Social Phobia

"There is nothing final about a mistake, except its being taken as final."

. . . Phyllis Bottoms, Strange Fruit, 1928

* * *Randy was in his sophomore year at college and was avoiding those classes in which he thought he might have to do presentations in front of the class. Unfortunately, this was keeping him from taking some courses which not only were required for graduation, but which were prerequisites for others which he really wanted to take. The year before he had volunteered to be the first to present his paper and when he walked to the front of the class and turned to face them he froze. He began to sweat, could feel his face flush and was unable to go on. He had even transferred out of the class because he was so embarrassed.

* * *Sophie had worked for the same company for ten years and had just been promoted to supervisor. She was required to not only conduct meetings with her staff, but also to represent her department at middle management meetings. Sophie began to develop headaches, and although she followed through with the requirements of her new position, she did so with intense emotional discomfort. Reluctantly, she turned down her next promotion because it involved presentations to upper management. She felt that if she made a mistake, the judgment of others would be cruel and final.

* * *Evelyn transferred to Miami from New York and was having difficulty making new friends. She was fairly comfortable when talking to one person, but when she found herself in a group situation she resorted to having a few drinks in order to relax enough to engage in conversation. Even then, she counted the minutes until she could leave. She socialized only at happy hours and clubs; because of her "shyness", others thought she was cold and aloof and few ever made overtures of friendship.

* * *Randy, Sophie, and Evelyn, more than shy, were suffering from Social Phobia which may affect up to thirteen percent of the population. Probably everyone experiences some nervousness when speaking to groups of people; however Social Phobia interferes not only with scholastic or job performance but with career success and fulfilling social relationships. Medication can be used either as needed before anticipated situations or daily in those cases where the anxiety is more pervasive and/or extreme. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is very effective in addressing behaviors and perceptions through relaxation techniques and by reality testing and changing expectations and self-talk.

After two sessions of cognitive-behavioral therapy Randy was able to resume the classes that were necessary as well as those that he desired. Randy may need a "booster shot" of psychotherapy during the remainder of his semester, but is currently able to meet all requirements.Sophie worked in psychotherapy for two and half months, learning to reality test her perceptions, goals, and behaviors. Through behavioral therapy, using exposure/desensitization, and through cognitive therapy, implementing improved communication skills she became increasingly comfortable with public presentations. After four months, she accepted a well-deserved promotion!Evelyn used some medication in addition to her psychotherapy and, after about six months, was socializing much more appropriately and happily. She enjoyed foreign films and became a volunteer with the Miami Film Festival where she met another volunteer who she is dating and planning to marry within the coming year. 

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