Researching Social Anxiety Brings Satisfaction

By C. Richard Spates Ph.D.

As a Professor of Psychology at Western Michigan University, I have dedicated my career to helping society learn more about anxiety, which is still so misunderstood by so many.

I first became interested in anxiety disorders in graduate school at the University of Illinois, which had a renowned clinic when I was there nearly 40 years ago. I got to see, first-hand, how anxiety disorders could be treated successfully.

Working in both private practice and on college campuses has allowed me to study the symptoms and treatment of many students with Social Anxiety, which often first appears in college because students are constantly being evaluated in every respect – socially and academically. Some research shows as many as 30-40 percent of college students say some level of Social Anxiety interferes with the ability to function normally.

Right now, in research we continue to study effective psychological treatments, i.e. behavioral therapies and cognitive behavioral therapies, but in addition, we are looking at whether certain non-psychotropic drugs might help sufferers keep from dropping out of their therapies. When you have anxiety, therapy can be very uncomfortable. So, we’re studying the effects of drugs in research of Social Anxiety, in combination with therapy and finding that they can be helpful in promoting earlier benefits of the psychological therapies.

Also, we’re studying families to see if we can learn more about the disorder by learning how sufferers grew up. That’s important so we can study socio-emotional environments during development, as well as therapy. The family could be an incubator for Social Anxiety. We don’t want to blame anyone but we know many families paint anxiety as “bad” to their children; as something that needs to be “fixed” or gotten ‘rid of’, rather than as often a normal reaction. We want to see what effect that has so we’re studying how parents teach their children to deal with anxiety.

In my work, it is consistently satisfying to see people with Social Anxiety get beyond being stuck. Nothing is more rewarding that seeing student therapists in our clinics have the joy of embracing a client who is moving past an anxiety disorder. That reward is doubled for me as a more senior professional, seeing the therapist and the client experience success.

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