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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Will my social phobia ever go away?

    I am an anxious person by nature and get very nervous in public places because I feel that everyone is looking at me. I am terrified of weekly meetings at work because I have to speak in front of people. Is there any type of treatment for this? Will therapy help?
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    Marianne has 15 years private practice experience providing psychological services to people for depression, anxiety, substance use, trauma, life changes, parenting, post natal depression, physical … View Profile

    Yes, therapy will definitely help. If we think about social phobia ever going away, a person may still feel a bit of anxiety in social situations, but hopefully it's more manageable. They learn to accept whatever they're experiencing. The idea is that you still place yourself in situations and you learn some very basic communication strategies around how to engage with people and to feel comfortable.

    Usually, people with social phobia have been avoiding situations for such a long time that it's almost impossible for them to change that behavior without professional help. There are a lot of useful strategies that can be taught. Certainly, changing one's attitude and thinking about situations. Also, starting to realize that people aren't as interested in us as we think they are. More focus on what I'm feeling and thinking in the moment, rather than what I imagine other people are thinking and feeling in the moment.

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    Alysha Coleman

    Clinical Psychologist, Counsellor, Psychologist

    Alysha is the Primary Clinical Psychologist and Director of The Institute for Healthy Living, a clinical psychology practice in Bondi Junction. Alysha has worked with … View Profile

    The good news is that there is a treatment approach proven to significantly reduce social anxiety to a level where you can comfortably function in situations that you may presently find impossible or extremely distressing. 

    I would recommend looking for a therapist who offers Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. As Marianne mentioned, this approach will help you change the thinking patterns that have made sure you stay controlled by your social anxiety. You will learn tools to manage your anxiety when it does pop up. This approach also helps you gradually face feared situations in order to learn that anxiety is a false-alarm - you can cope and people are not judging to the extent that we predict. By facing challenging situations, your level of anxiety will also reduce. 

  • Julian McNally

    Counselling Psychologist, Psychologist

    Julian McNally has practised counselling psychology since 1995. He trained in client-centered and solution-oriented approaches before discovering Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 2003. The mindfulness … View Profile

    Alysha and Mariane are on the money. You don't get better at socialising or public speaking by avoiding those activities.

    CBT will help with the challenges you mentioned. Where Alysha says “This approach also helps you gradually face feared situations in order to learn that anxiety is a false-alarm ”, that is referring to what is called in the trade exposure therapy - i.e. exposing yourself to the feared situation in gradually increasing ‘doses’ so that your nervous system can learn that despite the presence of fear symptoms you actually are safe.

    It's all very well to tell yourself this, but your nervous system learns through experience, not through thoughts and words. I'm sure you know what i mean if you've told yourself “This is ridiculous! I know everybody isn't interested in me, so why do I feel like they're all judging me?”

    Here's a couple of resources that may help you get a taste of this learning before or while you're seeing a therapist:

    6 ACT Conversations: Session 3 - this is a website/podcast series I developed with the RMIT Counselling Service to help people learn the skills of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This session focuses on learning willingness to experience ‘difficult’ emotions.

    Another potentially helpful resource is a new app I came across just today called Anxiety Mint (only available on iPhone). This leads you through a course of Cognitive Bias Modification and is based on the observation that many people with Social Phobia are overly sensitive to others' facial expressions that are perceived as cold or disapproving. Can't promise it will solve your problem, but for $2.50 it may be a good place to start. 

    Just remember, there are many wonderful people out there who would love to know you if they could - your mission, should you choose to accept it is to find them. And when you don't find them, just say, “Next!”

  • Renata Wosik

    Psychologist

    RW Psychology focuses on the treatment of children, adolescents, couples, and families. We are committed to working in partnership with you to meet your therapeutic … View Profile

    Hi there,

    Great question!!! Sometimes it can feel like it has become part of you, and you may feel that it will be with you forever. However with good quality therapy and treatment, yes indeed you can ged rid of it......!!!

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