Background. There is very little information on long-term follow-up of social phobia.
Methods. A consecutive series of 70 patients satisfying the DSM-IV criteria for social phobia was treated in an out-patient clinic with behavioural methods based on exposure homework. Forty-five patients were judged to be remitted after eight individual sessions of psychotherapy. A 2 to 12 year (median = 6 years) follow-up was performed. Survival analysis was selected to characterize the clinical course of patients. Assessments were performed before treatment, at the end of therapy, after 1 year, and subsequently on a yearly basis, and utilized selected items of Paykel's Clinical Interview for Depression.
Results. Six of the 45 patients (13%) had a relapse of social phobia at some time during follow-up. The estimated cumulative percentage of patients remaining in remission was 98 after 2 years, 85 after 5 years and 85 after 10 years. Such probabilities increased in the absence of a personality disorder, of residual social phobic avoidance after exposure, and of concurrent use of benzodiazepines.
Conclusions. The findings suggest that, even though one patient out of three is unable to complete treatment or does not benefit sufficiently from it, exposure treatment can provide lasting effects to the majority of patients with social phobia. Disappearance of residual, subclinical social phobic avoidance appears to be the target of treatment.