Social Phobia – A History Lesson

People sometimes ask me what’s the difference between Social Phobia and Social Anxiety?  Is one worse than the other?  Which one do I “have”?

Well the short answer is there’s no difference.  The two terms are used interchangeably.

social phobia or social anxiety?

But the real answer requires a little history of the development of the diagnosis and how psychiatry came to recognise Social Anxiety Disorder as a problem.

The first officially recognised version of Social Anxiety came about in 1980, and that was when the term “Social Phobia” was used.  However it only allowed for the diagnosis if the person felt overwhelming fear and anxiety in “performance situations.”

“Performance situations” refers to situations like giving a speech, talking to a small group of people, performing on stage, or taking an exam.  Crucially it didn’t include more social or informal social situations.

The next edition of the Psychiatric bible the “DSM – IV” was published in 1994.  In this edition the diagnosis has been reviewed and renamed Social Anxiety Disorder, and expanded to include social situations.  This was a vital change, as these are precisely the types of situations that cause the most distress for people who suffer from Social Anxiety.

So does it matter which term you use?  Not really.  But the development of the official psychiatrists version of what is defined as Social Anxiety is important, as it has allowed for wider recognition, treatment and funding for people with Social Anxiety Disorder.


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