The Journal of Abnormal Psychology has just published an interesting study that addresses this very question. The researchers asked people with social anxiety to rate themselves at how good they think they are at being friends. Not surprisingly, most people with social anxiety didn’t rate themselves very highly. However, the study went further and asked people from their social circle to rate the subject’s “performance” as a friend. The result confirmed what psychologist have suspected for a long time: the friends liked them a lot more than those with social anxiety believed.

Woman Looking At Self Reflection In Mirror
People with social anxiety often have a negatively distorted self-image.

Psychologists know that the way people with social anxiety see themselves does not always reflect reality. In particular, they see themselves through the eyes of others in a highly negative way. This is a complex phenomena, but for many learning to correct these biases can lead to a major improvement of life.

This phenomenon is addressed in Part 6 our Overcome Social Anxiety program. Since a distorted self-image is the creation of the mind, it can be modified and replaced with a more positive and accurate representation. This is an important step towards curing social phobia!


Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, who has worked in Australia and at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. She is AI-Therapy’s director and co-creator of AI-Therapy’s Overcome Social Anxiety program and the creator of Overcome Fertility Stress. Twitter: @drfjola

We have been a little quiet on the blogging and social media fronts over the past few months. This is because we’ve been working hard on our latest product: Overcome Fertility Stress. This is a program that is designed to help women cope with the emotional stress and anxiety the often accompanies trying to conceive. As with our other programs, Overcome Fertility Stress is online and fully automated.

Our goal is to make this the best program possible, so we’ve opened it up for free to everyone. We’ve already received a lot of great feedback which is helping us streamline the program.

One of the advantages of online programs is that the content can be updated and improved in real time (unlike books, which are frozen the second they are printed). Our Overcome Social Anxiety program has now helped hundreds of users tackle their social anxiety, and we’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way.

One thing we’ve learned is the importance of anonymity. Giving honest feedback can be hard in a time when everything seems to be linked to your Facebook profile. We’ve decided to go the opposite direction: when you sign up to the program you don’t need to tell us your real name. We hope that this will encourage our users to be completely open, in a way that is difficult when speaking publicly.

If you would like to sign up, or find out more, please follow this link: Overcome Fertility Stress

Fertility stress
Overcome fertility stress

Also, if you know of anyone who might find the program useful, please share the link.

Emma Watson did a wonderful speech for the UN recently, and if you haven’t seen it yet you should really check it out:

She launched a campaign called “HeForShe”, where men around the world are asked to join the gender equality agenda. The speech has gone viral (when I opened my Facebook this morning it seemed like half of my friends were raving about it). I came across some coverage of it with the headline “Her Voice Might Tremble, But Emma Watson’s Message Is Strong and Clear.” In my opinion, I found her voice to be very human and down to earth. I think her message was stronger because of this touch of tremble, which highlighted the fact that the speech wasn’t easy for her. Remember, this is a famous actress whose career is performing. She was nervous because nobody feels confident all of the time, and stepping outside of our comfort zone is when we grow.

This made me think of social anxiety and how we treat it. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) for social anxiety challenges people by moving them out of their comfort zones. We learn the most when we “put ourselves out there”. It is about experimenting with your thoughts and behaviors, and helping you live your life without fears.

I think a lot of social anxiety behavior in women is linked to gender equality. Sometimes we fear that by speaking our mind we will be labelled as “bossy”, whereas a man in the same situation could be called a “leader”. This is something we need to move past. For women, overcoming social anxiety can have a fantastic impact on their careers and self-confidence.


Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, who has trained all over the world. She has worked in Australia and at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. She is AI-Therapy’s director and co-creator of AI-Therapy’s Overcome Social Anxiety program.

2014-07-24 12.44.50I’ve just come back from the British Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) conference, which was held in Birmingham last week. The conference was excellent. One of my favorite talks was by my colleague Dr Clare Mein of Oxford University. She was presenting her PhD from the University of Western Australia, where she also trained as a clinical psychologist.

Dr Mein demonstrated in series of experiments how social anxiety can affect social situations. In particular, she found that people with social anxiety interact differently during conversations. For example, think about the last time you got lost in a conversation with someone who you are not anxious around (best friend, partner, etc). You got lost in the moment, and the conversation went smoothly. However, it’s very different when you feel socially anxious, isn’t it? When we are anxious there are many thoughts going through our head unrelated to the conversation itself. These are often related to impression management. Here is an example:



The research showed that these thoughts are one reason why people with social anxiety don’t get “lost in the moment”. Unfortunately, it also showed that the conversational partner typically notices this, making the overall experience worse for both people.

Dr Mein conducted an experiment with people who have low scores on social anxiety measures.  She asked these participants to count the number of words starting with the letter ‘T’ while having a conversation. The results showed that the when the participants were distracted by the counting they weren’t fully engaged in the conversation. Furthermore, the conversation partners felt less connected. In the same way, people with social anxiety are often focused on something else (i.e. how they present themselves), having a negative impact on the conversation.

People with social anxiety often have a collection of impression management strategies that they’ve acquired over the years. One goal of treatment, such a with a therapist or an online programs like AI-Therapy, is to identify and let go of these behaviors. This frees you to focus on the conversation. The good news is that if you successfully overcome social anxiety you’ll be able to enjoy high quality social interactions with everyone, not just your friends and family.


Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, a senior research clinician at the University of Oxford, and is a co-creator of AI-Therapy, a developer of online CBT treatment programs.

BABCP Conference

On July 22nd I am will be speaking at the British CBT conference, which is being held in Birmingham this year. The topic of my symposium is one of my favorite subjects, and a common theme on this blog: safety behaviors. My co-speakers are Brynjar Halldorson, Kate Muse and Clare Mein, and we are very lucky to have two of world’s leading experts on the subject as a discussant and chair: Paul Salkovskis and Freda MacManus.

Real-time audience responses

As part of our talk, we will be asking our audience questions to get their opinions on certain subjects. For example, here is a question that I will pose to the clinicans in the audience:




Our hope was that the audience would vote using their smartphones or tablets, and we would display the results in real-time as the votes are submitted. I spent some time searching for existing solutions, but everything I could find was either too difficult to use, too expensive, or required special software to be installed. Therefore, we decided to build our own polling service the way wanted it. It is simple and easy to use, and without any fancy bells and whistles. It is a great tool so we have decided to make it available to everyone for free.

Polls are a great way to spice up lectures or presentations. You can give it a try here:

Let us know what you think, and feel free to share the link with anyone who is looking for a real-time audience response system.


Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, a senior research clinician at the University of Oxford, and is a co-creator of, a developer of online CBT treatment programs.

Stop mental health stigma, and start seeking help
Stop mental health stigma, and start seeking help

A recent study has shown that living with an untreated mental illness lowers life expectancy. Therefore, not only do suffers get less enjoyment from their day to day life, but their lives are shorter. Why is it that people continue to suffer in silence?

Perhaps the main reason that people do not seek treatment is the stigma surrounding mental health. Sadly, this is widespread in today’s society, and there are several reasons for it. For example, we’ve all seen movies where someone commits a horrific crime, and the text at the end tells us that the person is now seeking therapy. This creates an association between anti-social behavior and therapy. This is outrageous, as the vast majority of people who seek therapy are normal, kind and caring people. Some people are genetically predisposed to having mental health problems, while others struggle with negative life experiences. In both cases, seeking help can be a life changing experience, and in neither case should it be something to be ashamed of.

I think it is time to start thinking about mental health problems in the same way as medical problems. If you had a friend or family member who was physically unwell, telling them that “you need help” would be kind and supportive advice. Why doesn’t the same hold for encouraging someone to see a psychologist?


Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, a senior research clinician at the University of Oxford, and is a co-creator of, an online CBT treatment program for overcoming social anxiety

I recently came across an article on the failure of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) treatment model. It makes a strong case, and is well worth a read (the full article is here).

Dealing with social anxiety with alcoholIf AA works for you that’s great, but you are in the minority.

I’ve been skeptical of AA for years now.  On one hand, I personally know several people who have successfully used the program, and I’m sincerely happy that they have found a way to deal with their alcohol problems. However, I have treated many more people in my professional practice for whom AA has simply not worked. 

I have serious objections to the way AA is run. In particular, their reluctance to publish information on success rates is unacceptable. The article claims that AA fails for up to 90%-95% of attendees. Until AA shows a willingness to become more transparent and adopt evidence-based treatments, there is little hope that the program’s efficacy will improve.

It is not always about the alcohol.

One flaw in AA’s treatment strategy is the assertion that alcohol is the root cause of all problems in an alcoholic’s life. In many cases this is not true, as alcohol is often used to cope with other issues. For example, let’s consider how social anxiety might cause someone to abuse alcohol, as I’ve come across this many times.

People usually feel more confident and have fewer inhibitions while drinking. This can be appealing for those with social anxiety, and can even appear to be effective in the short term. However, using this as coping mechanism has several disadvantages. For one thing, after the effects of alcohol have subsided many people find themselves in a cycle of rumination that increases feelings of anxiety. Furthermore, if you need to drink in order to deal with social situations, this can lead to a dependency or addiction.

Any treatment that focuses purely on abstaining from alcohol (as AA does) is bound to have limited success.


Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, a senior research clinician at the University of Oxford, and is a co-creator of, an online CBT treatment program for overcoming social anxiety