May 1st, 2012

Social Anxiety in Adolescents and Young Adults: Translating Developmental Science Into Practice

“Social Anxiety in Adolescents and Young Adults: Translating Developmental Science Into Practice”

Edited by Candice A. Alfano and Deborah C. Beidel

American Psychological Association

Washington, D.C., 2011

Book covers wide therapeutic landscape

Reviewed by James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA

Social fear is synonymous with excessive shyness, social withdrawal and more definitively, social anxiety disorder (SAD). SAD occurs across the lifespan, with the average age of onset being mid-adolescence. As the editors of this book inquire, “What is it, then, about this particular developmental stage that seems to be the critical period for the onset of this debilitating disorder?” You’ll find that the book more than answers this question with precision and uncompromising scholarship.

Psychologists Candice A. Alfano and Deborah C. Beidel assembled 15 chapters from notable professionals who concentrate on anxiety disorders among adolescents and young adults between 12-25 years of age. They adopt “a developmental framework to review and integrate research and theory on the factors that give rise to, maintain, exacerbate and/or protect against the development of SAD during the period of greatest risk.” Accordingly, the book covers a wide therapeutic landscape that includes approaches to symptom reduction, risk management and primary prevention.

Section I provides an overview of SAD in adolescents and young adults, comparing and contrasting the disorder with older people and age-specific life events. These chapters detail clinical presentation, comorbidity, etiology and neurodevelopmental influences. The consensus from the authors is that SAD is best conceived within an interactive developmental psychopathology model which encompasses predisposing, precipitating and maintaining factors.

Section II has chapters about individual differences, contexts and outcomes from social anxiety in young people. One of the key areas which has emerged from epidemiological studies is the relationship of SAD to depression, alcohol and drug use and peer victimization. I was particularly impressed with the coverage given to newly emerging areas, namely social anxiety among adolescents with autism spectrum disorder and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth.

A central theme throughout this section is the vulnerability that characterizes puberty in the face of physical maturation, expanding social networks, sexual activity and familial conflict.

The comprehensive coverage of SAD found in the book is represented further in Section III, where the editors feature chapters on assessment, behavioral and cognitive-behavioral treatment, pharmacotherapy and the impact of culture on young people who are African American, Asian American, Hispanic and Latino and Native American.

For those of you who provide services outside of an office and clinic, the book comes up strong with chapters about school-based intervention and addressing social and performance anxiety associated with school refusal and avoidance.

If your professional interests and expertise are with socially anxious adolescents and youth, you don’t want to overlook this book. None of the chapters is overly long but all of them present the most contemporary research findings and practice recommendations. Also, the editors kept a keen eye on writing style – every chapter is easy to read and free of academic vernacular that so often burdens the reader. And unlike similar books, this one gives you pragmatic suggestions that, true to its title, facilitate “translating developmental science into practice.” I also advise college and university instructors to consider the book for coursework in clinical psychology, developmental psychopathology, and seminars devoted to psychotherapeutic methods.

James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA, is senior vice president, applied research, clinical training and peer review at the May Institute in Norwood, Mass.

 

By James K Luiselli EdD ABPP BCBA-D

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