Social anxiety disorder treatments include both medication and anxiety therapy. Medication provides relief from social anxiety symptoms, but is only effective while the individual is on medication. Mental health counseling provides longer-lasting relief from symptoms of social anxiety than medication, as therapy for anxiety alters how people respond to anxiety-producing situations.
Beginning Therapy for Anxiety
It is not unusual for symptoms of social anxiety disorder to increase at the beginning of therapy. Social anxiety treatments focus on behavioral therapy, thereby helping patients to identify and change attitudes and habits that encourage social anxiety symptoms. Since therapy requires people to think about anxiety-producing situations, symptoms of social anxiety may temporarily increase. Medication can help control social anxiety symptoms during the early days of behavioral therapy.
Several types of behavioral therapy treat social phobia. Social anxiety therapy models include the following.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is perhaps the most common mental health counseling treatment for social anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps patients identify triggers for social anxiety, and then teaches patients how to change the thoughts and behavioral patterns that accompany anxiety-producing situation.
CBT requires the patient’s full cooperation: the skills taught during CBT must be practiced if they are to be effective.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and commitment therapy teaches patients mindfulness – living completely in the moment without judging.
Acceptance and commitment therapy can be an effective social anxiety treatment when coupled with behavioral changes.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
Dialectical behavioral therapy shares features with acceptance and commitment therapy. Dialectal behavioral therapy includes Eastern meditation to promote mindfulness, alongside social skills and ways to modify emotions.
Exposure therapy is a type of behavioral therapy used to treat phobias.
Exposure therapy slowly exposes a person to anxiety-producing social activities. By gradually increasing exposure to the feared situation, exposure therapy reduces the fear and anxiety surrounding the event.
Social Skills Training
Social skills training, as the name implies, teaches how to react in social situations. Role-playing and rehearsals for social events increase confidence and reduce anxiety symptoms during real social interactions.
Group Therapy as Social Anxiety Treatment
Group therapy must be handled carefully for people with social anxiety disorder. Working with a group and sharing anxiety experiences may be too upsetting for people suffering from social phobia. Group therapy works best after a period of one-on-on behaviorally therapy, possibly combined with medication to reduce symptoms of anxiety. A well-led group provides a safe environment where social anxiety can be confronted, but only when patients can control anxiety symptoms sufficiently, enabling them to interact with other people.
Behavioral therapy for social anxiety disorder can be very effective. Some people recover from social anxiety after a period of behavioral therapy. Others, however, have social anxiety symptoms that benefit from long term mental health counseling and anti-anxiety medication. The longer social anxiety disorder goes untreated, the more established behavioral patterns become, and the greater the likelihood treatment will need to be long-term.
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