Psychological Services Center

Social Phobias

Social Anxiety Disorders (SAD), or Social Phobias, involve severe distress around social interaction or performance, and fears of negative evaluation. An individual with social may avoid feared social situations, and may become distressed by the fact that they have these fears. There are two types of social anxiety disorders: generalized social phobia and specific social phobia.

What are the differences between Generalized and Specific Social Phobias?

Generalized Social Anxiety. Generalized Social Anxiety is more pervasive pattern of social fears than Specific Social Phobia, involving most or all social situations. This type of social phobia is considered an interaction anxiety, or anxiety around social interactions that may lead to negative evaluation and rejection. Individuals with generalized social phobia fear a wide variety of situations involving other people that may or may not seem related.

Specific Social Phobia. This type of social phobia is considered a performance anxiety, or anxiety about specific social situations that might lead to negative evaluation or embarrassment. Individuals with specific social phobia usually feel comfortable in most social situations, but have anxiety in one or a few focused areas of fear. Common fears include public speaking, eating in restaurants, writing in public, or using public restrooms.

What types of treatment are available?

Here are the main treatment options usually considered for social anxiety disorders:

  • Medications. Many people who have SAD benefit from medications. There are a variety of medications that have been used to treat SAD, but different people respond differently to these medications. In addition, some medications can have side effects and cannot be used by certain people, and not all people who can take medications benefit from them. Therefore, making the decision to try medications and deciding which one to try should be done under the care of a physician or psychiatrist.
  • Cognitive - Behavioral Therapy. The main goal of cognitive-behavioral therapy for SAD is to help individuals modify the maladaptive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in social situations. A central component of treatment for SAD is cognitive restructuring, or changing thoughts and beliefs targeting the fear of negative evaluation. In vivo exposure experiments are also very important, and help individuals gradually to confront feared situations.
  • Skills Training. Many people suffering from SAD benefit from training and practice in coping skills such as relaxation or distraction. Additionally, social skills (such as assertiveness or effective conversation) can be a helpful adjunct to the cognitive-behavioral treatment. Role playing can be a used to learn and practice thesevnew skills.
  • Other Psychological Therapies. There are many different types of psychological therapies, such as Interpersonal, Family, and Supportive. Many of these therapies were not developed specifically for anxiety disorders, but for other reasons (such as reducing depression, improving relationships or forpersonal growth). Although these other therapies are generally not helpful for the base anxiety, they may be useful for reaching other goals (such as reducing depression or improving relationships), which may ultimately help maintain gains in anxiety treatment. These services are not usually provided in the ADS. In the event that you may wish to obtain such therapies, the ADS can provide referrals for you. Additionally, these services may be obtained from the Psychological Services Center (which houses the ADS).