If the mainstream acceptance of introversion and reclusiveness is any indication, social anxiety is a commonly experienced condition. In fact, being afraid of saying or doing something awkward in front of your peers can be classified as a form of social anxiety. On the opposite end of the spectrum, social anxiety can also manifest as an omnipresent, irrational fear of interacting with others, potentially prompting the sufferer to avoid social situations altogether.
"[Sufferers] believe that there are these social standards that everybody’s following, and social rules," Stefan Hofmann, director of the Social Anxiety Program at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, told Science of Us. "And so they sort of live in this very tiny confine of their belief that overstepping these kinds of invisible social boundaries would lead to disastrous, long-lasting social consequences."
Armed with his extensive knowledge, Hofmann has developed a form of exposure therapy specifically designed to treat people with debilitating social anxiety. Namely, he asks them to do exactly what they're afraid of doing when it comes to socializing.
"Hofmann takes his patients' concerns seriously. … He listens to those fears. And then, he makes his patients run headlong into them," writes Science of Us of his treatment. Past success stories include having sufferers stand on a street corner and loudly sing "God Bless America" and instructing patients to interrupt a table at a restaurant to rehearse a nonexistent maid-of-honor or best-man speech. The craziest thing about these treatments? They actually work.
"We want [people with social anxiety] to develop a healthy sense of making fun, of keeping humor in your life, and just being able to laugh about that," concluded Hofmann. "You can really make a huge difference in people's lives by using these kinds of exposure treatments in combination with other cognitive behavioral principles. I would go as far as to say nobody needs to suffer from social anxiety disorder anymore. We really know how to treat them."
What do you think of Hofmann's somewhat unorthodox methods? Share your opinion below!