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. Please take the time to read these articles:
What is CBT?
Why CBT works for Social Anxiety
Successful Social Anxiety Groups
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.
If you are fully motivated and want to get as much out of the program as you can, keep in mind that it is daily cognitive and behavioral work that helps us get better. But you will have help, support, and physical assistance with all parts of getting better.
Again, for cognitive and behavioral therapy to truly be effective, one must do the therapy daily and consistently – repetition and reinforcement are key. This is the way we successfully reprogram our brains to overcome social anxiety. An additional benefit of the Local Phoenix Therapy Program is the organized social activity that takes place with group members during the week and on Sundays. The group is very active socially, and learning to feel comfortable and enjoy being around other people is a big part of the program. Participation in these social activities is strongly encouraged. Participation helps to keep you motivated on your path to overcoming social anxiety. The social activities tend to be highly proactive and provide more opportunities to carry out behavioral experiments when you feel comfortable and ready. We have several people interning at the clinic for future careers, and they often assist the groups with the out-of-clinic social events and behavioral experiments.
Both in and out of the Saturday sessions, group members can ask other members for direct assistance with the therapeutic strategies. For example, a woman who was working on slowing herself down (talking, thinking, etc.) asked the other group members to mention it to her when she started talking too quickly. They did, and she was able to make much faster progress in learning to automatically slow down. Each member feels free to ask for help for the things they find most difficult. The group is always supportive and encouraging, and this makes a bigger positive difference than you may think.
New and Returning Group Members
New group members begin with the cognitive therapy during the morning session and continue with the behavioral therapy in the afternoon. Once you have finished your first group and wish to return to keep working on behavioral activities, we encourage you to keep attending the group as a returning group member until you feel you have overcome social anxiety altogether. The majority of group members do attend successive groups. Remember, we cannot generally overcome all of social anxiety overnight, or even, in practical terms, in just a few months. The more we repeat and reinforce the therapy, the better able we are to fully overcome social anxiety.
New members start the first Saturday discussing sessions 1-4 with Dr. Richards in the cognitive (morning) session. We prefer people to be farther along in the online series than this, however. The more strategies you can learn and use before the group starts, the better off you will be.