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Combo Therapy Best for Childhood Anxiety

December 29, 2008

New research suggests a combination of behavioral therapy and drug therapy may be best for children with anxiety disorders.

In a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found 59.7 percent of children with anxiety disorders who received cognitive behavioral therapy significantly improved, 54.9 percent of children who received sertraline (Zoloft) significantly improved and 80.7 percent of children treated with a combination of the two treatments significantly improved. All of the therapies were helpful in treating anxiety disorders in children.

Children between the ages of 7 and 17 years with a primary diagnosis of separation or generalized anxiety disorder or social phobia received training in anxiety-management skills from psychotherapists, sertraline on a fixed-flexible schedule or a combination of both therapies. No physical, psychiatric or harm-related adverse events occurred more frequently in the sertraline group than the control group. Harm-related adverse events include thoughts of harm to self or others.

“Our findings indicate that as compared with placebo, the three active therapies — combination therapy with both cognitive behavioral therapy and sertraline, cognitive behavioral therapy alone and sertraline alone — are effective short-term treatments for children with separation and generalized anxiety disorders and social phobia, with combination treatment having superior response rates,” study authors wrote.

Authors also wrote that the results of the study make cognitive behavioral therapy for children with anxiety disorders a “well-established, evidenced-based treatment” for the first time.

Study authors say 10 to 20 percent of children suffer from anxiety disorders, and many cases are undiagnosed.

SOURCE: New England Journal of Medicine, 2008;359:2753

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