Social anxiety is a persistent and chronic mental health problem1. It is estimated that between 7%-12% of people experience social anxiety at some point in their life2. This means that it impacts from four to seven million people in Britain alone!
The problem of social anxiety can come in many forms, such as extreme shyness, or worry about negative evaluation by other people. It is often persistent throughout an individual’s lifetime, and therefore determining the age of onset can be a complicated matter3. Research data on childhood social anxiety is scarce4 , but several authors report that onset is typical in the mid-teens or early adulthood5.
The vast majority of people who struggle from social anxiety never seek any treatment.6 It is widely established that a social phobia diagnosis is frequently missed in primary care worldwide.7 The shame and embarrassment that lie at the heart of social phobia are highly likely to be contributors to this phenomenon. Indeed, the embarrassment is the primary reason why socially anxious individuals do not report their symptoms to their family doctor8. In a study of 9,282 individuals it was evident that those with the most severe social phobia were the least likely to receive treatment9.
Astonishingly, once the diagnosis has been made, it can take up to 17 years for treatment to be sought.
One solution is online CBT treatment for social anxiety
Given the above problems, there is a strong need to find and facilitate ways to make it easier for socially phobic individuals to seek and receive professional help10. One of the goals of AI-Therapy is to address this problem. The core ideas were developed as part of my PhD research, but have now been extended to be an online self-help treatment for a wider audience. One goal behind this method of service is to reach those who would never make into a psychology clinic in the first place. Furthermore, it provides an option for those who, for one reason or another, are unable to see a psychologist on a regular basis. Finally, the anonymity of online therapy can be an advantage for some clients.
Fjola Helgadottir, PhD, MClinPsych, is a clinical psychologist, a senior research clinician at the University of Oxford, and is a co-creator of AI-Therapy.com, an online CBT treatment program for overcoming social anxiety