Helping the shy and socially anxious: A guest post by Lynne Henderson, PhD

Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part guest post written by Lynne Henderson, PhD, developer of the Social Fitness Training model and author of Helping Your Shy and Socially Anxious Client.

I realize that I wrote the book Helping Your Shy and Socially Anxious Client: A Social Fitness Training Protocol Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in order to share with therapists and clients alike not only why I reconceptualized my work as Social Fitness Training in order to depathologize and normalize shyness, but also to share with them both the importance of challenging negative automatic thoughts before social situations and the importance of specifically challenging negative attributions of responsibility after social interactions that do not go as well as clients hope. I also wanted to stress the importance of challenging self-concept distortions specifically, not just as part of the usual cognitive restructuring, but also because negative beliefs about the self are much harder to challenge than automatic thoughts about what will happen in any given social situation. Behavioral experiments can test hypotheses about what will happen, but negative beliefs about the self persist, as does the shame that accompanies both negative attributions and negative beliefs about the self.

It is important to note that negative beliefs and thoughts about the self are often (but not always) associated with negative beliefs about others, which tend to be different from thoughts about the self. Others can be seen as not understanding, not caring, and gossiping about shy people. This is why Leonard Horowitz and I developed a scale to measure them, called the Estimations of Others Scale, which is included in the book. Shy clients scored significantly higher on the scale than shy college students, who scored significantly higher than non-shy college students. These are equally important to challenge. Again, automatic predictions about how others will respond in a given social situation are easier to challenge than entrenched negative beliefs about others. Often the entrenched beliefs are based on painful childhood conditioning experiences and have been rehearsed for a very long time. It is important to acknowledge and hear the clients’ understandable pain while helping the client develop new thoughts and beliefs about others 

I also think it is important to normalize shyness with clients. Shyness is a basic human emotion, a mixture of fear and interest that most if not all people experience. We also need to focus on clients’ strengths and deepen their understanding that social fitness, like physical fitness, is developed throughout our lives. All of us must work on it, just like people work on our physical fitness. Finally, when I wrote the book I wanted to share my view of what the strengths of shyness are, and to focus on the potential of people who label themselves as shy in order to help them understand that they don’t need to feel that they need to be extroverts—which many treatments inadvertently encourage. Rather, they can build on their own legitimate strengths of sensitivity, warmth, listening abilities, and a willingness to collaborate and share leadership.

Stay tuned next week for part two of Dr. Henderson’s post on her Social Fitness Training model. To learn more about Henderson's work, visit her at

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