The Shyness Clinic, Palo Alto, California

A groundbreaking program that helps chronically shy people develop new social skills. Coached by therapists, the clinic’s clients practice social interaction exactly as if it were a tennis forehand or a piano chord.

Karen’s Journey: Episode 1

Karen’s Journey: Episode 16

Her screen name is ShyKarenInPaloAlto, she’s 37 years old, and she’s given us a remarkable record of her progress at the Shyness Clinic, marking the steady transformation from the nervous, visibly shaky person we meet Episode 1 to the increasingly happy, self-assured person of Episode 16. I especially like the moment at 1:50 in Episode 16, when Karen issues the clearest declaration of her desire: “I want to change my brain.” Also note her triumph at 3:00 when she successfully asks a stranger for the time, then turns to the camera and says “That’s how it’s done.” Karen’s emotional intensity at that moment is the equal of any athlete or musician who just hit the mark. Which makes sense, because Karen is doing exactly the same thing they are—she’s been ignited to deep practice a skill circuit.  

 

Lessons

The Shyness Clinic takes a unique psychological tack. Rather than spending time exploring and analyzing the reasons and history behind the shyness, the clinic’s therapists realize that developing social skills is about deep practice: doing the action, over and over, until it’s comfortable. They do this by:

  • First, fixing faulty perceptions. (This is the cognitive half of the cognitive-behavioral one-two punch.) If a client is convinced everyone in the restaurant hates them, the therapists work to show the faulty reasoning here – the truth is, most people in the restaurant don’t really care.
  • Gradually escalating practice difficulty. It’s called “homework,” and it begins with simple tasks – make a phone call, speak with two friends – and steadily ups the ante to herculean feats of outgoingness – such as walking into a pizza restaurant, finding a waiter, and loudly inquiring “Could you please tell me where the pizza restaurant is?”

 

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