Harvard Mental Health Letter

Treating social anxiety disorder

Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective for most patients, while medication strategies depend on whether the disorder is generalized or specific.

Social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) is one of the most common psychiatric disorders. Although sometimes dismissed as shyness, social anxiety disorder can cause crippling fear that interferes with school attendance, work performance, and relationships. It affects about 7% of Americans in any given year, and about 12% at some point in their lives.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) lists criteria for diagnosing social anxiety disorder and describes how the disorder may manifest differently in children and adults (see sidebar). About half of the people with this disorder experience anxiety only in specific situations, particularly those involving some type of public performance such as speaking in front of people. Others have the generalized form, experiencing fear in almost any social situation.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »