Woman giving work presentation

Therapy more effective than antidepressants in treating social anxiety

Over seven percent of Americans suffer from social anxiety disorder. For most, antidepressants are used to treat their anxiety. However, a recent study revealed that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be more effective than anti-depressants when treating the disorder - and effects are long-term.

"Cognitive behavior therapy stems from the theory that thoughts and perceptions drive emotions," explained Kimble Richardson, a licensed mental health counselor at Community Health Network. "Emotions can become overwhelming and can lead to difficulty coping and/or functioning in one’s personal life, work life or both. If a person’s thinking is irrational, incorrect or untrue, it can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression and/or anger."

CBT is used to recognize the irrational beliefs and perceptions the individual may have, challenge their accuracy or truthfulness and then transform the irrational beliefs into rational beliefs and perceptions. 

"This therapy doesn’t make feelings disappear, but does help to put things into perspective for the individual so that they don't feel overwhelmed and dysfunctional," said Richardson. 

Let’s say Julie (pretend adult) is scheduled to give a presentation at a work in front of 20 department colleagues. As the time for her presentation nears, she feels so anxious that she becomes incapacitated and decides to skip the meeting, remaining in her office with the door shut. A CBT-focused therapist would help Julie:

  1. Recognize her irrational thoughts. For example, “Everyone will think I’m stupid.” “No one will agree with me.” “I can’t stand giving speeches in front of an audience.”
  2. Challenge their accuracy by asking, “How do I know what everyone will be thinking? I can’t know unless I ask people directly." "What evidence do I have that absolutely no one will agree with anything I’ve said?"  "What does it mean to say I 'can’t stand' giving speeches?”
  3. Change irrational to rational thinking. For example, “Some or even many people may disagree with me.” “I prefer not to give presentations in front of others.” “I don’t like to stand in front of other people, but I can do it if necessary.” 

"Thoughts and perception changes accomplished in therapy won't erase Julie's emotions entirely, but it will help her emotions become more manageable," said Richardson. "So instead of having a panic attack, Julie may feel slightly anxious; instead of feeling depressed, she may feel sad; and instead of feeling enraged, she may just feel irritated."

Talk to an expert

To learn more about social anxiety disorder, or to seek treatment, contact Community Behavioral Health services at 317-621-5719.