CBT for Social Anxiety in Adolescents

Teen years can be difficult. Adolescents are subject to a great deal of social pressure and may often feel as though the world is watching them, noticing any wrong move. For some teens, these fears can become excessive and even debilitating in social situations.

When fears about performance and evaluation start to affect normal life function, an individual may develop a mental disorder known as social anxiety. If you think that your teenager is struggling with social anxiety, you likely have a lot of questions. The primary question is where to turn for help. Therapy is a very good option. More specifically, one of the most effective treatments for social anxiety is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT.


What does CBT look like for adolescents?

Essentially, CBT is a form of talk therapy. Your child will speak with a counselor on an in depth level about their concerns and anxieties. CBT enhances the basic talk formula with the addition of psychoeducation, lifestlyle skills, and practical techniques for managing the emotional challenges that accompany social anxiety.

Like most forms of therapy, CBT starts with establishing rapport and building a therapeutic relationship. A good therapist can help your teen to feel safe exploring their insecurities while simultaneously helping them take steps to improve their mental health and daily life function.

Every child is unique, so the early stages of treatment explore specific the symptoms and the origins of the symptoms from a personal perspective. Much as it sounds, CBT targets the cognitions and behaviors that drive the symptoms. Dealing with maladaptive thought patterns can give your teen the skills to recognize, monitor and alter unhelpful thoughts. Building a strong defense against self-deprecating thoughts creates opportunity for more positive self-talk.

CBT can also help your teen to learn methods for reducing the physical symptoms of anxiety. By developing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, your child can begin to prevent and alleviate feelings of intense panic and anxiety.

Individuals who struggle with social anxiety often manage their own symptoms through avoidance. They may simply refuse to approach or deliberately flee uncomfortable social situations. CBT can challenge your teen to face difficult situations and work through the anxiety, allowing for the development of effective coping skills.


Is CBT effective for social anxiety?

CBT is widely researched and supported as a treatment for Social Anxiety in all age groups, making it the preferred treatment method. On the surface, the techniques simply focus on helping individuals to embrace new ways of thinking and responding. However, recent research shows that the essential benefits may be lie in physical and mental changes.

CBT targets the key symptoms of social anxiety. With effective treatment, individuals with social anxiety develop a greater sense of self-awareness. Over time, your child can become less sensitive to self-critical thoughts that might trigger anxiety, reduce anxiety responses, and better manage uncomfortable social situations. From a neurological perspective, CBT has been shown to help build new neural pathways. Another excellent benefit is engaging the autonomic nervous system and increasing the body’s parasympathetic response, which can lead to stress reduction and feelings of calm.

Research also shows CBT can be combined with other treatments to effect positive outcomes. Combining CBT with social skills training can help your child to learn ways to more effectively interact with their peers. Modalities that help teens to learn to focus on, identify, and manage their emotions can also be an effective adjunct.

If you are a parent or caregiver to a teen with social anxiety, please consider seeking support from a psychotherapist or psychiatrist, who can discuss all the options and help to develop a treatment plan that matches your child's unique needs.

If you happen to be local to the Brooklyn area, feel free to reach out to Mind Body Seven and one of our in-house clinicians, Cheryl Kornfeld, PsyD.  Cheryl is a psychologist who focuses on adolescent and young adult mental health. She specializes in depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and body image concerns. Cheryl utilizes CBT in addition to a holistic and compassionate approach to deliver solution focused treatment.