Since 1978 The Berent Treatment Method has adapted therapy to the specific needs of social anxiety sufferers rather than try to fit the disorder into the narrow confines of an existing treatment modality. Having provided direct treatment, and supervised treatment, to approximately 10,000 individuals of all ages in individual, family and group therapy the following are some of my important observations.
Social anxiety is an insidiously complex problem which encompasses a wide spectrum of symptoms and functioning levels; from public speaking anxiety and selective mutism to pervasive social avoidance, performance anxiety, erythrophobia,and hyper-hidrosis.
Many of my high performing successful adults, who have resolved their public speaking anxiety have said about treatment; “this is the hardest thing I’ve done in my life”. What they are primarily referring to is the dynamic of introspection, which is the process of looking into one’s self. Countless children, adolescents, and adults with selective mutism have resolved this disorder via the Berent Method which teaches age appropriate introspective skills. Introspection becomes the key to developing emotional intelligence.
Introspection facilitates awareness of thoughts, emotions, and physiology, as well as behavior. These are crucial variables for any real treatment success. At the risk of being offense I’m appalled at the statements by the CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) community promising astounding results within a short- term framework. My conclusion is the professionals making these statements do not have a productive understanding of the disorder, which is the quintessential disease of resistance. In addition, CBT research is quite flawed. An upcoming article will explain this.
Resistance is based on the reality that social anxiety sufferers have become very skilled at the defensive process of detachment. This is disconnecting from thoughts and feelings. This dynamic is in play because the sufferer does not want to experience the discomfort and emotional pain of attachment or connecting. Detachment becomes very ingrained over time. For example; even with the typical 5-year-old selective mutism profile detachment is very pronounced.
Here’s the punchline. Without introspection the best treatment outcome that can happen is to implement technique without resolving the core problem. This is a band-aide approach.
It’s good to know who to take advice from. In the realm of psychotherapy an often- used term is evidence based. It appears that my free clinical library offers the most conc clinical evidence available regarding the treatment of social anxiety.
The Perfect Storm of Anxiety Builds Momentum in the Educational System
Although anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States most suffers do not receive help. This is because an anxiety disorder is the quintessential disease of resistance; especially social anxiety which is the largest subset. This resistance is due to the fact that most afflicted are ruled by embarrassment and shame and remain avoidant. The result is that the mental health profession has struggled to provide productive treatment strategies.
Conservative estimates put the figure at 18.1% of the population
School phobia, social anxiety, selective mutism, public speaking anxiety, panic attacks, and performance anxiety are some of the anxiety problems that students will bring into the classroom this school year, where schools are essentially clueless as to how to help. This is due to the complexity of the anxiety disorder spectrum.
Here’s an example. Selective Mutism which is a complex form of obsessive compulsive disorder is in essence a speaking phobia. Approximately 7 out of 1000 children are impacted. There is very little help worldwide. Public schools are mandated to legally accommodate this “disability”. However; the process of accommodating academically often inhibits the mental health of the child. It’s complex.
Berent says “the most common thing I’ve heard from thousands of patients of all ages is “I have nothing to say or I don’t know what to say. Society’s obsessive and compulsive technology dependence is inhibiting the neuroplasticity required for the social skill of verbal conversation. In essence it’s an epidemic of selective mutism on the rise”. Consider the fact:
Texting has replaced talking as the most common form of communication.
In a recent article “My patient said I understand why kids shoot up schools” Berent describes the psycho-dynamics of the school shooter. It’s worth noting that the majority of perpetrators experienced challenged social skills. Many have been described as noticeably or abnormally quiet.
The most common anxiety in the world is fear of public speaking. Many of Berent’s patients have traced the roots of this insidious problem back to school settings where the emotions of shame and embarrassment were raw. Closely associated with public speaking, in both formal and informal settings, is the fear of being noticeably nervous. This can manifest as erythrophobia (fear of blushing), hyper-hidrosis (sweating), panic attacks, and verbal freezing or stammering.
The fear of being noticeably nervous can create unbearable emotional pain for many. This pain often evolves into situational avoidance which is a phobia. Substance dependence and depressions are significantly co-morbid. Suicide is on the rise. In general the mental health profession has been remiss in understanding the depth of emotional pain associated with anxiety disorders.
Many children and adolescents experience school phobia. This is a combination of an anxiety breakdown and dysfunctional parenting. Finding a school- based program to help with this common disorder is next to impossibility.
Anxiety disorders, technology overdependence, and “FOMO” (fear of missing out, associated with social media addiction) mixed in with evolving hyper-vigilance associated with the school shooting epidemic create the perfect storm for our schools. Berent believes that while the schools are breeding grounds for anxiety disorders there is great potential for prevention if anxiety and stress management courses were integrated into the curriculum. He adds “anxiety disorders are evolving at a rapid pace due to society’s blueprint for increased performance and productivity”.
Jonathan Berent, L.C.S.W. author of “Beyond Shyness” (Simon & Schuster), “Work Makes Me Nervous” (Wiley), and “Social Anxiety: The Untold Story” (AKFSA). Berent’s extensive work and unmatched clinical success is evidenced in his clinical library and dates back to 1978 He is available to the media as an expert on social anxiety and related disorders.
By Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro
Panic attacks can throw you for a loop (quite literally — they can make you dizzy), especially if you feel one coming on at school, at work, on a date — basically, somewhere you’d rather not have one. Sometimes, it may feel unavoidable, but here’s the good news: There are techniques and skills you can use to stop a panic or anxiety attack in its tracks, according to mental health experts… Read More
Jonathan Berent, L.C.S.W., author of “Beyond Shyness” (Simon & Schuster) and “Work Makes Me Nervous” (Wiley) has identified technology addiction as the gateway to an alternate reality for individuals of all ages afflicted with social anxiety and avoidant personality.
Berent explains “the fact that texting has replaced talking as the most common form of communication characterizes a societal shutdown of the neural pathways required for verbal communication specifically, and social skills in general. Society’s massive and rapidly developing technology dependence is enabling a dramatic increase in selective mutism, which is a variation of obsessive compulsive disorder and a speaking phobia. Using technology to communicate rather than talking has become a way of life for many”.
Current statistics put selective mutism as occurring in 7 out of 1000 children. Berent adds “I have seen countless adolescents and adults with this disorder. In fact many of my patients with public speaking anxiety, which is the world’s number one phobia, identify selective mutism as the driving force of their performance anxiety. The most common phrase that I have heard from thousands of patients in forty years of practice is “I have nothing to say” or “I don’t know what to say”.”
Individuals with social anxiety are the most at risk for phone addiction because of their tendency to avoid direct human interaction. The degree of interactive avoidance is an important diagnostic for measuring the degree of the overall anxiety problem. Over-dependence on technology sustains avoidance. Social anxiety is currently the most common anxiety disorder. It is driven by performance dynamics. Given society’s relentless pursuit for productivity and its technology dependence, social anxiety disorder has already reached epidemic proportions.
For insight into the connection between avoidance and technology consider the following case examples which are very common.
“Rob” age 26 lives at home with his parents. He left college after a few days because of social anxiety. While he has had a few jobs he has been unemployed most of the time. He stays up most of the night and sleeps most of the day. He has not had a “girlfriend” since junior high school. He does not have a social life. He spends over 70 hours per week gaming online. One of his biggest fears is having a conversation with someone outside of his family. He has no initiative for his mental health. He has no ambition. All he cares about is his online world or alternative universe!
“Janice” age 15 experienced a panic attack when her parents took away her I-Phone. Her FMO (fear of missing out) turned into a compulsion to always be on her phone at the expenses of her school work and other responsibilities. Not having her phone, on which most of her social life was based, caused her to be depressed.
Al, age 40, was human resources professional. For months he never verbally participated in his weekly staff meeting because he believed he had nothing to offer. He was eventually fired. In social situations his anxiety was so high that he often made believe he was talking on his phone to avoid conversion.
A free clinical library with rare interviews with individuals and families who have achieved life-changing results with The Berent Method is available.
Jonathan Berent, L.C.S.W., A.C.S.W., has pioneered psychotherapy for social anxiety and has worked with thousands of individuals since 1978. His website www.socialanxiety.com has had over three million visitors.
“Just the Way I Am”: Denial Is the Enemy of Social Anxiety Sufferers
Confessions of an “Avoidance Addict”
By Amy Lemley
No one would ever call me shy. In fact, I am “the extrovert’s extrovert,” an attention-seeker, a ham. I love public speaking, being interviewed on television and radio, and having my picture taken. I talk to strangers. A lot.
Yet through it all, I have suffered from extreme social anxiety. And I’m not alone. An estimated 37 million people suffer from it in the United States alone. You know some of us, though we are so adept at covering up our fears that you might never suspect.
We are crippled at times by symptoms such as obsessive worry, a racing pulse, clammy hands, and blushing and sweating to such an extent that we’d rather be alone than suffer—no matter what the cost. We may sacrifice relationships. We may sabotage our own careers. We may self-medicate with alcohol and drugs.
However we respond, we do so under a veil of denial wrapped so tightly around us that we cannot move. We don’t know what is wrong. We don’t know there’s a name for it. Our secret is so shameful, our self-hatred so deep, and our belief in our power to change is so diminished that we feel hopeless and unworthy.
“It’s just the way I am…”
Many social anxiety sufferers are labeled “introverts” or consider themselves to be “just shy.” In their view, this is just how they are, an indelible part of their personality. But according to the Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety, which reports that one in eight people suffers from social anxiety, a limited awareness of exactly what social anxiety is and how to detect and treat it sentences some people to a life of “less than”—less than happy, less than comfortable, less than successful. (more…)