London: Structure talk therapy alone can help treat people with social anxiety disorders, rather than taking medications like the famous "happy pill", a new study has found. Researchers from Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)and the University of Manchester in the UK examined the effects of structured talk therapy and medication on patients with social anxiety disorders.
Until now, a combination of cognitive therapy and medication was thought to be the most effective treatment for these patients. The findings show that cognitive therapy on its own has a much better effect over the long term than just drugs or a combination of the two. "We've set a new world record in effectively treating
social anxiety disorders," said Hans M Nordahl, professor at NTNU.
Nearly 85 per cent of the study participants significantly improved or became completely healthy using only cognitive therapy. Social anxiety is not a diagnosis, but a symptom that a lot of people struggle with, researchers said. For example, talking or being funny on command in front of a large audience can trigger this symptom.
On the other hand, social anxiety disorder - or social phobia - is a diagnosis for individuals who find it hard to function socially and anyone with this diagnosis has high social anxiety. Medications, talk therapy or a combination of these are
the most common ways to treat patients with this diagnosis. NTNU researchers set out to examine which of these approaches is most effective.
"A lot of doctors and hospitals combine medications - like the famous "happy pill" - with talk therapy when they treat this patient group," said Nordahl. "It works well in patients with depressive disorders, but it actually has the opposite effect in individuals with social anxiety disorders," he said.
"Happy pills," like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may have strong physical side effects. When patients have been on medications for some time and want to reduce them, the bodily feelings associated with social phobia, like shivering, flushing and dizziness in social situations tend to return. Patients often end up in a state of acute social anxiety again.
"Patients often rely more on the medication and don't place as much importance on therapy," said Nordahl. "They think it's the drugs that will make them healthier,
and they become dependent on something external rather than learning to regulate themselves," he said. "So the medication camouflages a very important patient discovery: that by learning effective techniques, they have the ability to handle their anxiety themselves," he added.