Talk therapy conducted in groups could help people with
social anxiety disorder, according to a new review of past studies.
So-called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) hinges on
helping people change their thoughts and perceptions related to certain
situations. It is already used to treat panic disorder, social anxiety disorder
and depression, among other conditions.
The new report, published in PLOS One, suggests undergoing
CBT in groups is also effective for people with social anxiety disorder, who
have a debilitating fear of social situations.
First choice of
For them, group therapy may be particularly effective
because it helps people practice interacting with others, Pim Cuijpers said. He
heads the department of clinical psychology at VU University Amsterdam and
worked on the new report.
The analysis "confirmed what we had expected, and what
we hear from clinicians in practice: group therapy works for many patients with
social anxiety disorder," Cuijpers said. Thus it should be one of the
first choices for treatment, he said.
Medications like antidepressants are another possible option
for social anxiety disorder. But they can have side effects and don't always
work. Individual CBT doesn't provide an outlet for social interaction and is
less efficient to administer than group therapy.
For their review, Cuijpers and his colleagues examined 11
studies that randomly split people with social anxiety disorder into multiple
treatment groups. Some patients underwent cognitive behavioural group therapy.
Others either received no treatment, were given medication or continued with
their current treatment.
In the end, group therapy had a "moderate" effect
on participants' symptoms, the researchers found. They calculated that three
patients would have to go through therapy for one to see benefits.
Group therapy, some researchers say, holds promise in an era
in which high-value, cost-effective healthcare is the gold standard. "Group
treatments for psychiatric disorders are of tremendous interest," Dr John
Krystal said. He is the chair of psychiatry at Yale University School of
Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, and was not involved in the new
review. "They reduce the cost of treatment and may increase the access to
effective therapy in settings where there are limited resources for mental
health treatment," Krystal said.
The extreme fear of interacting with others can lead people
with social anxiety disorder to avoid such situations altogether, even if it
means losing a job and drifting away from family and friends. An estimated 12%
of Americans have the condition at some point during their lives.
"Social anxiety disorder is one of the most prevalent
anxiety disorders, with a large impact on the personal life of patients and
their relatives, and with huge costs for society," Cuijpers told Reuters
Many mental disorders, including social anxiety disorder,
are notoriously tough to treat. So calling the effects of cognitive behavioural
group therapy "moderate" is actually a misnomer, Krystal told Reuters
Health."This is a rather large treatment effect by the standards of most
medication treatments for social anxiety disorder," he said.
Krystal said the review provides compelling evidence that
group therapy offers benefits for social anxiety disorder that have previously
only been seen with individual therapy. "This is very good news, as it may
help guide the efficient deployment of mental health treatment resources,"