treatment for anxiety disorders. You may not seek treatment because you think the symptoms are not bad enough or that you can work things out on your own. But getting treatment is important.

How do I know if I have an anxiety disorder that needs treatment?(What is a PDF document?)

If you need help deciding whether to see your doctor, see some reasons why people don't get help and read about how to overcome them.

Initial and ongoing treatment

Initial treatment of social anxiety disorder is based on how bad your emotional and physical symptoms are and how able you are to function in daily activities. People who have social anxiety disorder often have depression also. They may also have alcohol or substance abuse problems. Your doctor may ask you certain questions to see whether you might be drinking too much or abusing drugs.

Social anxiety disorder often goes undetected for years before treatment is sought. By that time, you may have developed behaviors that accommodate the fears. These habits or behaviors must be overcome to successfully manage social anxiety disorder.

First, your doctor must determine whether you are generally anxious about all social encounters or whether a specific situation triggers anxiety.

Treatment with a combination of medicines and professional counseling is often effective for generalized social anxiety disorder (fear of most public interaction). Some people need treatment throughout their lives, while others may recover completely after a period of treatment with counseling and medicines

Counseling

It is possible to overcome the fears linked with social anxiety disorder. Working through fears with a specific type of therapy—cognitive-behavioral therapy that includes exposure therapy—may be the best approach for treating your anxiety. It is important to continue professional counseling even if you are taking medicines to reduce anxiety.

Types of counseling most often used to treat social anxiety disorder include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapyCognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps you identify anxieties and the situations that provoke the anxiety. At first you may feel uncomfortable while addressing the feared situations, but it is an important part of your recovery. Several types of cognitive-behavioral therapy are used to treat social anxiety disorder, including:
    • Exposure therapy. You will be guided by a professional counselor to imagine you are facing the feared situation until you no longer fear it, such as eating in public. Next, you may go with your counselor to a public place and eat until, eventually, you can eat by yourself in public without fear.
    • Social skills training. This therapy helps you develop the skills you need in social situations through rehearsing and role-playing. Your anxiety is reduced as you become more comfortable with and prepared for the feared social situations.
    • Cognitive restructuring. This therapy helps you learn to identify and improve fearful thinking to help you better handle social situations.
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    • Symptom management skills. This therapy teaches you how to reduce stress by controlling your breathing and other physical responses to anxiety.
  • Supportive therapy. This can include:
    • Education about the disorder.
    • Family therapy, to support loved ones affected by your condition.
    • Group therapy or support groups, to seek support from others also diagnosed with the disorder.
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