Social anxiety as a barrier to treatment for eating disorders


  • Renee D. Goodwin,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Child Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, Division of Epidemiology, Columbia University School of Public Health, New York, New York
    • Department of Child Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, 1051 Riverside Dr., Unit 43, New York, NY 10032
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  • Marian L. Fitzgibbon

    1. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, Illinois
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The goal of this pilot investigation is to determine the relationship between social anxiety and treatment- seeking behavior for eating disorders in an outpatient psychiatric clinic.


Twenty-eight patients seeking treatment for anorexia or bulimia at an outpatient eating disorders clinic completed a battery of self-report measures on eating pathology, attachment style and functioning, and social anxiety at initial intake appointment. Levels of eating pathology and social anxiety at consult were compared with service utilization records on entry into treatment.


Individuals who did not engage in treatment had significantly higher levels of social anxiety (F = 8.29, df = 1, p < .05) compared with those who did engage in treatment. There were no differences in demographic characteristics, diagnoses, or level of eating pathology at intake.


Social anxiety may act as a barrier to effective helpseeking and utilization of mental health treatment among individuals with eating disorders. Replication of these findings in a larger sample and more in-depth study of the mechanism of the observed association between use of services and social anxiety may be useful in planning more effective outreach in the community to underserved populations in need of treatment for eating disorders. © 2002 by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Int J Eat Disord 32:103–106, 2002.