Lori Blumenstein-Bott, MSW, LMSW
Executive Director, The Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety
Finding a provider to treat social anxiety disorder can be a challenge, especially because so many people—mental health professionals included—do not know how to diagnose or treat it. Ms. Blumentstein-Bott shares tips from the Andrew Kukes Foundation to help people living with social anxiety disorder and their families effectively exercise their right to an appropriate provider.
One in eight people lives with social anxiety disorder. As the third most-common mental health condition, it’s everywhere, yet greatly misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and mistreated. But there is help. And with access to the right treatment, individuals can expect to lead quality lives. However, lack of basic awareness and understanding about the disorder presents a major barrier to quality care. Addressing this challenge begins with getting essential information into the hands of the right people: individuals living with social anxiety disorder, teachers, parents, and health professionals.
When people are educated to recognize the symptoms of social anxiety, they can better direct their efforts to finding effective treatment. The Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety (AKFSA) serves as a resource to individuals and families by offering hope and providing information that helps people understand the disorder and treatment options. Families that utilize these resources can find themselves empowered to seek the right treatment.
AKFSA also provides tools to assist mental health care professionals in expanding their knowledge. If professionals are not well informed, they may treat surface conditions, such as depression or substance abuse, and not address the underlying social anxiety disorder. As a result, individuals and families need to advocate and conduct due diligence before selecting a mental health care professional.
For example, evidence supports cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) as a key element of treatment. But not every professional is well-trained in this therapy. Individuals and families should always interview the professional before beginning the relationship. Some key questions to ask:
- Do you know about social anxiety
- Have you treated it
- Do you use cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Do you use and understand exposure therapy
Adding to the frustration of finding an appropriate provider is the lack of a “seal of approval” for professionals treating the disorder. Fortunately, however, there are many professionals with the correct expertise, and people should acknowledge and exercise their right to have a compatible relationship with their mental health professional. They do not have to settle for someone who may not be the “right fit.”
When searching for a mental health care professional, your local university can be a valuable resource. Many universities have an anxiety disorder treatment clinic where the associated mental health care professionals are typically trained in CBT. In addition, the university may offer more favorable cost-sharing when insurance coverage is an issue because universities are training grounds for young clinicians. Don’t be afraid to ask about sliding scale fees. If this resource is accessible, even at some distance, I encourage people to access it, because the investment of travel time can yield benefits for years to come.
Regardless of where services are provided, treatment costs and insurance limitations present challenges. While it can be difficult, individuals should explain their circumstances to their provider and attempt to work out a financial option that is within their means.
AKFSA encourages partnerships to help propel awareness of social anxiety and the associated issues of depression and substance abuse among the general public. We hope to increase the public’s knowledge about the disorder to the same degree as autism or ADHD. Empowering people with the right information is key. But in the meantime, people living with social anxiety should know that although it’s a lot of hard work, they shouldn’t give up. Keep persevering to find the help you need. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
- What makes a mental health professional the “right fit” for you?
- What tips would you give to someone looking for a mental health provider?
- What are the important questions to ask when interviewing a mental health provider?