by Thomas A. Richards, Ph.D.
These are some general questions to ask potential psychologists or therapists you are considering seeing. These questions may help you assess how much they understand about social anxiety and its treatment.
1. "How much of your practice is geared toward people with social anxiety?
Try not to ask "yes" and "no" questions.
2. "I have been told that my problem is social anxiety, but I am not sure. Can you explain to me what the major symptoms of social anxiety are?"
Make them tell you what the symptoms are so that you can check to see if they generally understand the disorder.
Then, because research has been clear that active, structured, solution-based cognitive-behavioral therapy is the only effective method of overcoming social anxiety, ask:
3. "What does changing cognitions mean?"
4. "How do you do this?"
5. "Do you have a GROUP operating for people with social anxiety?"
Any therapist who sees people with social anxiety is going to be running a CBT group if they are serious and truly understand how to help people overcome social anxiety disorder.
If they say you are going to "talk" about it, wait a minute. Talking about anxiety over and over again only reinforces anxiety and may depress us further. There is no solution to the problem if you "talk" about it every week. You need some good, concrete solutions to all the practical problems that social anxiety causes in your daily life.
Your therapist should have specific methods, techniques, and strategies all written down (printed) on paper that explain what to practice and why (the rationale behind it or how it will make you better over time).
For example, we have over 100 handouts at the Social Anxiety Institute that we use with our social anxiety people -- every week we move forward, learn new methods of dealing with social anxiety, and gradually put these methods into practice, so that, over time, they are permanent changes the brain makes.
A potential therapist should also have a behavioral therapy group in operation.
You will probably begin with a group of 6-8 people with social anxiety and you will work on the activities (such as making introductions around the room, speaking in a small group, etc.) that cause anxiety, but only in a structured, step by step manner, so that your successes can build up gradually.
Our local group therapy day -- we use an all-day Saturday approach -- is one of my favorite days of the week, because even though I know people are a little anxious, they will be making progress and moving closer to their goal of overcoming social anxiety.
Everyone here who has "graduated from" the comprehensive CBT group(s) has moved up and forward with life. Some people have entered college or returned to college, others have taken a job, or a new job, whereas others have accepted a promotion to a level that fits their capabilities.
This not only happened to me, it happened to hundreds of others who have come through SAI as well.
Sometimes the going is rough, but if you find the right therapist, and stick with it, you will get better over time. Then, you can systematically and gradually overcome the whole thing.
The only hindrance to this is that we need more therapists who know what to do. The research is abundant, but the clinicians are few.