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Comparing Cognitive & Relaxation Therapies for GAD

Is one approach superior?

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Updated December 23, 2007

The two most widely studied treatment approaches for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are cognitive therapy (CT) and relaxation therapy (RT).

Cognitive therapy is a counseling approach that focuses on identifying and changing maladaptive thought patterns that contribute to GAD. Relaxation therapy focuses on the ability a person has to bring decreased tension to the body, which also helps a person gain better control over worry and other symptoms of GAD. A recent large scale review article examined which of these treatments performed better for GAD.

CT & RT for GAD

There have been five studies that have directly compared CT and RT for GAD, but a variety of others have looked at each treatment individually. Of the studies with direct comparisons, both treatments were found to be effective in reducing anxiety-related thoughts and overall anxiety. However, neither treatment approach was found to be superior to the other. Furthermore, the same study examined the treatments for panic disorder and found CT to be a superior treatment to RT.

What This Means

Although there are some limitations to the study, it can be concluded that CT and RT are both effective treatments for GAD, and both are equal in their rates of success. If you are someone struggling with GAD, this means that finding someone to work with using either approach could prove to be helpful. Additionally, some combination of both approaches may give you more tools and options for controlling worry and anxiety. If you feel as though your current treatment is not working, then perhaps incorporating one or more of these approaches into your current work could improve your chances of feeling better, faster.

Source: Siev & Chambless (2007). Specificity of treatment effects: Cognitive therapy and relaxation for generalized anxiety and panic disorders. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75, 513-522.
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