Perception of personal identity cannot be separated from the perception of the social context and one's social identity. Full involvement in group psychotherapy may require not only the awareness of personal impairment, but also social identification. The aim of the current study was to examine the association between social identification and symptom improvement in group-based psychotherapy.
169 participants received 12 sessions of group-based cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety disorder. Social identification, the extent to which a person identifies with those who suffer from the same psychological problem as themselves and/or with those lacking psychopathology (non-sufferers), and clinical outcome were assessed at baseline, mid-and posttreatment, and 1, 3, and 6-months follow-up.
At baseline, patients aspired for closeness with non-sufferers, and viewed themselves as distant from fellow sufferers and non-sufferers. After treatment, participants viewed not only themselves, but also other individuals with social anxiety, as closer to both non-sufferers and fellow sufferers. These ratings were related to clinical outcomes.
The increase in closeness to both sufferers and non-sufferers across treatment may reflect a movement towards a more tolerant, less dichotomous and rigid, separation of ill and healthy that occurs with successful social anxiety treatment.