A cure for social anxiety

Posted on December 28, 2016

"We've set a new world record in effectively treating social anxiety disorders," says Hans M. Nordahl, a professor of behavioural medicine at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). He has led a project with a team of doctors and psychologists from NTNU and the University of Manchester in England to examine the effects of structured talk therapy and medication on patients with social anxiety disorders.

Until now, a combination of cognitive therapy and medication was thought to be the most effective treatment for these patients. The researchers' results, which have just been published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, show that cognitive therapy on its own has a much better effect in the long term than just drugs or a combination of the two.

Nearly 85 per cent of the study participants significantly improved or became completely healthy using only cognitive therapy.

Social anxiety is not a diagnosis, but a symptom that a lot of people struggle with. For example, talking or being funny on command in front of a large audience can trigger this symptom. On the other hand, social anxiety disorder - or social phobia - is a diagnosis for individuals who find it hard to function socially, and anyone with this diagnosis has high social anxiety.

Medications, talk therapy or a combination of these are the most common ways to treat patients with this diagnosis. NTNU researchers set out to examine which of these approaches is most effective.

"A lot of doctors and hospitals combine medications - like the famous "happy pill" - with talk therapy when they treat this patient group. It works well in patients with depressive disorders, but it actually has the opposite effect in individuals with social anxiety disorders. Not many health care professionals are aware of this," says Nordahl.

"Happy pills," like selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may have strong physical side effects. When patients have been on medications for some time and want to reduce them, the bodily feelings associated with social phobia, like shivering, flushing and dizziness in social situations tend to return. Patients often end up in a state of acute social anxiety again.

"Patients often rely more on the medication and don't place as much importance on therapy. They think it's the drugs that will make them healthier, and they become dependent on something external rather than learning to regulate themselves. So the medication camouflages a very important patient discovery: that by learning effective techniques, they have the ability to handle their anxiety themselves," says Nordahl.

Over 100 patients participated in the study and were divided into four groups. The first group received only medication, the second group received only therapy, the third group received a combination of the two, and the fourth received a placebo pill. The four groups were compared along the way, and researchers conducted a follow-up assessment with them a year after treatment ended.

During treatment and right afterwards, the patients in groups two and three were managing equally well. But after a year, it was clear that the group two participants - those who had only received cognitive therapy - fared the best.

Only with the help of cognitive therapy have researchers managed to increase the recovery rate in patients with social anxiety disorders by 20 to 25 per cent, as compared with the norm for this group.

"This is the most effective treatment ever for this patient group. Treatment of mental illness often isn't as effective as treating a bone fracture, but here we've shown that treatment of psychiatric disorders can be equally effective," says Nordahl.

To read the full article, click on the link below.


Category(s):Anxiety, Social Anxiety / Phobia

Source material from ScienceDaily


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