The efficacy of technology-delivered cognitive-behavioral therapy (tCBT) for pediatric anxiety disorders (ADs) is uncertain as no meta-analysis has examined outcomes in trials that used structured diagnostic assessments at pre- and posttreatment.
We carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of tCBT for pediatric ADs that included participants <18 years of age with a confirmed primary AD according to a structured diagnostic interview. Nine studies with 711 participants were included.
tCBT outperformed control conditions for remission for primary AD (37.9% vs. 10.2%; k = 9; OR = 4.73; p I-2 = 0%; moderate certainty), remission for all ADs (19.5% vs. 5.3%; k = 8; OR = 3.32; p I-2 = 0%; moderate certainty), clinician-rated functioning (k = 7; MD = -4.38; p I-2 = 56.9%; low certainty), and caregiver-reported anxiety (k = 7; SMD = 0.27; p = .02; I-2 = 41.4%; low certainty), but not for youth-reported anxiety (k = 9; SMD = 0.13; p = .12; I-2 = 0%; low certainty). More severe pretreatment anxiety, a lower proportion of completed sessions, no face-to-face sessions, media recruitment, and a larger proportion of females were associated with lower remission rates for primary AD.
tCBT has a moderate effect on remission for pediatric ADs and clinician-rated functioning, a small effect on caregiver-reported anxiety, and no statistically significant effect on youth-reported anxiety. The certainty of these estimates is low to moderate. Remission rates vary substantially across trials and several factors that may influence remission were identified. Future research should examine for whom tCBT is most appropriate and what care to offer the large proportion that does not remit. Future RCTs should consider contrasting tCBT with partial tCBT (e.g., including therapist-led exposure) and/or face-to-face CBT.
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