Get access

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Anxious Children: From Evidence to Practice


  • Monique C. Sawyer RN, DNP, PMHNP-BC,

    Corresponding author
    1. Faculty Associate, Arizona State University, College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Phoenix, AZ
    • Address correspondence to Dr. Monique C. Sawyer, 4046 Caminito Espejo, San Diego, CA 92107;

    Search for more papers by this author
  • Diane E. Nunez RN, DNP, ANP-BC

    1. Clinical Associate Professor, Arizona State University, College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Phoenix, AZ
    Search for more papers by this author



Anxiety is the most common mental health problem in children, yet less than one third of children with anxiety disorders seek treatment. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is recommended as a first-line treatment for childhood anxiety. However, current practice generally does not include CBT due to issues of feasibility, affordability, and transportability.


The primary purpose of this review was to appraise current literature regarding the effectiveness of individual CBT for childhood anxiety. Secondary purposes were to identify reasons for the discrepancy between current evidence and practice as well as to offer suggestions to overcome this dilemma.


A systematic review of the literature published between 2007 and 2012 was conducted, searching four databases—Cochrane, PubMed, CINAHL, and PsycINFO.


In all 10 studies reviewed, individual CBT significantly reduced rates of anxiety diagnoses when compared with controls, and was equally effective or superior to comparison therapies. The only exception was when CBT was compared to a combination of CBT and pharmacological management, in which case the latter was more effective.

Linking Evidence to Action

Each study included in this review employed hour-long sessions over a minimum of 12 visits. In order to meet clinical demands and patient preferences, affordability, and feasibility of CBT interventions must be addressed. A brief, manualized CBT program that can be supported to be clinically effective is proposed as an evidence-based solution for anxious children in outpatient mental health and primary care settings.