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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Efficacy of exposure versus cognitive therapy in anxiety disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis

Dennis Ougrin

Author Affiliations

King's College London, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry PO85, De Crespigny Park, London, SE5 8AF, UK

BMC Psychiatry 2011, 11:200  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-11-200

Published: 20 December 2011



There is growing evidence of the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for a wide range of psychological disorders. There is a continued controversy about whether challenging maladaptive thoughts rather than use of behavioural interventions alone is associated with the greatest efficacy. However little is known about the relative efficacy of various components of CBT. This review aims to compare the relative efficacy of Cognitive Therapy (CT) versus Exposure (E) for a range of anxiety disorders using the most clinically relevant outcome measures and estimating the summary relative efficacy by combining the studies in a meta-analysis.


Psych INFO, MEDLINE and EMBASE were searched from the first available year to May 2010. All randomised controlled studies comparing the efficacy of exposure with cognitive therapy were included. Odds ratios (OR) or standardised means' differences (Hedges' g) for the most clinically relevant primary outcomes were calculated. Outcomes of the studies were grouped according to specific disorders and were combined in meta-analyses exploring short-term and long-term outcomes.


20 Randomised Controlled Trials with (n = 1,308) directly comparing the efficacy of CT and E in anxiety disorders were included in the meta-analysis. No statistically significant difference in the relative efficacy of CT and E was revealed in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and in Panic Disorder (PD). There was a statistically significant difference favouring CT versus E in Social Phobia both in the short-term (Z = 3.72, p = 0.0002) and the long-term (Z = 3.28, p = 0.001) outcomes.


On the basis of extant literature, there appears to be no evidence of differential efficacy between cognitive therapy and exposure in PD, PTSD and OCD and strong evidence of superior efficacy of cognitive therapy in social phobia