New Recipe for the Reduction of Social Anxiety

Individuals with social anxiety experience heightened fear in threat situations. They also find it extremely difficult to be in social settings and worry about being negatively perceived by others. Decreasing the negative bias exhibited by people with social anxiety has been the goal of many interventions, including cognitive behavioral approaches. Two therapeutic methods that have been shown to be quite effective at reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression in individuals with social phobia are cognitive bias modification for interpretation (CBM-I) and computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (cCBT). Until recently, these techniques have not been compared to each other. To fill this research gap, Jennifer O. Bowler of the University of East Anglia in England led a study evaluating the effects of CBM-I and cCBT relative to no treatment at all in a group of 63 adults with social anxiety.

Participants were assessed at baseline and at the end of treatment, and were compared to anxious individuals who received no therapy. During the study, all of the participants were required to report their levels of threat perception while under cognitive stress and under nonstressful conditions. Bowler found that compared to the control participants, the individuals in the therapy classes had much lower levels of depression and anxiety throughout the study period, regardless of whether they were in cCBT or CBM-I. However, when cognitive resources were taxed, the CBM-I participants demonstrated greater symptom reduction. Bowler notes that the people in her study were relatively young, with an average age of 22, and that future work might look at a broader age of participants. Additionally, the results were based in large part on self-reports and not clinical assessment tools. Despite these limitations, Bowler believes that her findings demonstrate that people with social anxiety may benefit from a diverse treatment approach. “Combining the two interventions could therefore produce better outcomes than relying on either alone,” Bowler said. “We conclude that these two approaches could be used as alternative or complementary interventions to reduce anxiety.”

Bowler, J. O., Mackintosh, B., Dunn, B. D., Mathews, A., Dalgleish, T., Hoppitt, L. (2012). A comparison of cognitive bias modification for interpretation and computerized cognitive behavior therapy: Effects on anxiety, depression, attentional control, and interpretive bias. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029932

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  • Linda Neely

    September 27th, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    It makes perfect sense to me that you would use diverse approaches with therapy just as we do with other aspects of life. I think of this as kind of like the way I approach losing weight. Eventually you will become accustomes to one method, so maybe that’s the time that you then have to change things up a little bit and try something new. And if they have both worked alone, then whey not try the approaches together and see if some new progress can be made that way?

  • Richard

    September 27th, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    “diverse treatment approach” and “Combining the two interventions could therefore produce better outcomes than relying on either alone,”

    I can agree, relying on one intervention could leave a person feeling like his/her treatment may be incomplete or lacking some component. Much like a second opinion that one would seek from a different doctor, a second approach would add a certain sense of something complete or thorough. Combining different therapies may be what is needed to satisfy the client’s need for a second opinion or “view”.

  • Jameson

    September 27th, 2012 at 5:43 PM

    Was any of this done with axiety reducing meds too?

  • H.K

    September 27th, 2012 at 9:23 PM

    I am generally a confiden person and did not experience social anxiety in the past.However I feel I have social anxiety of late.It is not always present but sometimes being in public just makes me paranoid.I am planning to see a doctor for this and it’s reassuring to know there are several alternatives available out there.

  • Parsons d

    September 28th, 2012 at 3:56 AM

    My only concern here is that if something ain’t broke, then why try to fix it?

    I am always of the mindset that some things work just fine and don’t need to be tweaked.

  • hilda

    September 28th, 2012 at 5:24 AM

    I always wondered about options in treatment- whether it is medications or therapy – Does a better technique always mean it is better for everybody? Like if a therapy technique is said to be better than another, sometimes some people may have an aversion to it or it may just not work for them and the ‘lower performing’ technique may be better suited to the person. So isn’t labeling one technique as better than another not somewhat inaccurate?

  • finn

    September 28th, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    just a thought – wouldnt those with social anxiety have problems approaching and seeking therapy, much less actually attend the therapy sessions and derive benefit from them?!

  • Layla

    September 28th, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    Just like with anything else, sometimes you have to shake things up a little to get that perfect little mix!

  • lennox

    September 30th, 2012 at 5:02 AM

    I have never been the type to be socially anxious or shy- I suppose some would say that I am outgoing to a fault. But I do feel for those people who find that they must struggle with this. That has to be a real difficulty that they live with, especially since so much of our society looks to those who are the most gregarious and outgoing for leadership and guidance. I would hope that for the sake of those who are not nturally inclined to be this way that there is some help coming for them because they deserve to be able to live without that cloak of anxiety and worry forever seeking them out.

  • Elliott

    September 30th, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    I’m currently in therapy for social anxiety and my therapist and I have adopted CBT. Seeing the results of this study,although I am making progress,I am just wondering if CBM would have been a better choice. Does the therapy method really matter a lot? Or should I just continue with what’s ongoing?

  • Richard Schultz, Ph.D.

    October 2nd, 2012 at 8:13 PM

    Seems a bit ho-hum to me. Haven’t examined the study itself, but this says that cognitive restructuring (CBT as usual, with an emphasis on the C), is superior to computerized CBT, when subjects were “cognitive taxed.” I haven’t treated a single socially anxious person who WASN’T cognitively taxed when triggered by the object of their fear. I love the creative ways academics use to rationalize their lack of clear findings. Been guilty of it myself. Next!

  • Richard Schultz, Ph.D.

    October 2nd, 2012 at 8:16 PM

    And one more thing; behavioral exposure is not mentioned here at all, thus the all important “B” gets dissed. What’s up with that?!! :). In vivo exposure is crucial to recovery in social anxiety.

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