Group Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder


The last social anxiety CBT group ran 18 weeks from  March  - July 2020.  

Next Group:  We cannot plan the next in-person group due to COVID-19.  There are several Zoom groups currently operating during the pandemic for people using the "Overcoming Social Anxiety" therapy series.  

The Social Anxiety Institute began a cognitive-behavioral group therapy approach to social anxiety disorder in September 1994.  The first groups were held in the early evening for two and a half hours.  Half of the time was spent on cognitive issues and understanding, and the other half was spent in carrying out -- actually doing -- what we were learning in the cognitive session. 

So, in the behavioral session, for example, we worked on developing  self-esteem by realizing we were just as good as anyone else, and we employed the use of role plays to physically act out situations in which we could stand up for ourselves -- and then learn to feel good about it afterwards.   

In 1999, as Dr. Richards realized we needed more time for a faster resolution to overcoming social anxiety, we shifted to the all-day Saturday group.  We also employed the audio series, which by then had become available,  and expected participants to have gone over the weekly cognitive material.   

In the morning, we discussed the cognitive therapy, drew out commonsense real-world applications, and Dr. Richards answered all questions relating to taking the solutions and applying them to the personal life of the group participant.           

Another essential element of the CBT program was that group participants were expected to get together during the weekday evenings  (instead of isolating themselves) and go over the group therapy together.  In later weeks of the group, the group members went out and did things together at night: bowling, hiking, laugh club participation, art walks, etc. 


The local Phoenix CBT group is a friendly, active, structured group that can change your life.  Our only goal is learning to get over social anxiety.  Cognitive-behavioral group therapy has been shown to be most effective at reaching this goal and providing long-term, permanent change. We use a gradual (step by step) approach to (a) limit anxiety, and (b) allow progress to become permanent.  This is best achieved in a structured group setting.   We handle all therapy with as much calmness and peace as possible. 

The 12 week Local Phoenix CBT program is an active, structured treatment program for people with social anxiety disorder.  The program is run by author and psychologist Thomas A. Richards, who has been running social anxiety therapy groups since 1995. Dr. Richards is assisted by Matthew Whitley, who earned his master's degree in 2010 and serves as behavioral therapist for the social anxiety groups.  

A new group consists of  no more than eight (8) members who are motivated and ready to overcome social anxiety.  New group members will be using mindful cognitive methods and strategies using the audio/video  therapy series, Overcoming Social Anxiety: Step by Step.  By using the series, you receive daily reinforcement of what we are doing in the group.

The all-day Saturday session includes review, discussion, and reinforcement of the cognitive therapy.  We have had many past group members move to Phoenix from out of state for therapy, and currently over half of the group is composed of people who have moved here from other geographical locations in North America.  

Behavioral activities are also included during the sessions in which you gently move up your anxiety hierarchy at your own pace and completely under your own direction.  Group members do behavioral experiments when they feel ready.  You are never forced or made to do anything.  Working at your own pace when you are ready to volunteer to do behavioral activities is the only way to effectively overcome social anxiety.


We run the active, structured cognitive-behavioral therapy group for people who are willing and motivated to overcome social anxiety.  This means we work with people who will do what’s necessary to overcome social anxiety. 

We can only work with self-motivated people.  We cannot accept people unless they themselves want to participate.   This means a willing and active participant in the group.    

The therapy group is held all day on Saturday, and at the end of the session the group plans activities for the next week in the evenings (not every evening).  Meeting together with the other group members and learning to be comfortable with them in all types of situations is part of the program and is a necessary step in overcoming social anxiety.   You can't stay simply home and come to the Saturday sessions and hope to get better.   We have found an active approach works much better and faster.  

The group will discuss evening activities and/or weekend activities, but it will not be every night, and we need to leave Friday night open to relax and get a good night's sleep before the Saturday session begins.   Meeting with other group members outside of the Saturday sessions helps you make friends, have fun, and begin to use the strategies.  Working regularly with a therapy “buddy” and eventually participating in the behavioral experiments is all an essential part of the program.  

We ask you to sign a contract stating you understand and will comply with the therapy as we only want to work with motivated people who are going to get better.   Again, you need to work on this program  everyday, 7 day a week, as you know if you've started the series.   Everything is geared toward helping you use the solutions in the program to get better and feel less anxious.   Visiting with Dr. Richards when necessary is very helpful, and costs can be adjusted if necessary.

Please apply for the group if you meet the following qualifications:

  1. The new application must be filled out as completely as possible.  Please do not submit simple or short answers.

  2. You need to guarantee that you will work through session four (4) before the group actually starts. 

  3. Two (2) individual sessions with Dr. Richards are needed before before the group starts.  The first is a diagnostic session.  In the second appointment we talk about everything the group does, both cognitively and behaviorally, so you will have no surprises.    Please schedule appropriately:  No more than one appointment per week, and do not plan last week or last minute appointments.    You can make appointments through the office at 602.230.7316

  4. Please do NOT move here until you are formally accepted into the group.   You must tell us where (location) you’re planning on living so we can give you general advice and make sure you are living a reasonable driving distance from SAI.  We want to prevent problems that have existed in the past and hinder people from overcoming social anxiety.

Living a reasonable distance from SAI is important for participating in weeknight therapy activities. 

Since we move slowly, one step at a time, and gently guide you through each step, and since you will have daily help and support, making progress is not difficult. 

We are located directly off the northern loop of the freeway (101) and access to the Institute is easy.  You can map out exactly where we are:  Living on the other end of the city – which could be 100 miles away -- will prohibit you from taking part in the  program, so if you are moving in, this is a word to the wise. 

Our groups consist only of people with social anxiety.  The groups are friendly and highly therapeutic.  Working together with other people like you adds a tremendous amount of proactivity to the program.  You will always have the encouragement and support of Dr. Richards and staff.  Plus, you will always be surrounded by your group members who will help you when needed just as you will help them.  Your decision to actively and persistently work on overcoming social anxiety will change your life.

The first group meeting covers sessions #1-4 in the online therapy series, "Overcoming Social Anxiety: Step by Step".  It is imperative people be conversant with the therapy and have a good understanding of it.    Having this cognitive understanding and knowledge will allow you to make more efficient and faster progress in the group. 


The Social Anxiety Institute uses social-anxiety specific cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), from the perspective of mindfulness and acceptance.  The only therapy shown to be effective for overcoming social anxiety disorder is this form of cognitive-behavioral therapy.  Another way of explaining this type of therapy is RATIONAL emotive therapy.   Learning to see things "rationally" is an essential part of the program.    Please take the time to read these articles:

What is CBT?
Why CBT works for Social Anxiety
Successful Social Anxiety Groups

Please also read the main articles on this website.  We're looking for people who understand the importance of repetition and reinforcement.

Appropriate CBT for social anxiety is not difficult, by itself.  But, the program will emphasize the persistence necessary to overcome this disorder.  You must be motivated and willing to change in order for CBT to work.  In therapy, we work toward a rational, permanent change in the brain’s neural pathways, to include the thoughts, feelings, perceptions, emotions, and behaviors.  The brain can only process new thoughts and beliefs with repetition of rational information over a period of time.  The key words here are repetition and consistency.

Participating in the group is much easier than you expect.  There is never a rational reason to be anxious about participation.  Dr. Richards lived with social anxiety for 40 years, so he understands how to run a group without causing you anxiety or embarrassment.  You are never singled out, called on to answer questions, or made the center of attention.  You must be ready, not forced, to do these things for therapy to be effective.  The group operates on a volunteer basis.  Only when you are ready will you volunteer to answer questions, read publicly, or do any other activity.  You are never pressured, forced, or coerced into doing anything.

Group members are always relieved to find an entire group of people who have social anxiety just like they do.  The realization that you are not alone is very motivating. People fit in the group fairly quickly and make acquaintances and friends faster than they expect.

The Local Phoenix Group is held on Saturdays from 10:00 AM to about 3:00 PM.  During the last few minutes, the group plans the events for the week night activities based on what you want to do, and your schedules.  Later on, you can plan what you want to work on that will help you overcome social anxiety (e.g., shopping center experiments, etc.)  We consider TWO (2) twelve week groups to be the minimum attendance needed to overcome social anxiety.  Every person is different, but one twelve week group will provide help that you can feel (quantify) but it will not be enough to "overcome" social anxiety (i.e., make a permanent change).  Instead, you will want to keep making progress.  Continuing with your friends in the group -- repetition and reinforcement -- will make sense to you at this point. 

All groups are open and friendly.  Only people with social anxiety are members.  We will move along in an easy, step by step manner, with no pressure being put on you.  You do not need to say or do anything until you feel ready to participate.  It is much easier to participate in the group than you think.  We do not want you to have or to reinforce anxiety.  We will come at the problem completely differently than you've ever done before.  We will take one little step a time -- one that will cause only the smallest amount of nervousness -- and gradually move up from there.  The small, or incremental, steps help you make forward progress much faster than you think.  

Individual Appointment Fees 

Appointment Fee
Diagnostic Appointment  (1st appointment)  
Individual Appointments   (all other appointments)  

First Group Fees

All twelve (12) weeks, everything included:    

These rates reflect participation in all group activities outside the Saturday therapy group.

We Can No Longer File Insurance

We're sorry, but we can no longer file mental health care returns anymore.  

However, you can file your own insurance using your insurance company's claim forms.   Dr. Richards will sign and date your form, and supply relevant coding data, according to existing law.  Dr. Richards is a licensed psychologist (Ph.D.) and is board certified. 

Moving Here for Social Anxiety Therapy

More than half of our social anxiety therapy groups are composed of participants from other U.S. states.  If you submit an application, have it reviewed and accepted, and then talk to Dr. Richards by phone, you will be accepted into the next available therapy group.   The Social Anxiety Institute does not have living facilities or apartments, so that is left up to the participant.  It is important to note that we will help you find something that is close to SAI and will fit your budget.  At times, there are people from past groups who may be looking for roommates or to rent out a room in an apartment or house.  We can put you in touch with other people, if the availability exists, although we do not ever engage in making the actual arrangements.   

Keep in mind that Phoenix is not only big, but is very spread out, so simply renting an apartment in Phoenix is NOT the answer.  You might do that and find yourself 100 miles away from SAI.   Please let the office help you with directions, and use Google maps to locate the Social Anxiety Institute and any apartment complex you may be interested in.    Just as in any major city, leasing an apartment sight unseen is an unwise choice, so making a trip here to inspect apartments and sign leases is an important step.  This also allows you to have one of your pre-therapy appointments personally with Dr. Richards while you are here.


Application for this March - May group