Group Therapy for Social Anxiety: Why It Works


Social anxiety disorder is not as unusual as you may think. About 12% of Americans have social anxiety at some point in their lives.

Extreme fear of social interaction can lead people to avoid social situations, even if it means losing a job or contact with family and friends.

And, like many mental disorders, it’s difficult to treat.

Group therapy for social anxiety is a treatment option that has gained momentum. For some, it’s more effective than individual therapy.  And more affordable, too.

In looking for a sense of community, an opportunity to learn from others’ experiences, and a safe place to practice social skills—group therapy might be the right approach.

What Kind of Group Therapy Is Best for Social Anxiety?

Group therapy is useful for people with a debilitating fear of social situations, mostly because it helps them practice interaction with others. The very thing causing their anxiety.

According to research, the leading treatment for social anxiety is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT techniques help people change thoughts and perceptions related to situations that cause anxiety.

How Group Therapy for Social Anxiety Works

During an introductory session, the therapist or therapists present the cognitive behavioral model and the rationale behind the treatment. The group then works on exposures, cognitive restructuring, and homework assignments.

Exposure

Either in the sessions or as homework, group members stay in a situation long enough to feel reduced anxiety.

Role-playing in the group also allows practice with a safe audience. For example, group members might practice placing an order at a restaurant or making a call on the phone. This type of simulation helps to reinforce calming techniques.

Cognitive Restructuring

Group members test beliefs like “I’m going to look stupid!” or “I don’t know how to ask for my order.”

Before and after exposures, they are asked to evaluate which thoughts were helpful. Then, shown better ways to approach the situation.

Homework

Assignments consist of facing real-life situations that group members role-played.

By thinking about how they handled their anxiety in role-playing situations, they learn to adapt to real-life situations.

Why It Works

Participants meet regularly with a small group of others who suffer from social anxiety. Guided by a therapist, they work together to learn and practice techniques to overcome it.

Group therapy provides benefits that individual therapy does not.

  • Because you are with others working towards the same goal, you feel less isolated.
  • You feel positive because you’re helping others. Providing support and advice is empowering. It combats negative thoughts about self-worth.
  • Social skills improve. As you get and give feedback, you learn to see yourself from a different perspective.
  • Practicing exposures to the social situations you fear, in a safe place, lets you improve step-by-step.
  • You learn from others. Watching someone else work through their fear motivates you.
  • Group therapy is cost-effective. It’s typically less expensive than individual therapy and is just as effective.

Group Therapy for Social Anxiety: What to Look for in a Group

Successful therapy groups for social anxiety follow some basic guidelines.

  • Everyone in the group has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
  • The group leader is a therapist who knows how to move people towards their goal appropriately.
  • Leaders explain, reinforce, and repeat specific strategies to substitute calmness and rationality for anxiety.
  • Group members use cognitive strategies in the group, starting with actions that cause them little concern. A step-by-step process prevents members from trying to do too much, which only reinforces the anxiety.
  • No one is forced or pressured. Members volunteer to use the strategies as they feel ready.
  • Members report back to the group on how they implemented the strategies in their lives.
  • Group members are comfortable supporting and helping each other, reinforcing what they are learning as individuals.

Finally…

No matter what your social anxiety triggers, group therapy provides a safe place. You can learn to calm yourself and gain a more realistic perspective.

Group therapy for social anxiety works for many.

Exposures and practice improve your ability to assert yourself. Role-playing teaches you to relax and perhaps even enjoy interacting with people. In the safety and comfort of a group setting, you can face situations more confidently in the real world.

You can learn more about Group Therapy at the Center for Mental Wellness HERE.