In the treatment of anxiety disorders (such as social anxiety) the following procedure is often used (in this order): insight, perseverance and action. This procedure has several drawbacks: anxious individuals are often less learnable, that is, they have difficulties in acquiring new knowledge (e.g. in the understanding of their disorders), and in the attempt to exhibit behavioural changes anxious individuals often show (psychological) resistance (avoidance behaviour).
Due to these drawbacks, the treatment duration is often too long or the treatment fails. The following treatment has a different approach, namely the above procedure is used in reversed order and as a result, de drawbacks are largely eliminated. The anxious individual receives firstly an assignment (action) from the trainer (or therapist) without a complete detailed explanation. If the task is successful, then the less anxious individual will receive extra learning- and work assignments (insight) from the trainer.
This treatment is based largely on the problem-solving therapy of the American psychiatrist and psychotherapist Milton H. Erickson (founder of the uncommon therapy and hypnotherapy). Erickson explored different ways to tackle different social problems without analysing the past of his clients (e.g. the way they were brought up).
Other therapists studied the methods of Erickson and used them in their practice. One of those therapist Jay Haley (1976) described in his book a number of sessions on a family with a young boy who was afraid of dogs. The therapist in these sessions came up with a remarkable solution to help this young boy to reduce his fears for dogs. The therapist asked this young boy – with the help of his parents – to take a small dog in his home which he thinks is very frightened and to cure its anxiety. In short, this solution helped this young boy to be less fearful of dogs. The following treatment is based on the story about this young boy who was afraid of dogs and was once executed by a man who was afraid of women. This man knew a woman who he thought was very shy and he tried successfully to cure her shyness. He did this by having contact with this woman and talking to her about himself. After the meetings with this woman he later noticed changes in his behaviour and the way he thinks and feels.
Below are some improvements he has noticed in himself after the meetings with this previously shy woman:
- more open to others;
- not afraid of women (he had a two-year friendship with a beautiful clever Chinese woman – with a college degree – who also participated in Miss China 2005);
- able to ague (get angry) with others (but lead to the termination of his friendship with his Chinese girlfriend);
- able to cope with the ending of friendships with others better than before;
- able to predict the behaviour of others and read their nonverbal behaviour;
- improved motorist skills;
- improved sport skills (like swimming);
- does not need alcohol or drugs to feel better;
- during intimate conversations with others, he is often “high”;
- able to think at a higher level.
A treatment for men who are afraid of women, includes:
- Insight (plus possible subsequent assignment)
The male client follows the instructions (orders) of the trainer.
A male client – who is afraid of women – is instructed to look for a woman who he thinks is very shy and tries to cure her shyness. The male client should be able to cure her shyness by being vulnerable to her (that is, by talking to her about himself).
The male client continues to perform the task (assignment).
The male client goes once a week to this shy woman and talks to her about himself. The male client should gradual (that is, in small steps) be vulnerable to her, because if he is too quick in being vulnerable to her, this might cause (some) unpleasant surprises (such as anxiety) for her.
Insight (plus possible subsequent assignments)
If the male client succeeds in curing the shyness of the woman (that is, the woman is able to be vulnerable to others), then the male client will receive extra learning- and work assignments from the trainer.
The male client reads books / articles (or parts of books / articles – copies) that the trainer recommends to him, for example:
- about the development of anxiety / shyness, e.g. the book from the writer Terry Dixon:
- about relationships, e.g. books from the writer / marital therapist Andrew G. Marshall;
- about “the Myth of Mars and Venus”, e.g. books from the writers Deborah Cameron and Cordelia Fine.
The male client also carries out a number of activities to improve his chances of getting a healthy and lasting relationship with a woman, such as:
- communication skills training;
- going to the sport school (to get a healthy body);
- learn to cook;
- learn to dance;
- learn to take care of children.
Haley, J. (1976). Problem Solving Therapy. New Strategies for Effective Family Therapy. San Francisco / London: Jossey-Bass, Inc.