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BACKGROUND: Previous Cochrane Reviews have shown that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is effective in treating childhood anxiety disorders. However, questions remain regarding the following: up-to-date evidence of the relative efficacy and acceptability of CBT compared to waiting lists/no treatment, treatment as usual, attention controls, and alternative treatments; benefits across a range of outcomes; longer-term effects; outcomes for different delivery formats; and amongst children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and children with intellectual impairments. OBJECTIVES: To examine the effect of CBT for childhood anxiety disorders, in comparison with waitlist/no treatment, treatment as usual (TAU), attention control, alternative treatment, and medication. SEARCH METHODS: We searched the Cochrane Common Mental Disorders Controlled Trials Register (all years to 2016), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, Embase, and PsycINFO (each to October 2019), international trial registries, and conducted grey literature searches. SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised controlled trials of CBT that involved direct contact with the child, parent, or both, and included non-CBT comparators (waitlist/no treatment, treatment as usual, attention control, alternative treatment, medication). Participants were younger than age 19, and met diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder diagnosis. Primary outcomes were remission of primary anxiety diagnosis post-treatment, and acceptability (number of participants lost to post-treatment assessment), and secondary outcomes included remission of all anxiety diagnoses, reduction in anxiety symptoms, reduction in depressive symptoms, improvement in global functioning, adverse effects, and longer-term effects. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We used standard methodological procedures as recommended by Cochrane. We used GRADE to assess the quality of the evidence. MAIN RESULTS: We included 87 studies and 5964 participants in quantitative analyses. Compared with waitlist/no treatment, CBT probably increases post-treatment remission of primary anxiety diagnoses (CBT: 49.4%, waitlist/no treatment: 17.8%; OR 5.45, 95% confidence interval (CI) 3.90 to 7.60; n = 2697, 39 studies, moderate quality); NNTB 3 (95% CI 2.25 to 3.57) and all anxiety diagnoses (OR 4.43, 95% CI 2.89 to 6.78; n = 2075, 28 studies, moderate quality). Low-quality evidence did not show a difference between CBT and TAU in post-treatment primary anxiety disorder remission (OR 3.19, 95% CI 0.90 to 11.29; n = 487, 8 studies), but did suggest CBT may increase remission from all anxiety disorders compared to TAU (OR 2.74, 95% CI 1.16 to 6.46; n = 203, 5 studies). Compared with attention control, CBT may increase post-treatment remission of primary anxiety disorders (OR 2.28, 95% CI 1.33 to 3.89; n = 822, 10 studies, low quality) and all anxiety disorders (OR 2.75, 95% CI 1.22 to 6.17; n = 378, 5 studies, low quality). There was insufficient available data to compare CBT to alternative treatments on post-treatment remission of primary anxiety disorders, and low-quality evidence showed there may be little to no difference between these groups on post-treatment remission of all anxiety disorders (OR 0.89, 95% CI 0.35 to 2.23; n = 401, 4 studies) Low-quality evidence did not show a difference for acceptability between CBT and waitlist/no treatment (OR 1.09, 95% CI 0.85 to 1.41; n=3158, 45 studies), treatment as usual (OR 1.37, 95% CI 0.73 to 2.56; n = 441, 8 studies), attention control (OR 1.00, 95% CI 0.68 to 1.49; n = 797, 12 studies) and alternative treatment (OR 1.58, 95% CI 0.61 to 4.13; n=515, 7 studies). No adverse effects were reported across all studies; however, in the small number of studies where any reference was made to adverse effects, it was not clear that these were systematically monitored. Results from the anxiety symptom outcomes, broader outcomes, longer-term outcomes and subgroup analyses are provided in the text. We did not find evidence of consistent differences in outcomes according to delivery formats (e.g. individual versus group; amount of therapist contact time) or amongst samples with and without ASD, and no studies included samples of children with intellectual impairments. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: CBT is probably more effective in the short-term than waiting lists/no treatment, and may be more effective than attention control. We found little to no evidence across outcomes that CBT is superior to usual care or alternative treatments, but our confidence in these findings are limited due to concerns about the amount and quality of available evidence, and we still know little about how best to efficiently improve outcomes.

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Journal article


Cochrane Database Syst Rev

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