Emotion-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Youth with Anxiety Disorders: A Randomized Controlled Trial

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Difficulties with emotion regulation are a core feature of anxiety disorders (ADs) in children and adults. Interventions with a specific focus on emotion regulation are gaining empirical support. Yet, no studies to date have compared the relative efficacy of such interventions to existing evidence-based treatments. Such comparisons are necessary to determine whether emotion-focused treatments might be more effective for youth exhibiting broad emotion-regulation difficulties at pretreatment. This study examined an emotion-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (ECBT) protocol in comparison to traditional cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in a sample of children with a primary anxiety disorder diagnosis. Moderation analyses examined whether children with higher levels of emotion dysregulation at pretreatment would show greater levels of improvement in ECBT than CBT. Ninety-two youth ages 7 to 12 years (58% male) with a primary diagnosis of separation anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or social phobia were included. Participants were randomly assigned to ECBT or CBT. Results showed that youth in both conditions demonstrated similar improvements in emotion regulation and that pretreatment levels of emotion dysregulation did not moderate treatment outcomes. Additional analyses showed that ECBT and CBT were similarly effective on diagnostic, severity, and improvement measures. Future work is needed to further explore the ways that emotion regulation is related to treatment outcome for anxious youth.