Children who received no treatment for their diagnosed anxiety disorder faired better over the long term than did those who chose to take Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), according to a study in Brain and Behavior. In addition, regardless of being treated or not, about half of the people in both groups were generally fairing better at the time of the long-term follow-up.
A team of mainly University of Toronto researchers were able to follow up approximately eight years later with 120 people who at ages 8–12 had been diagnosed with anxiety disorders between 1997-2003. Half of the participants had taken a CBT program, and a comparable group of children had not. “Nontreatment” or “treatment as usual” was defined as those who declined CBT. Some participants from both groups were involved with supportive therapy, religious or spiritual guidance, or taking medication.
“A statistically significant decrease in total anxiety was found in the nontreatment group at [Long Term Follow Up],” the reseachers wrote. Conversely, “An insignificant increase in anxiety was found in the treatment group.”
The researchers described it as the first long-term study to compare youth treated for their anxiety with CBT during childhood to those who were not treated. “Our results are surprising,” they wrote. They conceded there were many limitations to this form of study, such as possible self-selection bias among the participants.
The study also identified “an inverse relationship” with self-efficacy and self-esteem. “Anxiety decreased as self-efficacy and esteem increased.” The researchers hypothesized that this finding reflected how “the meaning attributed to [the anxiety] and the belief that one has the power to cope with it [are] the differentiating factor between clinical and nonclinical groups. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to provide evidence for this correlation in the context of therapy.”
Eight years later: outcomes of CBT-treated versus untreated anxious children (Adler, Gili W. et al. Brain and Behavior. August 19, 2014. DOI: 10.1002/brb3.274)