By David Colburn
Look around the crowded room. See the widened staring eyes. Feel that nervous pressure rise. Is this all familiar? Does the very idea bring forth a tremble, a sweat, or a heavier breath?
Social anxiety disorder (also referred to as social phobia or sociophobia on occasion) is a surprisingly common condition. With a name taken from the Latin term for companion (socius) and the Greek term for fear (phobos), the disorder is characterized by a series of discomforting concepts; excessive self-consciousness, the fear of judgment, and, at times, difficulty speaking.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, social anxiety disorder exists in a wide range of intensity; some people may only experience the stress of the condition in a particular social situation while others may find it difficult to simply be in the presence of other people. In its most severe state, the disorder can interfere with everyday processes and some of the afflicted resort to avoiding social situations altogether.
MedicineNet.com proclaims many individuals that struggle with social anxiety disorder are “addicted to their fears,” there is a recognition of exaggeration and irrationality, but it is paired with an equal inability to overcome the condition. Those affected have often been treated through a combination of medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy, according to the same website.
The interest in understanding the condition, and how to most effectively provide a sense of solace, still thrives in the medical world. Recent studies have tested different methods of treatment and new clinical trials will soon be underway.
Study # 1: Internet-Based Therapy for Social Phobia
Psychiatry Weekly conducted and published an interview with Swiss scientist Thomas Berger, PhD, in which the subject of internet-based social anxiety disorder treatment was considered. Berger stated the following analysis, while it could easily be argued that the method reinforces the avoidance of social contact, it would also provide “cognitive-behavioral interventions that include exposure to real life situations.” He continued with a claim that the safety of the withdrawn environment would ultimately provide the best learning phase in the therapy.
Three conditions, unguided self-help treatment, weekly therapist support via e-mail, and progressively increased e-mail/telephone support on patient demand, were tested in the study, and the following results were derived; all three groups faced a considerable reduction in symptoms “with effects that are comparable to those obtained in face-to-face psychotherapy.”
Berger is encouraged by the results and believes that there is a potential for internet-based treatment in a variety of anxiety disorders.
Study # 2: Recent Canadian Psychotherapy Study
Physorg.com recently posted an article published in Psychological Science. A team of Canadian psychological scientists researched how psychotherapy specifically “changed” the brain of individuals plagued with social anxiety disorder. Electroencephalograms (EEGs) were used to measure real-time electrical interactions within the brain, with a specific focus on the anxiety-based delta-beta coupling levels.
A clinic in Hamilton, Ontario recruited 25 adults affected by social anxiety disorder for weekly sessions of group cognitive behavior therapy. Students that tested outside the common range of social anxiety symptoms, considerably low or considerably high, served as control groups.
Four EEGs were administered to the patients; two before the treatment sessions, one at the halfway point, and the final one two weeks after the sessions. EEGs measured patients at times of rest and times of notable social stress. Researchers ultimately found a complete shift in the clinical group’s anxiety levels, whereas the delta-beta levels easily compared to those of the high-anxiety control group before cognitive behavioral therapy, the levels were similar to the low anxiety control group two weeks after the sessions. As found on Psysorg.com, lead author Vladimir Milsovik believes that the results, though potentially affected by variables such as individual medication use, could alter the common perception of therapy’s benefits and effectiveness for the better.
Prospective Clinical Trial:
The Medical Research Network, in collaboration with Pfizer, will sponsor a 12-week double-blind study pertaining to the “efficacy and safety” of Pristiq as a treatment option for social anxiety disorder. With an estimated enrollment of 60 individuals (ranging in age from 18 to 75 years), the study will begin in April of 2011 and will potentially be completed by July of 2012. Those with a history of schizophrenia, substance dependence, and other medical complications will not be considered for the trial.
For more information on internet-based therapy for social phobia: http://www.psychweekly.com/aspx/article/articledetail.aspx?articleid=1242
For additional information on the recent psychotherapy study: http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-02-social-anxiety-disorder-psychotherapy-brain.html
For additional information on the upcoming clinical trial of Pristiq: http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01316302