Treatment-as-usual (TAU) is anything but usual: a meta-analysis of CBT versus TAU for anxiety and depression

J Affect Disord. 2015 Apr 1;175:152-67. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.12.025. Epub 2014 Dec 15.


Objectives: There were three aims of this study, the first was to examine the efficacy of CBT versus treatment-as-usual (TAU) in the treatment of anxiety and depressive disorders, the second was to examine how TAU is defined in TAU control groups for those disorders, and the third was to explore whether the type of TAU condition influences the estimate of effects of CBT.

Method: A systematic search of Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, PsycINFO, and CINAHL was conducted.

Results: 48 studies of CBT for depressive or anxiety disorders (n=6926) that specified that their control group received TAU were identified. Most (n=45/48) provided an explanation of the TAU group however there was significant heterogeneity amongst TAU conditions. The meta-analysis showed medium effects favoring CBT over TAU for both anxiety (g=0.69, 95% CI 0.47-0.92, p<0.001, n=1318) and depression (g=0.70, 95% CI 0.49-0.90, p<0.001, n=5054), with differential effects observed across TAU conditions.

Conclusions: CBT is superior to TAU and the size of the effect of CBT compared to TAU depends on the nature of the TAU condition. The term TAU is used in different ways and should be more precisely described. The four key details to be reported can be thought of as "who, what, how many, and any additional treatments?"

Keywords: Anxiety; Cognitive behavior therapy; Depression; Meta-analysis; Treatment-as-usual.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Depression / therapy
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Thinking