Free and Low-Cost Online Treatment for Social Anxiety

An estimated 12.1% of U.S. adults will experience social anxiety disorder (SAD) at some point in their lives, yet the majority of people who have SAD never seek treatment for their condition. There are a number of challenges and barriers to treatment that people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) face including:

  • Anxiety about talking to a therapist
  • Belief that symptoms will go away on their own
  • Cost of treatment
  • Concern about what friends and family will think
  • Desire to handle symptoms on their own
  • Stigma and negative attitudes toward mental health

Social anxiety disorder can make everyday social interactions difficult, which can also interfere with seeking treatment. Online treatment options, including some that are free or low cost, might be an appealing choice to people who have this condition.

Online treatment resources for social anxiety disorder (SAD) include psychotherapy, educational materials, support groups, self-directed therapy, interactive games, and online exercises.

MoodGym

MoodGYM is an interactive online program aimed at preventing depression and anxiety. MoodGYM teaches the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a treatment that has been shown to be effective for social anxiety disorder.

The program incorporates:

  • Assessments
  • Audio files
  • Feedback
  • Games

MoodGYM is offered worldwide but was developed at the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australia National University. The program was first launched in 2001 and was originally developed based on the work of Australia researchers and is funded by the Australia Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing.

This interactive anxiety treatment program is self-paced, anonymous, and confidential. It is available online completely free of charge.

One study found that the program was effective at reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression in adults. Other studies have found that the program has other benefits as well including improving well-being and reducing suicide risk for high-risk individuals.

E-Couch

E-Couch is a free online program designed to prevent and provide coping strategies for depression, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and SAD. E-Couch is provided through the Australian National University​ and is an offshoot of the MoodGym program.​

The program is aimed primarily at people who are coping with emotional problems including symptoms of depression, anxiety, anger, and grief

The program is entirely anonymous and users can log in and get help from anywhere in the world. The program includes:

  • Informational resources
  • Practice exercises
  • A workbook to record and track your experiences and progress 

The program is designed to be friendly and appealing to younger users and incorporates videos, graphics, and interactive elements. Users can also choose between different therapeutic approaches that utilize cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), relaxation techniques, and physical activities. 

This Way Up: The Social Anxiety Course

The "This Way Up" social anxiety course is for people who fear and avoid situations in which they could be the center of attention. The course takes up to three months with one or two lessons per week.

Lessons include:

  • Educational information
  • Homework
  • Story-based elements
  • Stories of recovery

There is a charge for the course, but at around $60 total, it is extremely affordable compared to traditional therapy. Results are expected to be similar whether you complete the program on your own or ​under the supervision of your therapist.

Working with a health professional in conjunction with the course may be helpful, but you can also complete it entirely on your own through the self-help and phone support options. 

Through the course, you will take online questionnaires that help assess how you are feeling. Results are then sent to your doctor or therapist. If you are working on the course on your own, the program will notify you if your score was above the acceptable range to move forward to the next lesson.

Social Anxiety Institute Online Therapy Program

The Social Anxiety Institute (SAI) online program involves 25 weekly sessions and is more expensive than the other options in this list at about $160 in total (the equivalent of about $6.40 per session). However, SAI has a good reputation and runs workshops in-person, so this affordable online option could easily be used as a stepping stone to enter therapy or one of those in-person programs.

The program utilizes audio and video lessons to help demonstrate how people can implement behavioral therapy in their own lives. Each lesson also includes written handouts. People taking the course are asked to spend 30 minutes each day during a time when they are alone and feel calm to practice the strategies taught in each lesson.

With repeated and regular practice, the program aims to reprogram the cognitions and behaviors that create anxiety and replace them with more helpful responses.

Joyable

Joyable is a 12-week course based on the principles of CBT.

The key idea is that it is not the social situations themselves that cause symptoms of anxiety; it's how you interpret the situation. By changing how you think about social situations, you can reduce or eliminate feelings of anxiety.

The course is more expensive than some other options at $99 per month or $239 for a three-month course, but each client is assigned a coach, and treatment begins with a 30-minute phone call to discuss symptoms and treatment.

During treatment, you can talk to your coach through text, email, or scheduled phone call. While coaches are not licensed mental health professionals, they are trained in CBT techniques and motivational strategies. 

7 Cups

7 Cups is a website that provides both online therapy as well as free one-on-one support to people who are experiencing emotional distress. The site allows users to talk to peers and trained volunteer listeners who can provide empathetic support. 

The site also offers online forums where people can share their experiences with social anxiety disorder and provide tips on coping with anxiety symptoms.

Such support can be helpful if you have symptoms of social anxiety but are struggling to reach out to others or seek treatment. Talking to someone who understands can help you feel better, but it can also be a great way to practice social skills and learn more about mental health resources.

7 Cups also offers online therapy from a professional therapist with prices starting at $33 a week. The site can be accessed online and is also available as an app through the Apple Store and Google Play. 

Before You Start Online Treatment

Before you decide to use a free or paid online treatment for social anxiety disorder, it is important to consider your needs as well as the severity of your symptoms. There are a number of pros and cons associated with online therapy for social anxiety and other mental health conditions.

Pros
  • Accessible and convenient

  • Flexible scheduling

  • Often very affordable

  • Can be effective

Cons
  • Technology glitches

  • Not covered by insurance

  • Hard to stay motivated

  • Not appropriate for severe cases

Advantages

Some of the potential advantages of getting therapy online include:

  • Affordability: The relative affordability of online treatment resources for social anxiety can be helpful for overcoming cost as a barrier to treatment. Such options can also be effective whether they are completed independently or under the guidance of a therapist. One study found that a self-directed online program aimed at overcoming social anxiety was effective for reducing the symptoms of social anxiety disorder. 
  • Comfort: Face-to-face treatment can trigger symptoms of anxiety in people with SAD, which may lead some to avoid or quit treatment. Because online therapy uses a range of delivery methods including phone, video call, online chat, and email, it may be less stressful and less anxiety-provoking for people with SAD.

In some cases, online therapy may serve as a good introduction or stepping stone that helps people become comfortable enough to try traditional face-to-face therapy, but it can also be an effective treatment option on its own.

Potential Disadvantages

It is also important to remember some of the potential limitations of online therapy for social anxiety.

  • Trouble staying motivated: Online treatment requires good self-direction and motivation, so it isn't uncommon for people to quit before finishing a program. Online therapy is also not always appropriate if you are experiencing severe symptoms, particularly if you are experiencing a crisis or complex situation.
  • No guarantees: Most of the free therapy online options are offered through a university or from a research setting. While these resources can help you learn more about your anxiety and develop strategies for coping with your symptoms, it is important to remember that there is no guarantee about the effectiveness of self-directed treatment.

Before you sign up for an online treatment program, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor can rule out any medical conditions that might be contributing to your symptoms, prescribe medications that may help, and recommend additional treatment options, which may include self-help strategies.

If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Article Sources
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