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DOI: 10.1016/j.xjmad.2023.100004; PMCID: PMC10881118


OBJECTIVE: Exposure-based therapy (EXP) and behavioral activation (BA) are empirically-supported behavioral intervention techniques that target avoidance and approach behavior to alleviate symptoms. Although EXP is an established treatment for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), the effectiveness of BA for GAD has not been directly tested or compared with that of EXP. This study examined the efficacy of EXP and BA for adults with GAD.

METHOD: In a randomized clinical trial ( NCT02807480) with partial blinding in Tulsa, OK, 102 adults with GAD were allocated to manualized, 10-session EXP or BA between April 2016-April 2021. Primary analyses were intention-to-treat and included the 94 (46 EXP, 48 BA) participants who started treatment. The GAD-7 self-report scale was the primary outcome measure.

RESULTS: Similar GAD-7 declines were observed at post-treatment for EXP (d=-0.97 [95% CI -1.40 to -0.53]) and BA (d=-1.14 [95% CI -1.57 to -0.70]), and were maintained through 6-month follow-up (EXP: d=-2.13, BA: d=-1.98). Compared to EXP, BA yielded more rapid declines in anxiety and depression scores during therapy (d=0.75-0.77), as well as lower anxiety and depression scores (d=0.13-0.14) and greater participant-rated improvement (d=0.64) at post-treatment. Bayesian analyses indicated 74-99% probability of greater change in BA than EXP at post-treatment.

CONCLUSIONS: BA and EXP are both effective in treating GAD, and BA may confer greater benefit during treatment. Future research is warranted to inform personalized treatment approaches.

Journal Title

J Mood Anxiety Disord




Behavior therapy; Clinical trials; Exposure therapy; Generalized anxiety disorder


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