Dr. Thomas A. Richards is a licensed psychologist and the founder and director of the Social Anxiety Institute. He is now in his 25th year of helping people overcome social anxiety, by use of rational cognitive-behavioral therapy. He has seen people from all over the world and had the opportunity to work with them directly, individually and through social anxiety CBT groups.
The Social Anxiety Institute has become international as twenty-five percent of the people seen are from outside the United States.
Dr. Richards has spoken at conferences all over the United States about social anxiety, with an emphasis on helping people overcome it. In addition, he has been asked by many operating groups to help, speak, and answer questions about the "Overcoming Social Anxiety: Step by Step" program. He has spent many days with therapy groups throughout the country, helping group leaders become more effective. "I only have so much time and can only get so much done," he said, speaking of his priorities, "and my primary focus is on the people who have social anxiety disorder. Tens of millions of people throughout the world suffer from social anxiety, and it is my desire, and the goal of the Social Anxiety Institute, to help as many people as we can."
Thomas A. Richards attended college in Arizona and California, graduating, with honors, from a liberal arts college in Santa Cruz.
"Because of my social anxiety, college was a nightmare for me", Dr. Richards commented. "I found I couldn't attend the university to which I had been accepted because of my social fears. So, I transferred to a very small college out of state where I thought I could at least function."
After college graduation, Dr. Richards took a fifth year of college classes at Arizona State University to obtain his state teaching certificate, and taught students at the upper elementary, junior high and high school levels, both in California and Arizona. Later, he moved into administrative positions within the field of education, and was administrator of two schools in the Phoenix area. Social anxiety continued to be a major problem for him, however, and many career and personal opportunities were lost because of this.
Dr. Richards enrolled and was accepted into the graduate school program at the University of Iowa in 1986, where he spent two semesters before transfering to Arizona State University in Tempe. He received both the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in psychology, with a concentration in life-span human development, from ASU.
After receiving his doctoral degree, Dr. Richards served as instructor and assistant professor of psychology at several universities throughout the country. During this time, he won several awards for teaching and instructional excellence, and was chosen by students as outstanding professor of the year in 1994. That same year, he left academics to open up a private psychological practice in Phoenix.
He gradually began working with people who had anxiety disorders, and turned the practice into a full-scale anxiety clinic. He founded the Anxiety Clinic of Arizona and treated people with panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder. The first social anxiety groups occurred at this time and have continued through the present day. As the clinic reputation grew, Dr. Richards and staff made the decision to focus entirely on social anxiety disorder, because there was virtually no help for this problem anywhere in the world. The Social Anxiety Institute was officially founded in 1999, as a way to indicate to everyone that the institution treated and worked with people who had social anxiety disorder only. Prior to the official re-naming and incorporation, Dr. Richards had already begun working solely with social anxiety people. The first international group happened accidentally in 1998, but within several weeks of agreeing to do it, the first "international" group was in operation.
As the Social Anxiety Institute grew, he established the first web site on the internet entirely dedicated to social anxiety. In 1999, the Social Anxiety Institute website became active and continues to this day. It was totally updated and revised in at the beginning of 2013, and has increased its presence on the internet as a source for information on social anxiety disorder. As a result of his prior experience dealing with other anxiety disorders, he had written and published the first website that dealt solely with all the anxiety disorders. Prior to this, The Anxiety Network became operational in 1995, and continues to this day, reaching 40,000 people a month.
Today, Dr. Richards is seen as one of the leading clinical authorities on social anxiety disorder, due to the international reputation of the Social Anxiety Institute and the fact that he has seen more patients with social anxiety disorder than any other therapist or psychologist in practice. People travel to SAI from every corner of the world because adequate treatment for social anxiety disorder does not yet exist. The international program at the Social Anxiety Institute has been operating continuously since 1998. The treatment programs at the Social Anxiety Institute are the most comprehensive and therapeutic programs in the world.
The weekly all-day Saturday programs continue to run, and the program has grown exponentially since 1994. The current Saturday group is made up of people from all over the United States -- people who have moved here to receive treatment, as treatment for social anxiety virtually does not exist in the U.S. yet. The Social Anxiety Institute has become a national and international treatment center.
In addition to speaking engagements, Dr. Richards has organized and run large conferences concerning social anxiety disorder in San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, Davenport, IA/Moline, IL, and in Phoenix.
At present, he and his team are working on another large project to provide added therapy assistance to people who cannot make it to the Social Anxiety Institute for any of its programs.