University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers are conducting a federally funded study focused on helping rural Nebraskans overcome social anxiety, defined most simply as a persistent and intense fear of social situations that are avoided or endured with distress. Situations that are difficult for people with social anxiety include job interviews, public speaking, small talk, being the center of attention, parties, dating and being assertive.
As part of the study, expert therapists from the Anxiety Disorders Clinic, a specialty clinic within the Psychological Consultation Center at UNL, connect with clients via secure videoconferencing software, said Debra Hope, clinic director, licensed psychologist and professor in UNL’s Department of Psychology.
“We often get calls from Nebraskans who live too far away from our clinic for us to help them. This project is the first step in helping us make sure our services can be more broadly available,” Hope said.
Researchers are first recruiting participants who are within driving distance of the UNL campus and who believe they suffer from social anxiety. The therapist and client will actually be in the same building, but using technology from different rooms. Once success is ensured, researchers will expand services to rural clients.
The treatment is based on a short-term (16 sessions), state-of-the-art approach the clinic has used in recent years and is delivered by the same therapists who offer treatment in-person at the Anxiety Disorders Clinic. It is not experimental and has been shown by previous research to be effective in reducing or eliminating social anxiety. The “telehealth” approach also has proven beneficial for many other health and mental health services and UNL researchers are confident it can effectively treat social anxiety.
The videoconferencing used in the study is delivered through a secure connection so that privacy is ensured. No one outside the Anxiety Disorders Clinic would be able to view the therapy sessions.
“I find the technology amazing — it is so good that our first clients are saying they quickly forget the therapist is in another room,” Hope said.
Hope and Brandon Weiss, a doctoral student in the Clinical Psychology Training Program at UNL, lead the study. Weiss has received a prestigious fellowship through the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct the study. Hope is an internationally recognized expert on the assessment and treatment of anxiety, particularly social anxiety.
All services for this study are provided in Burnett Hall on UNL’s City Campus. Day and evening appointments are available. In exchange for their research participation, clients receive the services at a very low cost. To get more information about the study or to receive services, call 402-472-2351 and ask for the Anxiety Disorders Clinic.
Writer: Jean Ortiz Jones, University Communications, (402) 472-8320