People with social phobias in rural and regional areas are being sought to take part in a study to test the effectiveness of a novel Internet-based education program, aimed at helping people manage the problem.

Social phobia is a form of extreme shyness when people fear and try to avoid situations in which they think they might be judged. At the severe end, sufferers might quit work, avoid leaving home and become depressed and lonely.

"In non-metropolitan areas, there is a shortage of health professionals, which might make it even harder for people with social phobia to get treatment," says Dr Nick Titov, a Senior Lecturer at the Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety Disorders, at the University of New South Wales' (UNSW) School of Psychiatry.

"That's where our Internet-based treatment will come into its own," he says of the program, which is the first of its type in Australia. "It has already been successful in trials in metropolitan areas. It's cost-effective and can be accessed by anyone. This is particularly important because it can be difficult accessing the right sort of treatment for social phobia."

While social phobia affects more than 200,000 Australians every year, only 21 percent of those seek treatment, according to research conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (1997 National Survey of Health and Wellbeing).

"People log-on to the website, complete the lesson for that week, and then do the homework assignments," says Dr Titov, the first investigator on the project.

The study will provide feedback and support via email. Dr Titov says that he expects that people who undertake the program will learn helpful techniques for managing their symptoms, but that success will be due to active participation, particularly doing the homework assignments.

"The program incorporates several basic techniques such as learning to control the physical anxiety associated with social phobia, techniques for tackling a person's fears, and developing a program for tackling those fears and recognising self-defeating thoughts," he says.

The program comprises six separate lessons of approximately 30 minutes, one of which is completed every one to two weeks. The participants will be assessed at the beginning and the end of the course and again after six months, to measure change.

"International research has shown that web-based education programs are effective for people who are socially anxious in the long-term," he says. "We know it works overseas - we want to see how effective it can be in Australia."

To enrol in the study, please log on to

Media contact: Dr Nick Titov, 8382 1732; Susi Hamilton, UNSW Media unit, 9385 1583 or 0422 934 024, email

Date Issued: 20 August, 2007