Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), also called “social phobia,” is a type of anxiety disorder. People who have SAD experience extreme and persistent anxiety associated with social or performance situations. Even simple communication can sometimes be difficult or impossible.

Some people with SAD fear and avoid specific situations, while others may feel anxiety about certain social situations. Treatment options include psychotherapy, anxiety management techniques, medication, and social skills training.

Some people who have suffered with SAD develop habits that make it difficult for them to take steps towards recovery. For example, they may:

  • Have difficulty making or maintaining eye contact
  • Talk softly or have hesitant speech
  • Display closed body language, such as crossing their arms
  • Have rigid facial expressions
  • Require a great deal personal space
  • Have difficulty listening or maintaining a conversation

Social Skills Training

Social skills training (SST) is a type of behavioral therapy used to improve social skills in people with developmental disabilities and mental health problems such as social anxiety. SST is used by teachers, therapists, or other professionals to help those with anxiety disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, as well as other diagnoses.

Methods and techniques used in SST include modeling appropriate behaviors, role-playing and then practicing real-life situations.  It’s provided either individually or in a group format, typically once or twice a week.

Social anxiety can have an impact on social skills in a variety of ways. People with social anxiety disorder (SAD) are less likely to engage in social interactions, giving them less opportunity to build skills and gain confidence.

People with social anxiety disorder don’t necessarily lack social skills but they tend to get so overwhelmed with their anxiety that they have problems utilizing their skills.  SST can help people feel more comfortable and utilize their communication and interpersonal skills more effectively. If social anxiety is hampering a person’s social ability, practice and exposure during SST can help improve confidence and self-esteem and reduce anxiety about social situations.

Social Skills Training Techniques

SST begins with an assessment of your specific skill deficits and impairments. The therapist asks which social interactions are the most challenging or which skills you would like to improve. The goal is to identify the best targets for social skills training for your specific situation.

Once particular target areas are identified, techniques for improving social skills are introduced. Changes are made in one area at a time to ensure you don’t experience overwhelm.

The therapist describes a particular skill, explains how to carry it out, and then models the behavior. Complex behaviors, like how to carry on a complex conversation, are usually broken down into smaller pieces such as introducing yourself, initiating small talk, and ending a conversation. Therapists also discuss both verbal and nonverbal communication.

Social Skills Exercises

  • Behavioral rehearsal: Role play during therapy involving practicing new skills in simulated situations
  • Corrective feedback: Therapist feedback during practice to help improve social skills
  • Instruction: Psychoeducation that involves the modeling of appropriate social behaviors
  • Positive reinforcement: Therapist feedback used to reward improvements in social skills
  • Weekly homework assignments: Provided to practice and enhance the newly developed social skills outside of therapy

SST is most effective when used as part of a comprehensive treatment program involving multiple components such as psychotherapy and/or medication. It can help people learn or re-learn certain social practices.  Social skills are the building blocks of social interaction. If you have SAD, you may have missed out on developing some of these important skills. However, you can always learn them no matter your age with tools such as SST.

Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.


Argyle, M. (1981) The contribution of social interaction research to social skills training. In: D. Wine and M.D. Smye (eds) Social Competence, New York Guildford Press.

Argyle, M. (1984). Social skills and the analysis of situations and conversations. In C. R. Hollin & P. Trower (Orgs.), Handbook of social skills training: clinical applications and new directions (pp.185-216). Nova York: Pergamon Press.

Beidel DC, Alfano CA, Kofler MJ, Rao PA, Scharfstein L, Wong Sarver N. The impact of social skills training for social anxiety disorder: a randomized controlled trial. J Anxiety Disord. 2015;28(8):908-18.

Briot K, Jean F, Jouni A, et al. Social anxiety in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders contribute to impairments in social communication and social motivation. Front Psychiatry. 2020;11:710.

Gillis, J.M. & Butler, R.C. (2007). Social skills interventions for preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A description of single – subject design studies. Journal of Early and Intensive Behavior Intervention, 4(3), 532-548.

Mueser KT, Gottlieb JD, Gingerich S. Social skills and problem-solving training. The Wiley Handbook of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. 2013.

National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (UK). Social Anxiety Disorder: Recognition, Assessment and Treatment. Leicester (UK): British Psychological Society. (NICE Clinical Guidelines, No. 159.) 2, Social Anxiety Disorder. 2013.

Scaini S, Belotti R, Ogliari A, Battaglia M. A comprehensive meta-analysis of cognitive-behavioral interventions for social anxiety disorder in children and adolescents. J Anxiety Disord. 2016;42:105-12. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2016.05.008

Schneider, B.H. & Bryne, B.M. (1985). Children’s social skills training: A meta-analysis. In B.H. Schneider, K. Rubin, & J.E. Ledingham (Eds.) Children’s Peer relations: Issues in assessment and intervention (pp. 175-190). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Trower, P., and Hollinm C. R.  Handbook of Social Skills Training: Clinical Applications and New Directions. Oxford, United KingdomPergamon (February 17, 2016)