Recent developments in chronic pain research suggest that effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be optimized when applying early, customized treatments to patients at risk. For this purpose, a randomized, controlled trial with tailor-made treatment modules was conducted among patients with relatively early rheumatoid arthritis (RA disease duration of <8 years), who had been screened for psychosocial risk profiles. All participants received standard medical care from a rheumatologist and rheumatology nurse consultant. Patients in the CBT condition additionally received an individual CBT treatment with two out of four possible treatment modules. Choice of treatment modules was determined on the basis of patient priorities, which resulted in most frequent application of the fatigue module, followed by the negative mood, social relationships and pain and functional disability modules. Analyses of completers and of intention-to-treat revealed beneficial effects of CBT on physical, psychological and social functioning. Specifically, fatigue and depression were significantly reduced at post-treatment and at the 6-month follow-up in the CBT condition in comparison to the control condition, while perceived support increased at follow-up assessment. In addition, helplessness decreased at post-treatment and follow-up assessment, active coping with stress increased at post-treatment, and compliance with medication increased at follow-up assessment in the CBT condition in comparison to the control condition. Results indicate the effectiveness of tailor-made CBT for patients at risk in relatively early RA, and supply preliminary support for the idea that customizing treatments to patient characteristics may be a way to optimize CBT effectiveness in RA patients.