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The Inner Critic and Social Anxiety

We can use our pluralistic skills to work with individual client's specific contributors to the Tough Inner Critic, drawing on the myriad tasks and methods available, as discussed in earlier sections.  This section gives special consideration to how the Inner Critic contributes to social anxiety in clients, but the pluralistic counsellor and individual client can collaborate on what is most appropriate for the individual. Looking at the Inner Critic as a contributor to social anxiety, Lyons (NICABM Inner Critic Video 6; 2021; 02:20) describes how a tough Inner Critic can actually deter clients from achieving the things they want to, as they are scared of making a mistake, contributing to avoidance and social anxiety.  Their inner voice is saying things like “you shouldn’t join the gym, you are uncoordinated and you will be heavier than everyone else” or “you shouldn’t go to the supermarket now, it is peak time and everyone will stare at you because you look different”.  In this way, the Inner Critic can paralyse people and prevent their growth and even impede life enjoyment.  In negotiating control away, Lyons looks at life chapters with her clients, in a way that a pluralistic counsellor may mimic, with all the pluralistic counselling underpinnings of empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence.  Working together to see where the Inner Critic actually served them, and being respectful of that.  But perhaps reframing it as "what does your Inner Critic now get in the way of?  And what would you like to do differently now?" (03:12) and enabling the client to do the opposite of what the Inner Critic says.  Lyons’s task is methodologically CBT, asking her client to make lists of the things the Inner Critic says, which draws attention to negative thought patterns, and then support them to problem solve, perhaps by looking at these patterns and predicting what the Inner Critic might say to deter the client in future (metacognitive awareness).  The assigning homework.   She describes a client who did not join a gym because her Inner Critic told her she would make a fool of herself. Lyons then encouraged her to attend and assigned homework to the client to observe all the times other people make mistakes or say “I am sorry” or trip over your shoes or were uncoordinated, or correct themselves (04:54). Once the client realised other people make mistakes, she accepted her own ability to make mistakes.  She had only been paying attention inwards, fuelling her social anxiety.  This again taps into Neff's (2003a) "Common Humanity" idea.  But with counselling, she was able to normalise a lot of her perceived “slip ups” and go to the gym, make friends and grow. Lyons notes that people with social anxiety may think they are looking outward, but they are “actually paying attention to their own interpretation and their own [inner] voice” (05:10). The Pluralistic Counsellor and client may choose a different task. Recognising some clients have “all or nothing thinking” and they will believe it is the Inner Critic who keeps them right, it is the Inner Critic who stops them looking silly in public or saying the wrong thing. We may gently persuade the client that the Inner Critic is not always helpful, that it can be a fear response that holds us back.  And it could be sabotaging us in areas we are not aware of.  For example, stopping us setting appropriate boundaries with people and being people pleasers. Or preventing us from asking for what we need in relationships.  Lyons describes this as “what are the skills your Inner Critic gets in the way of?” (03:44).  It appears that exposure therapy is effective in working with social anxiety and the inner critic. "Exposure therapy is the most effective psychological treatment for anxiety. Exposure means ‘facing your fears’ and is the opposite of avoidance. When we avoid something that we fear, the fear only gets stronger: by avoiding we don’t get to learn anything about our ability to cope. If we confront our fears and learn that we can cope then we become more able to manage similar situations in the future. Exposure can be done to real situations or to imagined ones. In psychological terms exposure leads to the extinction of a learned fear response" (Psychology Tools, 2020). As Pluralistic Practitioners, we would only advocate exposure therapy where the client was comfortable with this. For some clients, facing their fears would be too overwhelming, even detrimental, potentially retraumatising.  Conversely, it might be appropriate for the Counsellor to gently challenge their client. Gaining client feedback on this, perhaps with use of C-NIP forms or other tools, where the client can ask to be challenged by their Counsellor, and the Pluralistic Counsellor might facilitate the discussion where this is appropriate.

E.G C-NIP forms for client feedback ( (

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