Picture a plight of shy people.

A friend invites them to a party a couple of weeks away, and because it sounds like fun -- or they can't think of an excuse to get out of it -- they accept. But as party time approaches, they begin to get nervous at the thought of meeting all those new people.

By the time the big night arrives, they're so anxious they risk offending their host by not showing up. Or they go, but are so uptight they have a miserable time hiding behind the lamps.

People who tend to avoid social situations are "missing out" on some of life's pleasanter aspects, says Catholic University's psychology professor Carol R. Glass, "and they realize it."

Glass is supervising an eight-week university project to compare techniques used in helping people overcome shyness. She is looking for 80 to 100 "socially anxious adults" (21 and over) willing to participate in a series of eight free group therapy sessions.

The 90-minute meetings are aimed at people "who feel shy, are hesitant to enter social gatherings or may avoid parties and group activities, feel uncomfortable in dating situations and have trouble making or maintaining friendships." They should not currently be receiving counseling or psychotherapy.

The procedures to be used, says Glass, "all have been found successful." Her hope is to determine "which programs work better for different people" and what -- if any -- change toward a more gregarious outlook the volunteers experience. The sessions will involve "a lot of group interaction."

Hestitant to oversell the possible results, she warns, for example, males who are overly nervous when dating not to expect "to come out saying, 'Wow, I'm Robert Redford.'" But, she adds, "We believe we've put together the best possible program they will feel less anxious."

"Shyness," says Glass, "has been an interest of mine for a long time. It is a significant problem for many people." On campus, "I became aware of how many students were expressing anxiety." They should tell her, "Gee, I'm anxious around girls" or "I can't call up people for dates."

In Washington, the need for theraphy may be particularly high, she believes, because of the large number of singles here. She notes, however, some people feel quite comfortable skipping the social life.

But for those who don't:

"They notice stray feelings of being nervous and uptight in group situations or situations where there's an emphasis on meeting new people." Often, but not necessarily, it involves the opposite sex, "asking her out for the first time or being ill at ease on the date."

Volunteers will be expected to show up for all eight sessions, to be held on evenings and weekends in May and June on the university campus. They will meet in groups of 8 to 10 under the leadership of advanced graduate students in clinical psychology. Specific meeting times will be arranged following registration.

Three additional assessment sessions are also planned: before, immediately following and four months after the group therapy "to see if people are really sticking to it."