The evidence for cognitive behavioural therapy in any condition, population or context: A meta-review of systematic reviews and panoramic meta-analysis

Beth Fordham, Thavapriya Sugavanam, Katherine Edwards, Paul Stallard, Robert Howard, Roshan Das Nair, Bethan Copsey, Hopin Lee, Jeremy Howick, Karla Hemming, Sarah E. Lamb

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The majority of psychological treatment research is dedicated to investigating the effectiveness of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) across different conditions, population and contexts. We aimed to summarise the current systematic review evidence and evaluate the consistency of CBT's effect across different conditions. We included reviews of CBT randomised controlled trials in any: population, condition, format, context, with any type of comparator and published in English. We searched DARE, Cochrane, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, CDAS, and OpenGrey between 1992 and January 2019. Reviews were quality assessed, their data extracted and summarised. The effects upon health-related quality of life (HRQoL) were pooled, within-condition groups. If the across-condition heterogeneity was I2 < 75%, we pooled effects using a random-effect panoramic meta-analysis. We summarised 494 reviews (221 128 participants), representing 14/20 physical and 13/20 mental conditions (World Health Organisation's International Classification of Diseases). Most reviews were lower-quality (351/494), investigated face-to-face CBT (397/494), and in adults (378/494). Few reviews included trials conducted in Asia, South America or Africa (45/494). CBT produced a modest benefit across-conditions on HRQoL (standardised mean difference 0.23; 95% confidence intervals 0.14-0.33, I2 = 32%). The effect's associated prediction interval -0.05 to 0.50 suggested CBT will remain effective in conditions for which we do not currently have available evidence. While there remain some gaps in the completeness of the evidence base, we need to recognise the consistent evidence for the general benefit which CBT offers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-29
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jan 2021


  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
  • meta-review
  • overview
  • panoramic meta-analysis
  • systematic reviews

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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