Struggling With Social Anxiety? Group Therapy Can Help

By Samantha Dewitt|Updated April 5, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

We often think of social anxiety in the format of what we've seen on TV or in movies. We think of the people who are incapable of leaving their homes because their social anxiety is so bad or who hide in the dark, entirely alone. But social anxiety can take on several different forms. It can be extreme, like the versions we see on TV.But it can also be mild, with a person who prefers to be alone or needs some alone time but does reasonably well in groups. Or it can be anything in the middle between the two.

What Is Social Anxiety?

When we look at the clinical definition of social anxiety, it tells us that it's a fear of being judged or negatively evaluated by people outside of ourselves. It's a fear that then causes us to feel inadequate, inferior, embarrassed, humiliated, depressed, or self-conscious. These feelings and the behaviors that go along with them can occur to varying degrees, and they can interfere with someone's life in different ways.

When we start talking about social anxiety disorder, it 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?

It used to be that this disorder wasn't all that prevalent, but it has become increasingly so throughout society. It's believed that several million people have a specific type of social anxiety disorder or generalized social anxiety disorder. Within the United States, it's considered the third largest psychological disorder and as many as 7% of the population may have it. The research seems to suggest that the chance of developing a social anxiety disorder at some time in your life is approximately 13-14%.

Specific Vs. Generalized Social Anxiety Disorder

For some people, there are specific situations where they feel uncomfortable or where they are unable to interact positively with other people. It may be speaking in front of groups or talking about themselves. This is what's called a specific social anxiety disorder. Because these individuals experience anxiety in only one area of social interaction or a couple of areas, they can work on these by themselves. This, however, is the less common type of the disorder.

Generalized social anxiety disorder is the more common one. With this type, the individual experiences anxiety with all forms of social situations. They generally feel anxious, worried, indecisive, depressed, inferior, or embarrassed just thinking about different situations in their life where they may have to interact with others. In general, this type of anxiety is characterized 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 many people with social anxiety disorder, being around people in any way could cause anxiety or some of the side effects of it. Some of these ways include the following:

  • being introduced to someone new
  • 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
  • being teased or otherwise criticized

Each of these situations (and a great deal more) could cause someone with social anxiety to feel uncomfortable, but more than that, it could cause physiological effects and intense emotional distress.

Physiological Effects of Social Anxiety Disorder

When it comes to physiological effects, there could be a great deal of them, and they could occur in any combination or any severity level. Individuals with social anxiety may experience a racing heartbeat, intense fear, blushing, excessive sweating, dry mouth, trembling, difficulty swallowing, and twitching muscles. Everyone experiences the physiological effects differently. This means that it's important for you to pay attention to what your own body is telling you and whether what you're experiencing is symptoms of social anxiety disorder. In general, these types of symptoms do not go away and occur constantly.

Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder

The good news is that there is therapy available for those who havesocial anxiety disorder. There are several options when it comes to the therapy that you want to undertake. What may come as a surprise for many people is that group therapy has had amazing results for those with this disorder. It may seem strange that one of the solutions for people who have difficulty in groups would be actually to put them in a group, but when it comes to groups of others that have the same condition, it can be a benefit.

Group therapy puts an individual in a room with other people who are experiencing a similar situation. It means that everyone in the room knows, relatively, how each other feels and the difficulties that they're going to go through. It also means that they can share in each other's triumphs and feel great for the way each of them is working toward the future that they want to have. When it comes to social anxiety, it means that everyone in the room hasit and that they are all feeling similarly about everything that they do in a session.

What's great about group therapy is that some of the people are going to be further along than you and some of the people are going to be not as far as you are. That means the people who are further along are going to serve as motivation and a sign of what you can achieve if you keep at it. The people who are not as far are going to be looking up to you, and they're going to be a reminder of just how far you've come already. Both of these are going to help you feel better about what you're doing and how far you've gotten.

When it comes to sharing in the group, it can be easier to share when you know that the people around you share your feelings and understand them. Rather than being in a typical group setting and being forced to make a speech, in this type of group setting you're going to have a much easier (though not easy) time talking to people who understand. You don't have to worry about any of these people telling you to “just make new friends” or to “try something new” because they understand what you're going through.

Getting the Help You Need

When it comes down to getting professional help, you want to make sure you have someone who understands how to help people with social anxiety disorder. You want to make sure that the therapist that you choose has worked with others who are experiencing the same disorder as you because that means they have direct experience.

You may also want to look into a professional who works entirely online rather than one who works in a traditional setting. Online therapy allows you to remain in a place where you're most comfortable, your own home. From there, it also allows you to attend sessions more easily and to schedule them, so they fit better with your life.

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. This result is comparable to and in some cases better than face-to-face therapy. Online therapy was also proven to be beneficial for people with depression, disabilities, and quality of life issues.

How BetterHelp Can Support You

BetterHelp is a great place for you to get the type of therapy that you're looking for because you have more freedom. You can work with a therapist who's located anywhere in the world, which means you have access to the best available rather than only the best in your local area. You're also going to have the ability to find someone who you feel most comfortable with, which can be even harder in-person when you have a social anxiety disorder. Working with one of BetterHelp’s professionals is going to make a difference for you and help you to work toward the life that you want, free from the restrictions of social anxiety.Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.

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!”

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