Shyness Consultants Are Sought by People With Social Problems The Buzz


When Donald Sutherland was a young man attending school in Toronto, he was so painfully shy that he could not enter a restaurant without first working hard to build up his nerve. It might sound like an extreme case of shyness, but the actor isn't alone in his struggle.

Right now, about half of American adults struggle with one form of shyness or another. That's according to the Shake Your Shyness website.

And it isn't only the quiet ones or the loners who struggle with shyness. In addition to Sutherland, a list of famous shy people includes Farrah Fawcett, David Letterman, Barbara Walters and Gene Hackman.

Children and teenagers, too, struggle with the same types of problems. And some experts think there will be even more shy people in the future.

It's important to note that some people suffer from more than shyness. People with a social phobia or social anxiety disorder have a treatable mental disorder. Mental health practitioners can determine whether someone is merely shy or is suffering from social phobia.

"Shyness has been on the rise in North America for decades because of the high priority we place on individualism and because of the decrease of stability in our society -- family breakups, frequent changes in homes, schools and communities," says Ross Johnson. He is a family therapist and founder of a shyness center.

"More people are seeking help now because there is less stigma and because there is a greater awareness of available help," says Johnson. "Nonetheless, shy people find it difficult to acknowledge their shyness, because talking about their shyness is painful."

Other experts blame the rise of shyness on other factors of our modern lifestyle. Technological advances have made it possible to carry out a growing number of activities without ever having to face another person.

More professionals will be needed to help people learn to cope with their problem. Some forecasters have labeled the new breed of helpers "shyness consultants." But not many people describe themselves this way.

"I don't know anyone who calls himself or herself a shyness consultant," says John Malouff. He is the consulting editor of Psychological Assessment, published by the American Psychological Association. He is also a licensed psychologist in Florida who specializes in helping children.

"It might be possible in a large metropolitan area," he says. "The best career approach would be to earn a PhD in clinical psychology and specialize in the treatment of social phobia, elective mutism and shyness."

If you want to help people overcome their shyness, you could find yourself in one of several different work settings. Professionals who work in this field today are employed at shyness clinics or run their own private practices and offer family and individual therapy. Others conduct research.

Children and teens who suffer from shyness will need you to know how to help them. But they'll also need you to know how to help their parents learn how to help them, too.

Often, according to Malouff, the treatment process must include their parents as well. You'll have to learn how to deal with a variety of age groups and several different generations within a family unit.

"Parents need to assume a primary role in identifying their child's shyness and then developing and implementing a strategy to promote more confidence in social situations," says Johnson.

Contrary to what some experts have said, Malouff doesn't think shyness is increasing. He believes that we're simply more aware of the problem. "Education level and national wealth have been increasing in many countries, so shy people may be more likely to seek help now than 50 years ago," he says.

Not many professionals currently specialize in the field.

"There are very few specialists in this area, because people with social anxiety are extremely resistant. A very small percentage of them seek psychotherapy or counseling services," says Jonathan Berent. He is a clinical social worker and founder of a center for shyness and social therapy.

If you want to help people deal with their shyness, there are several routes you can take. But whichever route you take, your practice will likely involve more than just the treatment of shyness. If you want to work only with shy people, it is possible. "But it would take a long time to develop such a practice," says Johnson.

All educational routes to this profession likely would require an advanced degree in clinical psychology, psychiatry or clinical social work.

Why would someone want to put in so many years of schooling to work in this field? "Many professionals decide to work with shy individuals because they themselves were shy -- like me -- or because a member of their family is shy," says Johnson.

"There are many pathways a young person can take to develop a career in working with shy individuals," says Johnson.

"Early childhood education diplomas are a legitimate way for people who are interested in young children to foster socialization for all children, and in particular shy children in a day-care setting. Shy children are often overlooked in classroom settings because they are not 'squeaky wheels.' Teachers and teaching assistants can foster an environment where shy children thrive socially."

In addition to a degree, certain personal attributes would be helpful. "It is important for people who work in this area to be respectful, sensitive, intuitive and patient," Johnson says.

"It is also important to convey the belief that positive change is attainable. In some instances, shy individuals need to be challenged. Someone working in this area would need to be able to handle some interpersonal conflict."

Links

Encyclopedia of Mental Health: Shyness
An academic explanation of shyness

The Shyness Institute
A nonprofit research corporation

Shake Your Shyness
Dedicated to helping people overcome shyness through education

The Shyness Questionnaire
How shy are you?