Struggling With Social Anxiety? Benefits Of Group Therapy

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Social anxiety can manifest in various common forms and is not necessarily being unable to leave your home and interact with others. In fact, social anxiety can be mild, with a person who prefers to be alone or needs some alone time but does reasonably well in a group setting. Engaging in treatment options like exposure therapy or social anxiety groups may help alleviate symptoms and build confidence in maintaining eye contact and conversations with most people.

Is group therapy the solution for managing your anxiety?

What is social anxiety disorder?

Clinical medicine defines social anxiety (or social phobia) as an intense and persistent fear of being judged or negatively evaluated by others. This fear may lead to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, embarrassment, humiliation or self-consciousness. 

Some people with social anxiety disorder will also experience depression. These feelings and the behaviors that go along with them can occur to varying degrees and can interfere with life in different ways. Social anxiety disorder occurs when these feelings start to become overwhelming, or the individual reaches a level where they are irrationally anxious in social situations. Talking with a licensed mental health professional like a counselor or psychologist can help you determine whether you may be experiencing social anxiety disorder.

Who has social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorders is considered one of the most common of all anxiety disorders with a prevalence rate of 7%.

Research suggests that the chance of developing a social anxiety disorder at some time in your life is approximately 13-14%. The disorder typically develops during childhood or adolescence. Individuals who seek treatment as adults report feeling the anxiety during their teen years, although some people develop the condition after adolescence. 

Specific vs. generalized social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety is typically described as either specific (also known as limited or discrete) or generalized. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) classifies specific and generalized social anxiety disorders in the same diagnostic category, but there are some qualitative differences between both.

In people with specific social anxiety disorder, their fear arises from distinct situations where they struggle with engaging positively with others socially. For example, a person may be able to engage in conversation without anxiety in most social situations unless they are asked to speak at a business meeting or talk about themselves personally. 

Generalized social anxiety disorder is characterized by an individual experiencing anxiety with all forms of social situations. They may feel anxious, worried, indecisive, depressed, inferior, or embarrassed when thinking about different real life situations where they may have to interact with others, such as group participants or a family. In general, this form of anxiety is marked by consistent and intense anxiety that remains for an extended period. The situations that could affect someone and the symptoms they may experience can vary a great deal from one individual to the next.

Situations that may cause anxiety

For most people with social anxiety disorder, engaging in conversations or being around others may trigger anxiety and its symptoms. The most common forms of social interactions that can cause distress include:

  • Being introduced to someone new

  • Avoiding small talk or casual social settings

  • Being at the center of attention or having to give a presentation

  • Experiencing social encounters

  • Being watched while they engage in an activity

  • Forming or carrying on interpersonal relationships

  • Anticipating job interviews

  • Being teased or otherwise criticized

Each kind of feared situation mentioned (among others) may cause someone with social anxiety to feel afraid and exhibit behaviors such as avoiding eye contact or an inability to maintain conversation. These social interactions may also cause physiological effects and intense emotional distress as they struggle to relate to others.

Physiological effects of social anxiety disorder

The physiological effects of social anxiety disorder can occur in any combination and severity level. Individuals dealing with social anxiety may experience a racing heartbeat, intense fear, blushing, excessive sweating, dry mouth, trembling, difficulty swallowing, and twitching. In some cases, the fear of showing these signs when in a social setting will trigger the social anxiety. Each person experiences the physiological effects of anxiety symptoms differently. This means that it is important for you to pay attention to what your own body is telling you and identify if you are experiencing symptoms of social anxiety disorder. In general, these types of symptoms do not go away on their own but require therapeutic support.

Group therapy for social anxiety disorder

While the idea of joining group sessions may be intimidating for someone with social anxiety disorder, it allows them to face their fears in a safe, non-judgmental environment.

Therapy groups offer core benefits, such as the opportunity for participants to engage in role-playing, learning to maintain eye contact with another group participants, and practice social skills before confronting feared situations in their everyday lives. Cognitive behavioral group therapy, for example, is an evidence-based treatment that helps people living with social anxiety learn social skills in a supportive environment. 

In cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), clients can learn the connections between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral group therapy takes both a cognitive and behavioral approach, allowing people to partake in cognitive therapy exercises and behavioral techniques to reduce social anxiety symptoms in a social anxiety group of peers. 

Elements of group psychotherapy for social anxiety

But what is group therapy all about? Group therapy places a person in a room with others experiencing a similar situation. In these cases, an individual feels comfortable in knowing that other people in the room can understand the challenges of social anxiety. Group therapy for social anxiety disorder incorporates several different techniques, such as:

Exposure work 

Exposure work is a cognitive-behavioral technique that involves gradually exposing an individual to feared thoughts, feelings and/or situations, which can decrease anxiety levels over time in a process called habituation. In group therapy, an exposure may be done through role play, where other people of the group simulate an anxiety-producing situation, such as asking someone on a date or having a group of people sing “Happy Birthday” in public. This technique can be effective in a cognitive-behavioral group, because the group format can allow groups to face their social fears, while also being around others who understand social anxiety. 

Cognitive restructuring

This technique for therapy groups focuses on challenging unhelpful thought patterns that may be contributing to anxiety and adopting new ways of perceiving situations.

Homework assignments

Groups may be asked to engage in exposures in-between sessions and reflect on what they learned.

Group psychotherapy for social anxiety is intended to be a supportive environment for people who are looking for ways to reduce anxiety symptoms and learn how to overcome their fears and feel comfortable in their daily life. Each person in cognitive behavioral group therapy has similar goals in mind as you and are looking for solutions.


Getting the help you need

When seeking professional help, choose a therapist who understands social anxiety disorder and will provide you with strategies to reduce your anxiety while building social skills. A therapist who has worked directly with people with social anxiety disorder has the experience needed to provide appropriate feedback and advisement to help you make progress. Ideally, you will want to find someone who specializes in anxiety disorders.

You may also want to interview therapists who practice cognitive behavioral therapy treatment entirely online rather than one who will only practice in a traditional setting or in a local group. Online therapy allows you to remain in a place where you are most comfortable, your own home. Your home is a safe environment you are very familiar with. From there, it also allows you to schedule and attend treatment sessions easily to fit better with your life.

Also, like group therapy, online therapy tends to be more affordable than traditional, one-on-one sessions at a physical location. Therefore, if you have social anxiety, cognitive behavioral group therapy and online therapy are both extremely effective solutions for those who want assistance but at a more approachable price range. For example, a study showed the efficacy of online therapy for people who have social anxiety. Within a span of 12 sessions and a 3-month follow up, 24 participants found significant improvement in their social anxiety. Online individual therapy was also proven to be beneficial for people with depression, disabilities, and quality of life issues.

Lastly, you could also investigate support groups. Keep in mind this is not the same as group therapy treatment and may not be led by a licensed professional. A support group for social anxiety may have the same types of goals as group therapy with people living with a similar experience. When participating in a support group, people learn from one another and can give each other feedback through asking and answering common questions. While some people can still make progress, it is not the same as getting professional advice, treatment, and feedback from mental health counselors or therapists who are trained to help clients move past social anxiety.

Is group therapy the solution for managing your anxiety?

How BetterHelp can support you

BetterHelp is a resource to help you find the support you need. You have the opportunity to find someone with whom you feel comfortable. Meeting in-person can present a challenge for many people with social anxiety disorder, especially when  you are trying to manage stress and alleviate symptoms. Fortunately, there is social anxiety online therapy available for those who have this disorder. If group therapy is not for you then individual therapy is an appropriate option. Working with one of BetterHelp’s professionals can you develop strategies to improve the quality of your life, free from the restrictions of social anxiety and its impact on your self-expression. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues including other anxiety disorders.

Counselor reviews

“Tonya was amazing. She was attentive, responsive, and would check in and follow up. She had great strategies and perspectives that have helped me manage my anxieties and fears.”

“Bonita is the best counselor that I have had. She listens really well and give me great feedback. She has also given me great tools for me to live my life with less anxieties. With her by my side, I know that I am on my way to a better future. Thank you so much Bonita! You are awesome!”


Social anxiety can cause symptoms that deeply interfere with everyday life and lead to significant stress. It can arise due to various situations, such as upbringing or specific traumatic events, and can be managed with therapy focused on alleviating symptoms. Group therapy is particularly effective in allowing those with anxiety to roleplay social interactions in a safe environment.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

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