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What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Our ‘What Is … ?’ series is a collection of one-page information handouts for common mental health conditions. Friendly and explanatory, handouts in the series describe how it can feel to struggle with a difficulty and are reliable sources of information for your clients. Drawing upon established cognitive behavioral models, each handout has a particular focus on maintaining factors that might prevent the problem from getting better. What Is Social Anxiety Disorder? is designed to help clients with social anxiety to understand more about their condition.

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Languages this resource is available in

  • English (GB)
  • English (US)
  • Greek
  • Khmer
  • Spanish (International)

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Introduction & Theoretical Background

It’s common to feel a bit of anxiety around other people from time to time. If the anxiety is more severe than regular shyness, and interferes with an individual’s ability to live their life, they may be suffering from social anxiety: one of the most common anxiety disorders. It is thought that between 2 and 7 people out of every 100 experience social anxiety disorder every year. The good news is that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective psychological treatment for social anxiety disorder. 

The What Is Social Anxiety? information handout is designed to help clients with social anxiety understand more about their condition. It includes:

  • A summary of the most common symptoms of social anxiety.
  • Descriptions of what it can feel like to have social anxiety.
  • A description of why social anxiety might not get better by itself, derived from the Clark & Wells (1995) cognitive model of social anxiety.
  • A brief overview of evidence-based psychological treatments for social anxiety.

Therapist Guidance

Our ‘What Is … ?’ series is designed to support your clients:
  • Reassure and encourage optimism. Many clients find it hugely reassuring to know there is a name for what they are experiencing, and that there are evidence-based psychological models and treatments specifically designed to help.
  • Scaffold knowledge. The handouts are perfect during early stages of therapy to help your clients understand how their symptoms fit together and make sense.
  • Signposting. If you’re just seeing a client briefly for assessment, or you have a curious client who wants to know more, these resources can be a helpful part of guiding them to the right service.

References And Further Reading

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.
  • Clark, D. M., & Wells, A. (1995). A cognitive model of social phobia. In R. Heimberg, M. Liebowitz, D. A. Hope, & F. R. Schneier (Eds.), Social phobia: Diagnosis, assessment and treatment (pp. 69–93). New York: Guildford Press.
  • Kessler, R. C., Chiu, W. T., Demler, O., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Prevalence, severity, and co- morbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 617-627.
  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Social anxiety disorder: recognition, assessment and treatment of social anxiety disorder. (Clinical guideline 159.) 2013. http: //
  • World Health Organization. (2019). ICD-11: International classification of diseases (11th revision). Retrieved from