Why We Prefer "Social Anxiety" to "Social Phobia"

We have been campaigning for over fifteen years for the cessation of the terminology "social phobia".   We believe "social anxiety disorder" fits this disorder much better.  Here are the main reasons we are calling for a change:

1. Most people, even professional organizations, have a difficult time understanding the definition of "social phobia". 

For example, the largest anxiety association in the world many times misuses the term.  When it tries to give a case study or tell a story about a person with "social phobia", the story invariably turns into a story about a person with agoraphobia, an entirely different anxiety disorder.

2. The people, organizations, and sites that lump "the phobias" together are doing a real disservice not only to this problem (which, by itself is the largest anxiety disorder), but to the "true" phobias, such as specific phobias (i.e., fear of snakes, blood, insects, etc.)

3. Social anxiety permeates a person's entire life.  It is all-encompassing.

People with social anxiety fear social situations and events; they do not fear having panic attacks. They fear the high amount of anxiety, judgment, and the negative self-appraisal experienced before, during, and after a social event.

4. Social anxiety and agoraphobia are not remotely similar, in terms of operational definitions.

Social anxiety is a fear of social activities, events, and the people associated with them, which leads to high levels of anxiety, and, therefore, motivates the socially-anxious person to avoid them.

Agoraphobia results as a reaction to panic attacks that occur frequently and in many places, thus making people with agoraphobia feel unsafe when leaving their "zone of safety". The fear is of having a panic attack, not a fear of social situations and other people.

5. When an organization or group lists social anxiety as a part of "the phobias" it is a strong clue that they probably

do not understand social anxiety,

its complications, and its distinctiveness from the other anxiety disorders.

This is particularly unfortunate, given the large numbers of people who live daily with social anxiety.

6. The word "phobia" is inappropriate to this condition.   It is better applied to specific things.

7. Why should the largest anxiety disorder, one that affects 7-8% of the population at any given time, be lumped together indiscriminately with other anxiety disorders, thus diluting its already misunderstood status?

This lack of diagnostic precision is a direct hindrance to people who are in great need of help for a specific, clearly definable, anxiety disorder.

8. In sum, the term "social anxiety" (social anxiety disorder) is more precise, clear, and understandable than "social phobia".