Social Anxiety: Personal Narratives on Journeys to Recovery

Prof Doc Thesis

McCarthy, Catherine 2014. Social Anxiety: Personal Narratives on Journeys to Recovery. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London Psychology
AuthorsMcCarthy, Catherine
TypeProf Doc Thesis

Introduction: Social anxiety is a common experience. For some it is a debilitating,
chronic difficulty, which becomes problematic during childhood and can have
devastating effects. Talking therapies are useful for many, particularly in reducing
anxiety. However, many people never access treatment and for those that do,
therapies do not tend to improve their quality of life, particularly their social worlds.
Do we need to look beyond clinical recovery measures when assessing therapeutic
outcomes? There has been no research that has explored personal recovery in
social anxiety. This thesis seeks to understand whether people with problematic
social anxiety experience personal recovery and if so, how.
Methods: A participatory action research (PAR) approach was used to develop the
project. People with problematic social anxiety advised on study design, data
collection, analysis and dissemination of the findings. 8 narratives of living with
problematic social anxiety were collected to explore how people negotiate social
anxiety and what this can tell us about personal recovery. A narrative analysis was
then carried out, drawing upon Frank’s (1995, 2012) dialogical narratives analysis of
illness stories and Adame and Hornstein’s (2006) typology of emotional distress
Findings: The participants’ stories of living with problematic social anxiety
highlighted the variety of ways that people make sense of this difficulty. The types of
stories told were reminiscent of Frank’s (1995, 2010) illness narratives, as people
told stories of restitution, chaos and quest. People drew upon traditional, counter and
alternative mental health narratives to negotiate social anxiety, reminding us of the
multiple ways people can find to overcome emotional distress.
Discussion: The PAR study showed how people struggling with a mental health
difficulty can be at the centre of research which strives to better understand their
struggles and improve talking therapies. The study reminds us that the “social”
aspects of social anxiety need to be better acknowledged within therapies so that we
do not only focus on reducing anxiety but help people improve their relationships and
quality of life.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Publication dates
PrintAug 2014
Publication process dates
Deposited24 Aug 2015
Publisher's version
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