Does CBT Help Teens with Social Phobia?


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The classroom can be frightening. Image by

The classroom can be frightening. Image by audio-luci-store

CBT also gradually exposes patients with social phobia to fear-inducing situations. The fifteen-year-old with social phobia would be helped by her therapist to gradually enter social situations, and learn to remain there without fear. CBT practitioners would also teach new social skills to their patients with social phobia.

New Revelations about CBT

A new study by Connor Kerns and other researchers dispels some notions about the efficacy of CBT. These researchers studied young people with social phobia right after they completed CBT treatment, one year later, and 7.4 years later. While the youth improved right after treatment, and maintained those gains one year later, their outlook at 7.4 years later was significantly lower.

That means that as they reached early adulthood, their social phobias were strong, and highly likely to interfere with their adult development.

Dr. Kerns’ findings are in line with the results of another 2013 study which was led by Timothy Bardseth. Dr. Bardseth and his colleagues challenged the view that CBT is superior to other mental health treatments. He analyzed numerous CBT studies, and found that in the treatment of anxiety, CBT was no more effective than other treatments.

These findings corroborate research led by Michael A. Southam-Gerow in 2010. Dr. Southam-Gerow reviewed the effects of CBT on youth with social phobia in a community clinic. While he found that CBT was effective, it was no better at reducing symptoms than other forms of therapy.

Implications for Treating Youth with Social Phobia

Social phobia is a complex illness that calls for creative intervention. Learning to change one’s thoughts and behaviors seems to be insufficient to control its painful symptoms. Given its frequent accompaniment of depression, it is likely linked to a deeper pathology, and discussing its origins with patients is probably helpful.

As Dr. Kerns, who revealed the relative ineffectiveness of CBT in the long term, expressed in his research, “Children who present with social anxiety diagnoses or symptoms may require an enhanced or extended treatment to maintain their gains into young adulthood whether or not social anxiety is considered their principal childhood difficulty.” For teens and children with social phobia, CBT is not enough.


Burstein M, et. al. Shyness versus social phobia in U.S. youth. (2011).  Pediatrics. Accessed on June 24, 2013.

Baardseth, T., et. al. Cognitive-behavioral therapy versus other therapies: Redux. (2013). Clinical Psychology Review. Accessed on June 24, 2013.

Southam-Gerow, M., et. al. Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Youth Anxiety Outperform Usual Care in Community Clinics? An Initial Effectiveness Test. (2010). Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Accessed on June 24, 2013.

Kerns, C., Cognitive behavioral therapy for youth with social anxiety: Differential short and long-term treatment outcomes. (2013). Journal of Anxiety Disorders. Accessed on June 24, 2013.

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