Offering online, or web-based, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a tool to treat social anxiety seems a bit oxymoronic. Isn’t it counterproductive to use a tool that allows a person to avoid social interaction to battle anxiety about social interaction?!
On the face of it, yes, it seems crazy. But the research shows again and again that web-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is just as effective as face-to-face CBT. Online CBT has the added benefit of being able to reach that group of sufferers who either a) do not have access to a therapist trained in CBT, or b) suffer from anxiety so severe that meeting with someone face-to-face is simply too terrifying, a non-starter.
CBT itself is a highly structured therapeutic approach that involves a good deal of self-reflexion about a person’s thoughts and behaviors. The internet, it turns out, is a great place to start walking someone through the difficult process and to host the resources to help someone overcome their anxiety. Those first successful steps online provide the inspiration and motivation to continue the pursuit of wellness with real people in real situations, the very core of our social existence.
Some people have said, “Well, isn’t it kind of a paradox that if a person has social anxiety that they would turn to an online program to get help with this problem with real-life flesh-and-blood people?” And that’s a great question. But what we’ve found is that if we offer CBT online it suddenly becomes accessible. One of the really sad stories is how few people with social anxiety really go out there and ask for help, but with online CBT I can take my first steps right at home – I don’t have to tell anybody, I don’t have to go through the fear of talking to a receptionist, making the schedule, being involved in that ambiguous scheduling situation, and I can just launch into learning the tools right at home.
But of course it doesn’t stop there, and this is the thing that I like to explain – once somebody is learning the tools online then they learn how to take the vitally important steps of applying them in interactions with flesh-and-blood people, facing their fears with flesh-and-blood people out there in the wild. And there the CBT really has its power. So they learn it online and they apply it out there in the real world. And that’s where their skills are really strengthened, and that’s where they really experience the benefit.
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