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
"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,"
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
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."
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?