Many people suffer from shyness, but for most of us, shyness is a minor problem. We may feel somewhat shy when we are around new people that we don’t know, but after we meet them a few times, most of us find that our shyness soon disappears.
For some people however, shyness is an overwhelming and ongoing problem.
These people may experience overwhelming social anxiety in many situations, even when they are around people they have known for a long time. Various psychological therapies have been used to treat extreme shyness, bur most of them have a track record of only limited success.
Those types of therapy where the person is encouraged to delve into past traumas have a very poor record of helping anyone overcome shyness or social anxiety. The most successful approaches for shyness and social anxiety use some variation of cognitive therapy, or behavioral therapy, or both of these, combined with graduated and increasing exposure to the feared situation.
In cognitive therapy, the patient is taught to notice the thoughts he is thinking while he is in the feared situation. The client learns to challenge his thoughts to see if they fit reality. If these thoughts do not match the reality, the client is taught to substitute more realistic thoughts in their place.
Behavioral therapy aims to change the client’s behavior using a program of positive reinforcement of the desired behavior, and negative reinforcement of the undesired behavior. Learning to use these new techniques effectively requires commitment and practice, practice, practice!
Both cognitive therapy and behavior therapy focus on teaching the client to deal with situations and symptoms in the present. Neither form of therapy delves into situations in the client’s distant past. There are many books that can teach the reader to effectively use cognitive therapy techniques for both depression and loneliness.
If your case is not particularly severe, you can often learn enough from reading a book and doing the recommended exercises to greatly relieve your symptoms of shyness or depression. Dr. David Burns, one of the pioneers in bringing cognitive therapy to a wider audience, has written several very useful books and workbooks for the general public, including “Intimate Connections” and “Feeling Good–the New Mood Therapy.”
In the past decade, researchers have discovered that some anti-depressant medications, particularly the so-called SSRI’s (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors), can also be very helpful in the treatment of extreme shyness.
One of these SSRI drugs, Paxil, was the first to receive American F.D.A. approval as an effective treatment for social anxiety. In fact, ads for Paxil as a treatment for social anxiety have been marketed directly to the public, not just to doctors. Other anti-depressant drugs in the SSRI group are also believed to help in reliving social anxiety.
Does drug treatment for shyness really work? Some very socially anxious people have tried everything that regular psychotherapy has to offer, including cognitive therapy, yet they still suffer debilitating symptoms of shyness until they try SSRI drugs.
In some cases, the improvement in sociability after taking SSRI drugs can be swift and profound. This class of drugs seems to help the socially anxious person turn down the excessive volume of their inner judgmental thoughts. If you are shy or socially anxious, should you take a pill to make you more friendly? There are pros and cons to be considered when deciding whether or not to take a drug for social anxiety. The SSRI drugs can cause nervous agitation, insomnia, weight gain, and sexual dysfunction, as well as many other less common side effects.
Not all doctors approve of the idea of using a pill to treat shyness. Shyness is a normal human trait, and some doctors and psychologists are concerned that this normal human trait has been labelled as a medical condition that now requires expensive drugs to treat it.
Because the SSRI drugs are relatively new, it is not yet known what the long-term effects of this class of drugs may be. Nevertheless, the SSRI drugs are very widely prescribed, particularly in North America, for depression and social anxiety. In most locations it is easier to find a doctor who will prescribe SSRI medication to combat shyness than it is to find a counselor trained in the use of therapy effective in treating shyness disorders.
The difference in shyness experienced with drug therapy can be quite astounding, but it will likely last only as long as the drug is taken on a regular basis. When the drug is discontinued, the symptoms of shyness will likely reappear. With the proper psychotherapy for shyness, the positive results are likely to be long lasting.
Many people who suffer from severe shyness or social anxiety experience the best results from a combination of drug therapy along with cognitive therapy used at the same time.