GREAT NECK, NEW YORK, March 2017
A pioneering psychotherapist identifies emotional agility as the key to resolving social anxiety disorder, saying behavioral treatment methodologies trivialize the disorder.
Social anxiety disorder occurs in 6.8 percent of Americans, and within that 6.8 percent, almost 30 percent of cases are considered severe. Avoidant personality disorder, which is a major component of social anxiety disorder, occurs in an estimated 5.2 percent of the U.S. population annually. Add in other related diagnostic categories like selective mutism (a compulsive inability to speak in specific situations), erythrophobia (blushing anxiety), hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), and public speaking anxiety disorder and the statistics of those affected explode.
While many are affected, few seek treatment. This is because social anxiety is the classic disease of resistance. The emotions of shame, humiliation, and embarrassment have become so painful and toxic that avoidance rules. In essence the sufferer has experienced the trauma of embarrassment and shame. A result of this trauma is the difficulty in separating performance from personhood, which is a core cause of social anxiety. Rather than experience the uncomfortable emotions, the sufferer learns to avoid the scenarios that stimulate them. The more avoidance is present, the more of a phobia there is. In addition, the sufferer learns, as a defense mechanism, to detach or disconnect from thoughts and feelings. According to Berent and many others in the healing professions, this suppression of emotion is the direct cause of the physical symptoms the sufferer abhors. This is the reason relevant emotional content needs to be brought to a conscious level so that it can be therapeutically processed.
Having treated thousands of individuals of all ages with social anxiety since 1978, Berent has concluded that “while cognition and behavior certainly need to be re-architected as a component of treatment success, emotional and physiological variables need to be integrated into the treatment methodology. Anything less is trivializing the ingrained nature of the problem and will usually reach the point of diminishing returns regarding treatment efficacy. The challenge is that the mental health profession needs to be more educated to this reality.”
Teaching the social anxiety sufferer emotional agility is a key component of The Berent Treatment Method for Social Anxiety. A functional definition of emotional agility, paraphrased from psychologist Susan David’s article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “3 Ways to Better Understand Our Emotions,” is the skill of identifying the specificity and intensity of the emotion as a crucial dynamic for productive human interaction. The article also notes that we’ve been trained to believe that strong emotions should be suppressed.
A major challenge for professionals working with social anxiety is nurturing the sufferer into the process and building the skill of introspection. This is paradoxical to the defense mechanism of detachment, which is usually substantially ingrained in social anxiety sufferers.
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, LCSW, ACSW, author of Beyond Shyness: How to Conquer Social Anxieties (Simon & Schuster), Work Makes Me Nervous: Overcome Anxiety and Build the Confidence to Succeed (Wiley), and Social Anxiety: The Untold Story (Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety).
His website, http://www.socialanxiety.com, has had more than three million visitors.