Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is probably the most well-known and most-practiced form of modern psychotherapy. Even therapists who don’t identify themselves as a CBT therapist likely uses at least a handful of CBT techniques in their practice. And while much of CBT’s popularity is centered around its use for depression and related mood disorders, it’s also useful for many other disorders, including anxiety.
But to-date, there has been no systematic review of the efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy in randomized placebo-controlled research trials for anxiety. Until now.
In April, researchers from Boston University conducted an extensive literature review on CBT studies that reviewed the efficacy of CBT versus a placebo for anxiety disorders. Out of an original 1,165 studies identified, they found 27 that met their inclusion criteria.
They found support for the use of CBT in anxiety disorders. Specifically, the severity of anxiety symptoms was decreased for people who took CBT over placebo, and the effect of this decrease was most significant for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder and acute stress disorder. The smallest effect size the researchers found was for the use of CBT in panic disorder.
The researchers also noted that while they did find CBT effective for many anxiety disorders, there is considerable room for improvement for future research in this area. CBT is not a cure-all, but when wielded by an experienced therapist, it can provide helpful, beneficial results for most people suffering from an anxiety disorder.
Hofmann SG & Smits JA. (2008). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for adult anxiety disorders: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. J Clin Psychiatry, 69(4), 621-32.