CBT Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

The treatment of choice for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Research has shown CBT is significantly more effective than all other psychological treatments for generalized anxiety disorder. Follow this link to a chart comparing the effectiveness of CBT to other treatments generalized anxiety disorder. CBT teaches different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to situations that reduce anxiety and worry. Click for more information about what cognitive behavioral therapy is and how it works.

CBT treatment for GAD can last anywhere between 10 and 20 sessions, with most people reporting significant symptom reduction after 10 sessions. CBT for GAD typically includes several of the following interventions:

Relaxation training: Teaching people who worry a great deal to relax can be an important part of treatment. Because people who worry a lot usually have a great deal of muscle tension, it can be hard to go through any of the other CBT interventions without first learning to relax. Physical relaxation makes it easier for the mind to relax and let go of worries.


Cognitive restructuring: Cognitive restructuring involves examining unhelpful patterns of thinking, and learning new, more effective ways to think about challenging situations. With generalized anxiety disorder, cognitive restructuring focuses specifically on negative predictions about the future, and unhelpful attitudes about one’s ability to cope with difficult situations.

Mindfulness training: Mindfulness is simply the art of learning to bring one’s attention to the present moment. This can be a very important skill for someone whose mind tends to time-travel to worry about the future.

Systematic exposure: Systematic exposure is an intervention that helps people to face their fears and test their extreme predictions. Usually this involves imagining the worst-case scenario that is the object of so much worry, and over-time making peace with it such that it no longer triggers anxiety. Exposure can also involve behavioral experiments, testing what happens when people act out of line with their worrisome thinking.  

Problem-solving training: Because people often feel anxious when crises arise, or are overwhelmed by their obligations, problem-solving training can be a helpful way to reduce objective stressors. Through learning skills to effectively manage stress, people can feel at ease even in difficult situations.