Does CBT Help Teens with Social Phobia?


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Social phobia makes it hard to function. Image by Robert Couse-Baker

Social phobia makes it hard for teens to function. Image by Robert Couse-Baker

New research on teenagers who have Social Phobia shows that CBT might not be the treatment of choice. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) has not been helpful in the long run, according to a new study by researchers at Temple University. Social phobia seems to stem from a complex combination of factors, so treatment might have to address more than changing one’s thoughts.

Social Phobia – It’s More than Bashfulness

According to the NIH (National Institute of Health), symptoms usually start during childhood or the teenage years, and social phobia is marked by a strong fear of being judged by others, which interferes with daily functioning, such as by preventing school attendance. Usually, people with social phobia feel they cannot control their fear. Some experience the phobia only in specific environments, while others have an overwhelming fear of embarrassing themselves in front of others in nearly every social situation.

If the symptoms described above last at least six months, your doctor will make a diagnosis of social phobia. Social phobia can be truly disabling, because sufferers have difficulty making friendships and maintaining friendships, and the anxiety often leads them to entirely avoid other people.

A 2011 study by Marcy Burstein, Ph.D. found that only 12 percent of youth who described themselves as shy met the criteria for true social phobia. The youth with social phobia showed higher levels of dysfunction in family, peer or school settings than youth with shyness. Youth who were diagnosed with social phobia were likely to have another psychiatric disorder, such as substance abuse or depression.

CBT – The Front Line Treatment

For years, many mental health practitioners have considered CBT to be the top treatment choice for young patients diagnosed with social phobia. CBT refers to a type of verbal therapy that teaches people to recognize and change their distorted thoughts. For example, a fifteen-year-old with social phobia might be coached to look around her classroom and ask herself whether every one of her classmates is truly watching and judging her. She would learn to recognize errors in her thought pattern and recognize that most people are thinking about themselves, instead.

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