Social Anxiety – Susanne Gilmour

Susanne Gilmour     Quals: BA, Cert Teach, Grad Dip Social Science, Grad Dip Psych, MAPS.

Social Anxiety: Shyness is a lovely trait…..shy people are great listeners, thinkers and observers and often possessors of great insight and wisdom.  Shyness is not a disorder, despite the predominance of extroverts in our ‘look at me!’ society.  Social anxiety, however can be severely distressing if it prevents sufferers from social activities they would otherwise enjoy, or need to do, such as  walking down a shopping mall, going to any sort of social gathering where people they are not very familiar with might be, going to school, taking classes at tertiary educational institutions and going to job interviews.  When such individuals do force themselves into these situations, it can be agonizing, believing everyone is judging them negatively and that any such judgments are an accurate assessment of their inadequacy as a person.  This sets off the threat response, the brain and body’s response to a dangerous situation and is intensely uncomfortable causing any number of sensations such as shakiness, nausea, faintness, speech paralysis, increased  heart rate.  The experience is so distressing it increases the motivation to avoid social situations of any kind.

Social anxiety is mostly a learned response to social interactions, although children with sensitive and very perceptive temperaments may be more vulnerable to developing this disorder.  Causes may be abusive parenting, or highly critical parents who may themselves suffer from anxiety and perfectionism.  Bullying at school, especially if based around a child’s physical appearance may be the starter for social phobias.  The constant blizzard of visual media images selling the message that photogenic bodies and faces are a prerequisite for happiness, success and social acceptability may foster severe social insecurities.  People whose schooling was made difficult when a specific learning disability was not diagnosed, may have lost self-confidence in their intellect and abilities as they felt ‘stupid’ in comparison to their peers .  An early  speech impairment that an otherwise very intelligent child might struggle with  may also give rise to self-perceptions of inadequacy in adolescence and adult life,  even when such individuals have long overcome their difficulties and  are successful in their personal and working lives.

Counselling Approach: With adults, I start with learning as much as I can from the client on the particular characteristics of their fears around social interactions and then work with the client to gain an understanding of how these fears may have developed.  I then show a simple visual demonstration and illustration of the neurology of the threat response and the physiological effects in an individual to explain why controlled breathing and relaxation techniques help reduce these effects that cause such discomfort when around other people.  Training then begins with learning these techniques.

The second phase involves teaching behavioural strategies on how to manage fear in social interactions beginning with small steps where self-calming strategies can be successfully employed, slowly increasing, in accordance with the client’s ability and comfort , levels of social interactions in a variety of situations.  Finally, I teach cognitive strategies to help the client notice, non-judgmentally, their unhelpful, self-critical thoughts, learning to consciously challenge them with more realistic thinking helping down-regulate the threat response when mixing with other people or managing feared public outings.  Success, for the client, is immensely liberating and offers the opportunity to experience many  fulfilling, enriching opportunities he or she may have avoided in the past.Susanne Gilmour (1)

Availability: Usually 1- 2 weeks.. Evening appointments available.

Fees:  Sliding scale, usually $180/hr. Initial appointments $220. Medicare and health rebates available.

Practice Location: Unit 1, 16 – 18 Beenleigh-Redland Bay Rd, Loganholme.

Appointments: Phone (07) 3067 9129, or book Susanne Gilmour online today.