Evidence-Based Reviews

Generalized anxiety disorder: 8 studies of psychosocial interventions

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For patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), the intensity, duration, and frequency of an individual’s anxiety and worry are out of proportion to the actual likelihood or impact of an anticipated event, and they often find it difficult to prevent worri­some thoughts from interfering with daily life.1 Successful treatment for GAD is patient-specific and requires clinicians to consider all available psychotherapeutic and pharmacologic options.

In a 2020 meta-analysis of 79 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with 11,002 participants diagnosed with GAD, Carl et al2 focused on pooled effect sizes of evidence-based psychotherapies and medications for GAD. Their analysis showed a medium to large effect size (Hedges g = 0.76) for psychotherapy, compared to a small effect size (Hedges g = 0.38) for medication on GAD outcomes. Other meta-analyses have shown that evidence-based psychotherapies have large effect sizes on GAD outcomes.3

However, in most of the studies included in these meta-analyses, the 2 treatment modalities—psychotherapy and pharmaco­therapy—use different control types. The pharmacotherapy trials used a placebo, while psychotherapy studies often had a waitlist control. Thus, the findings of these meta-analyses should not lead to the conclusion that psychotherapy is necessarily more effective for GAD symptoms than pharmaco­therapy. However, there is clear evidence that psychosocial interventions are at least as effective as medications for treating GAD. Also, patients often prefer psychosocial treatment over medication.

Part 1 (Current Psychiatry, July 2022) of this 2-part article reviewed 8 RCTs of biological interventions for GAD published within the last 5 years.4 Part 2 discusses RCTs published in the last 3 years that studied psychosocial interventions (Table5-12).

Psychosocial interventions for generalized anxiety disorder: 8 studies

1. Simon NM, Hofmann SG, Rosenfield D, et al. Efficacy of yoga vs cognitive behavioral therapy vs stress education for the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2021;78(1):13-20. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.2496

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a first-line therapy for GAD.13 However, patients may not pursue CBT due to fiscal and logistical constraints, as well as the stigma associated with it. Yoga is a common complementary health practice used by adults in the United States,14 although evidence has been inconclusive for its use in treating anxiety. Simon et al5 examined the efficacy of Kundalini yoga (KY) vs stress education (SE) and CBT for treating GAD.

Study design

  • A prospective, parallel-group, randomized-controlled, single-blind trial in 2 academic centers evaluated 226 adults age ≥18 who met DSM-5 criteria for GAD.
  • Participants were randomized into 3 groups: KY (n = 93), SE (n = 43), or CBT (n = 90), and monitored for 12 weeks to determine the efficacy of each therapy.
  • Exclusion criteria included current posttraumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, substance use disorders, significant suicidal ideation, mental disorder due to a medical or neurocognitive condition, lifetime psychosis, bipolar disorder (BD), developmental disorders, and having completed more than 5 yoga or CBT sessions in the past 5 years. Additionally, patients were either not taking medication for ≥2 weeks prior to the trial or had a stable regimen for ≥6 weeks.
  • Each therapy was guided by 2 instructors during 12 120-minute sessions with 20 minutes of daily assignments and presented in cohorts of 4 to 6 participants.
  • The primary outcome was an improvement in score on the Clinical Global Impression–Improvement scale from baseline at Week 12. Secondary measures included scores on the Meta-Cognitions Questionnaire and the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire.


  • A total of 155 participants finished the posttreatment assessment, with similar completion rates between the groups, and 123 participants completed the 6-month follow-up assessment.
  • The KY group had a significantly higher response rate (54.2%) than the SE group (33%) at posttreatment, with a number needed to treat (NNT) of 4.59. At 6-month follow-up, the response rate in the KY group was not significantly higher than that of the SE group.
  • The CBT group had a significantly higher response rate (70.8%) than the SE group (33%) at posttreatment, with a NNT of 2.62. At 6-month follow-up, the CBT response rate (76.7%) was significantly higher than the SE group (48%), with a NNT of 3.51.
  • KY was not found to be as effective as CBT on noninferiority testing.

Continue to: Conclusions/limitations


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