Effectiveness of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programmes for anxiety or depression in adults with intellectual disabilities: A review of the literature

Res Dev Disabil. Apr-May 2016;51-52:60-75. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2015.12.010. Epub 2016 Jan 22.


Relatively little is known about the application of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to people with intellectual disabilities (ID). This review sought to synthesise available evidence on the effectiveness of CBT for anxiety or depression to assess the current level of evidence and make recommendations for future research. A comprehensive systematic literature search was conducted to identify qualitative and quantitative studies. Robust criteria were applied to select papers that were relevant to the review. Included papers were subject to quality appraisal. Eleven out of the 223 studies considered met our inclusion criteria and were included in the review in which CBT was used with participants with ID and anxiety (n=3), depression (n=4) or a mixed clinical presentation (n=4). There remains a paucity of evidence of effectiveness, however, the studies indicate that CBT is feasible and well-tolerated and may be effective in reducing symptoms of depression among adults with mild ID. Qualitative data reflect a positive perception of CBT amongst clients and carers. Further research is required to investigate the components of CBT, suitability for CBT, and requisite skills for CBT, which uses valid, sensitive and more holistic outcome measures.

Keywords: Anxiety; CBT; Depression; Intellectual and developmental disabilities; Intellectual disabilities; Psychotherapy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Anxiety / therapy*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / psychology*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Social Support
  • Treatment Outcome