Moving Beyond Shyness:
Interactive group therapy using cognitive-behavioral approaches in the treatment of social anxiety
Shonnie Brown, MFT

What is social anxiety?

By definition, social anxiety is excessive and persistent fear of social and performance situations. People with social anxiety usually have a personal history of ridicule, shame and/or extreme criticism by others (often a parent). There has been an erosion of self-esteem and self-confidence with subsequent withdrawal. The continuing fear of ridicule or scrutiny causes isolation and avoidance of new and potentially harmful situations. Isolation results in increased self-negation, despairing loneliness and depression.

Social anxiety or social phobia is only now being recognized as a serious and disabling disorder. Most social phobics go undiagnosed and untreated for years, existing in a narrow range of life experience because the very nature of this disorder makes it a struggle to ask for help. My clients report that they feel "weird, isolated, and very different from everyone else". To learn that this condition has a clinical diagnosis and is treatable and to join in an environment with others who understand your experience can be the first step towards enriching your life.

Why group therapy and how does it help?

For very shy people, group therapy is often the first safe social interaction, serving as a bridge to the social world. Moving Beyond Shyness groups are for men and women who have difficulty initiating social contact, maintaining relationships, and forming intimate attachments. Many group members are adult students who panic under an instructor's scrutiny and fear being put on the spot in the classroom. Others are fearful and extremely uncomfortable in work situations relating to authority figures and peers and being part of a competitive business world. All have excessive inhibitions with other people and particular discomfort with members of the other gender. The focus of our work is on connecting with others and developing the confidence needed to be part of a social world.

Group therapy is helpful in working with social anxiety in a number of ways:

  • The group provides a safe social environment for the development of interpersonal skills such as eye contact, initiating and maintaining conversation, relating to authority and dating.

  • Individual goal setting and risk taking are key components essential to building self-confidence. Group participants learn to take pride in their own and each other's accomplishments.

  • Group members are continually practicing social interactions through role plays, dyads, games, discussion, and in vivo field trips.

  • Skill building is emphasized by rehearsing and redoing challenging social situations.

  • Interaction is the emphasis. Peer interaction, support for risk taking and positive reflection build confidence. We emphasize giving and receiving supportive feedback and appreciation.
My approach to the treatment of social anxiety...

I use a combined approach which includes interrupting your thoughts to develop a more positive mental attitude, building social skills, setting goals and taking risks. I teach ways to take control over the negative introjects that run socially phobic people by replacing ruminating, critical thoughts with positive, affirming self-talk. We practice each type of social interaction that challenges individual participants. I emphasize setting individual goals with specific action plans, as goal setting is an essential part of building self-esteem. We discuss the ways that the body signals our anxiety and how to work with the physiological sensations of fear.

Moving Beyond Shyness groups are small, limited to six people, and open to both adults and college students. All groups meet in my office at Chinn Street Counseling Center near downtown Santa Rosa. I offer a comprehensive free interview to help us determine if this group is suitable for you. For more information about individual or group psychotherapy for social anxiety I invite you to contact me at (707)526-4353 or


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