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January 12, 2021

How to Treat Social Anxiety Disorder with a Clinical Mental Health Counseling Degree

An online degree in clinical mental health counseling is more than just a diploma; it’s the knowledge and skills you need to work with patients with social anxiety disorder and other mental illnesses. Social anxiety disorder is a widespread mental illness that can be treated by those with a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling.

Is this something you want to be able to do? With Grace College online, you can get your M.A. in a flexible and affordable format and be qualified for a fulfilling career in clinical mental health counseling.


Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US.

Social anxiety disorder is one of ten anxiety disorders identified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Also known as social phobia, it is important not to confuse social anxiety disorder with other anxiety disorders containing the word “phobia.”

  • In social anxiety disorder (social phobia), the individual is fearful or anxious about or avoidant of social interactions and situations that involve the possibility of being scrutinized.
  • Individuals with specific phobia are fearful or anxious about or avoidant of specific objects or situations.
  • Individuals with agoraphobia are fearful and anxious about two or more of the following: using public transportation, being in open spaces, being in enclosed places, standing in line or being in a crowd, or being outside of the home alone in other situations.

All of these anxiety disorders demonstrate the difference between fear and phobia, which can be summarized by the level and length of the fear. For phobias and any other anxiety disorders, fear or anxiety is excessive and persists beyond normally appropriate periods.


Overview of Social Anxiety Disorder

Diagnostic Criteria and Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others. Examples include social interactions, being observed, and performing in front of others.
  • The individual fears that he or she will act in a way or show anxiety symptoms that will be negatively evaluated.
  • The social situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety.
  • The social situations are avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety.
  • The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the social situation and to the sociocultural context.
  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting for six months or more.
  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance or another medical condition.
  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder, such as panic disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, or autism spectrum disorder.
  • If another medical condition is present, the fear, anxiety, or avoidance is clearly unrelated or is excessive.


Other Features of Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Prevalence: Social anxiety disorder affects 7 percent of adults in the United States. In much of the world, prevalence rates are lower and cluster around 0.5 to 2 percent; median prevalence in Europe is 2.3 percent. Prevalence rates decrease with age, and females are somewhat more likely than men to have social anxiety disorder.
  • Onset: Median age of onset for social anxiety disorder in the United States is 13 years, with 75 percent of individuals having an age of onset between 8 and 15 years. Onset can occur from a childhood history of social inhibition or shyness, from early childhood or following a humiliating experience (such as being bullied). However, it may develop slowly. First onset in adulthood is relatively rare.
  • Differential Diagnosis: Normative shyness is a personality trait and is not pathological. A small portion (12 percent) of self-identified shy individuals in the United States have symptoms meeting diagnostic criteria for social anxiety disorder. Compared to agoraphobia, individuals with social anxiety disorder are likely to be calm when left entirely alone, and they are most fearful of scrutiny from others. The DSM-5 includes differential diagnosis guidance for several other disorders.
  • Comorbidity: Social anxiety disorder is often present with other anxiety disorders, major depressive disorder, and substance abuse disorders. Chronic social isolation in the course of social anxiety may result in major depressive disorder.


How to Treat Social Anxiety Disorder

In some cases, medications may be used to treat social anxiety disorder. Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) can help reduce anxiety. Other medications for anxiety include tranquilizers (benzodiazepines) or beta-blockers.

The first-line treatment for social anxiety disorder is cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT). Interventions in CBT such as cognitive restructuring, which involves reappraisal in the context of exposure to feared social situations and negative self-beliefs, contribute to the effectiveness of CBT for social anxiety disorder, according to JAMA Psychiatry. Other interventions include exposure and response prevention technique, relaxation techniques, and systematic desensitization which must be conducted by a clinical mental health counseling professional.


Helping Individuals With Social Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. However, only one-third of those who have anxiety disorders receive treatment.

Grace College’s online M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling prepares graduates for work with these patients. This program is for you if you are serious about creating an impact in a counseling career and are looking to complete your graduate degree online. With a master in clinical mental health counseling online, you will be trained to help guide and assist people with their mental illnesses, including social anxiety disorder. This program is also committed to your professional and interpersonal development which is essential for effective counseling practice.

Discover our M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.