Struggling With Social Anxiety? Group Therapy Can Help

By Samantha Dewitt|Updated August 29, 2022

Could Group Therapy Be The Solution You're Looking For?

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, in real life, 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, which is also known as social phobia, 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 due to it affecting their social skills. 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 form 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 real life situations and social interactions include the following:

  • 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 here (and a great deal more) could cause someone with social anxiety to feel uncomfortable and exhibit behaviors like avoiding eye contact, but more than that, these social interactions 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 of anxiety symptoms 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 social anxiety online therapy available for those who have this disorder. If you are a person who struggles with social anxiety, there are several treatment options when it comes to the therapy that you want to undertake. What may come as a surprise for many people is that group psychotherapy 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 setting, but when it comes to groups of others that have the same condition, it can be a benefit to seek out a therapy group. It’s basically the same as exposure therapy in this regard.

Group therapy puts a person in a room with other individuals 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 regarding social skills. 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 by providing positive mutual feedback with each other. When it comes to social anxiety groups, it means that everyone in the room has it and that they are all feeling similarly about everything that they do in a group therapy session.

What's great about cognitive behavioral 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 CBT group members who are further along are going to serve as motivation and a sign of what you can achieve if you keep at it and continue to attend group therapy. The group members who are not as far and are new to these group therapy sessions are going to be looking up to you, and they're going to be a reminder of just how far you've come already as a group member yourself. Both of these are going to help you feel better about what you're doing and how far you've gotten through the help of group psychotherapy.

Overall, it’s intended to be a supportive environment for people who face challenges related to social situations and are looking for ways to reduce anxiety symptoms and learn how to overcome their fears and feel comfortable in their daily life.

Could Group Therapy Be The Solution You're Looking For?

When it comes to sharing in a 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 these group sessions you're going to have a much easier (though not easy) time talking to people who understand, which is pretty much the case with any form of exposure therapy.

In group therapy, you don't have to worry about any of the group members telling you to “just make new friends” or to “try something new” , which are things you may have heard and dealt with from a friend or family member, because they understand what you're going through. Each person in cognitive behavioral group therapy has similar goals in mind as you and are looking for solutions - if the group members had basic answers like the ones above, they wouldn’t be in the group therapy sessions alongside you.

Getting the Help You Need

When it comes down to getting professional help, regardless whether it’s through a therapy group or individual therapy sessions online or at a private practice, you want to make sure you have someone who understands how to help people with social anxiety disorder and show them how to manage stress You want to make it a point to be 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 giving advice and feedback on the issue and can also help you make progress too. Ideally, you’ll want to find someone who has placed an emphasis or a focus on anxiety disorders such as social anxiety.

Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to find therapists who are familiar with cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety disorder because it’s one of the most common forms of treatment options available.

You may also want to look into a professional who works and uses 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're most comfortable, your own home, which is a safe environment you're very familiar with. From there, it also allows you to attend treatment sessions more easily and to schedule them, so they 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.

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 treatment that you’d typically find at a private practice. Online individual therapy was also proven to be beneficial for people with depression, disabilities, and quality of life issues.

Lastly, you could also look into support groups. This isn’t the same as group therapy treatment and it’s not led by a licensed professional, but it does have the same types of goals and you can have a similar experience due to people being able to relate to each other about social anxiety.

When participating in a support group, people learn from one another and can give each other feedback through asking and answering common questions that come up. You can find support groups online or in-person, and they’re typically led by a community member rather than actual therapists. Most people can still make progress, but it’s not quite 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.

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 and you’re looking to manage stress and start alleviating symptoms. 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 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!”

Below are some commonly asked questions on this topic:

Does group therapy work for social anxiety?

Yes. Cognitive behavioral group therapy is an evidence based treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder. While the idea of being in a group of people may be intimidating to someone with Social Anxiety Disorder, it allows them to face their fears in a safe, non-judgmental environment. Therapy groups offer the opportunity for participants to engage in role-playing and practice social skills, before confronting feared situations in their everyday lives.

Group therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder incorporates several different techniques, such as:

  • Exposure work: 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 members 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.
  • Cognitive restructuring: focuses on challenging unhelpful thought patterns that may be contributing to anxiety, and adopting new ways of perceiving situations.
  • Homework assignments: group members may be asked to engage in exposures in-between sessions, and reflect on what they learned.
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