Can less be more? Open trial of a stepped care approach for child and adolescent anxiety disorders

J Anxiety Disord. 2017 Oct;51:7-13. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2017.08.004. Epub 2017 Aug 29.


This open trial presents a stepped care treatment approach for youths with anxiety disorders. In Step 1, 124 youths (65 girls; M age=9.7years) participated in a low intensity computer administered attention bias modification (ABM) protocol. Statistically significant reductions in youth anxiety severity were found following Step 1. Youths and parents were then given the option to not continue with further treatment or step up to a higher intensity cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) protocol (Step 2). Of 112 youths who completed Step 1, 67 (59.8%) discontinued treatment and 45 (40.2%) stepped up. Co-occurring ADHD and higher anxiety severity at baseline were significantly associated with the decision to step up. Of those youths who completed Step 2, additional statistically significant reductions in youth anxiety severity were found. Across the entire protocol, 68.6% of youths were rated as either very much improved or much improved on the Clinical Global Impressions-Improvement scale. In a hypothetical comparison in which all youths received CBT alone, the stepped care protocol resulted in approximately 50% less time in treatment sessions. These findings support the promise of initiating youth anxiety disorder treatment with low intensity treatment and then stepping up to higher intensity treatment as needed.

Keywords: Adolescents; Anxiety; Attention bias modification; Children; Cognitive behavior therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy*
  • Attentional Bias
  • Child
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parents
  • Therapy, Computer-Assisted
  • Treatment Outcome