The efficacy of a family-based cognitive-behavioral treatment for separation anxiety disorder in children aged 8-13: a randomized comparison with a general anxiety program

J Consult Clin Psychol. 2013 Oct;81(5):932-40. doi: 10.1037/a0032678. Epub 2013 Apr 22.


Background: This randomized controlled trial examines the relative efficacy of a disorder-specific treatment program (TrennungsAngstprogramm Für Familien [TAFF]; English: Separation Anxiety Family Therapy) for children suffering from separation anxiety disorder (SAD) in comparison with a general anxiety program.

Method: Sixty-four children aged 8-13 with SAD and their parents were assigned either to a 16-session disorder-specific SAD treatment program, including parent training and classical cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) components (TAFF), or to a general child-focused 16-week comparison group (Coping Cat [CC]) without any parent training. Diagnoses and parent cognitions were assessed at baseline and at follow-ups. Global success ratings were collected at end of treatment and at follow-up. Ratings for anxiety, impairment/distress, and life quality were collected at Baseline 1, again after a 4-week waiting period, repeatedly throughout treatment, at 4 weeks, and at 1-year follow-up.

Results: The response rate (no SAD diagnosis) at 4-week follow-up among the 52 treatment completers was 87.5% vs. 82.1% (TAFF vs. CC; intent-to-treat: 67.7% vs. 69.7%). At 1-year follow-up, the response was 83.3% versus 75% (TAFF vs. CC; intent to treat: 64.5% vs. 63.6%). Differences were nonsignificant. Results from rating scales indicated improvement for both groups across time points and assessment areas, with few between-group differences, and some small effects favoring the TAFF program. Both treatment programs yielded a reduction in parental dysfunctional beliefs.

Conclusions: Results indicate a slight advantage of the TAFF program over a general child-based treatment for SAD. However, these differences were less strong than hypothesized, indicating that the inclusion of parent training does not add large effects to classical child-based CBT in school-age children with SAD. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy*
  • Anxiety, Separation / therapy*
  • Child
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / standards
  • Family Therapy / methods*
  • Family Therapy / standards
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parents / education
  • Program Evaluation
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Treatment Outcome