OBJECTIVE: To examine whether and how different patterns of psychotherapy history (no prior therapy, successful therapy experience, and unsuccessful therapy experience) affect the outcome of future treatment among patients undergoing cognitive-behavioural group therapy for social anxiety disorder. METHOD: Fifty-seven patients with varying histories of psychotherapy participating in cognitive-behavioural group treatment for social anxiety disorder were included in the study. Symptom severity (including anxiety, depression, self-efficacy, and global symptom severity) was assessed at pre- and posttreatment. A therapist-rated measure of patient therapy engagement was included as a process variable. RESULTS: First-time therapy patients showed more favourable pretreatment variables and achieved greater benefit from group therapy. Among patients with unsuccessful therapy experience, substantial gains were attained by those who were able to actively engage in the therapy process. Patients rating previous therapies as successful could benefit the least and tended to stagnate. Possible explanations for group differences and clinical implications are discussed. CONCLUSIONS: Prior psychotherapy experience affects the course of cognitive-behavioural group therapy in patients with social phobias. While patients with negative therapy experience may need extensive support in being and remaining actively engaged, those rating previous therapies as successful should be assessed very carefully and may benefit from a major focus on relational aspects.