Does CBT anxiety Work

Does CBT For Anxiety Work?

In short, yes. CBT for anxiety has demonstrated both effectiveness and efficacy. Patients who attend CBT therapy sessions report reduced symptoms in well-controlled and naturalistic settings, as well as an improvement in overall wellbeing. [1] Previous research mainly focussed on studying the effectiveness of exposure therapy and cognitive therapy in treating various anxiety disorders.

How Does Exposure Therapy For Anxiety Issues Work?

Exposure therapy is one of the CBT components that allows you to gradually confront your fears, reducing your negative response to the stimuli. Depending on your issue, your therapist might use this technique by inducing somatic (physical) symptoms. For example, increasing your heart rate via imaginal exposure or asking you to directly confront the feared object or stimuli. Exposure is a technique commonly used to decrease fearful reactions to specific phobias.

Still, it’s been found to be effective in treating other anxiety disorders as well. For example, previous studies showed that exposure therapy that included imagining worst-case scenarios produced better results than relaxation techniques in patients with generalised anxiety disorder. A 12-months followed up revealed improved general functioning. [2]

Your therapist might ask you to imagine the feared scenario and describe the stimulus in detail. This kind of exposure will help you face the negative emotions instead of spending your energy on avoiding distressing thoughts.

Additionally, several studies have shown that exposure therapy effectively treats PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Therapies for those two disorders might include both imaginal and direct exposure.

If you suffer from PTSD, your therapist might ask you to visualise the traumatic event and describe it later in a session to change negative perceptions. Similarly, those treatment methods have success in combating symptoms if you have OCD. [3] You will be gradually exposed to a scenario and taught to rely on compulsions less.

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How Does Cognitive Therapy Work With Anxiety?

Cognitive therapy is another main component of CBT that utilises various strategies to target and challenge distorted thoughts. You’ll learn to recognise a relationship between thoughts and feelings with the help of techniques such as learning about anxiety and identifying thinking patterns that contribute to the distress.

The effectiveness of cognitive therapy on its own is difficult to determine as therapies for anxiety disorders typically involve additional components. Previous research concluded that cognitive therapy combined with exposure was better at treating generalised anxiety disorder than applied relaxation. [4]

Discover also our CBT for Anxiety: Survival Guide

What’s The Role Of Relaxation Techniques?

When it comes to relaxation techniques, they’re a crucial part of cognitive behavioural therapy. You’ll learn how to alleviate anxiety symptoms by increasing your body’s relaxation state. Even though studies show the efficacy of methods such as applied relaxation and progressive muscle relaxation, these techniques have a lower success rate than other CBT components, thus work best when they’re combined.

Although previous research indicates that other methods are more effective in treating anxiety disorders than applied relaxation, different studies recognise its effectiveness when paired with CBT components.

For example, a previous study looking at patients with social anxiety revealed that cognitive therapy and exposure with applied relaxation both performed well in reducing symptoms in social anxiety disorder. [5]

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Is CBT The Only Effective Therapy For Anxiety?

While CBT is the most popular therapy option with the most evidence suggesting its effectiveness, other approaches can also help treat anxiety. For example, Interpersonal Therapy (ITP) was associated with positive outcomes in patients with social anxiety disorder, panic disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. [6]

ITP focuses on relationship difficulties and addresses problems that contribute to your anxiety. Interpersonal therapy will typically last for at least 12 to 16 sessions, while CBT involves 12 to 20 sessions. Another effective approach is Mindfulnessbased cognitive therapy (MBCT) which combines cognitive therapy, meditation and mindfulness and allows you to better understand your thoughts and emotions. [7]

Some therapists will draw upon techniques from different approaches to prepare a treatment plan that’s best suited to your individual needs.

The Takeaway

CBT effectiveness lies in providing coping skills that prevent you from avoiding fear-inducing situations. CBT for anxiety is goal-oriented and focuses on teaching cognitive and behavioural skills to reduce anxiety symptoms. The strength of CBT is that its effects are long-lasting and improve overall functioning. CBT works well combined with medication. Suppose you’re not keen on taking meds, and assuming they’re not considered necessary.

In that case, it’s good to know that while meds usually need to be taken long-term to avoid relapse, CBT on its own has strong relapse-prevention effects. [8] Remember to always speak to your GP to discuss your meds and whether they are essential to contain your symptoms.

CBT helps you see beyond debilitating emotions and recognise other aspects of anxiety; its triggers, associated thoughts and their influence on behaviour. To achieve a good outcome, it’s best to combine all CBT techniques.

At Therapy Central, we offer both CBT and integrative therapy that combines different approaches to provide you with an individualised experience. Our qualified therapist will help you feel more in control of your life and improve its quality. We’re here to help, contact us for a free 15 min consultation

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Additional links:

What are Thinking Errors in CBT (and how to manage them)

More about CBT components

A study looking at the effectiveness of CBT therapy for youth with anxiety disorders 


[1] Arch JJ., Craske MG. First-line treatment: a critical appraisal of cognitive behavioral therapy developments and alternatives

[2] Efficacy of applied relaxation and cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder

[3] Psychological treatment of obsessive–compulsive disorder: A meta-analysis

[4] A Randomized Clinical Trial of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Applied Relaxation for Adults With Generalized Anxiety Disorder

[5] Cognitive therapy versus exposure and applied relaxation in social phobia: A randomized controlled trial


[7] Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for generalized anxiety disorder

[8] Combined Psychotherapy and Pharmacotherapy for Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Adults: Review and Analysist

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