Up to one in five women meet diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder during the perinatal period (i.e. pregnancy and up to 1 year postpartum). While psychotropic medications are effective, they are associated with risks for mothers and babies. There is a growing demand for evidence-based non-pharmacological treatments for perinatal anxiety.
To evaluate the effectiveness of a cognitive behavioral group therapy protocol for perinatal anxiety.
In total, 96 women were randomized to cognitive behavioral group therapy or waitlist at a clinic specializing in women’s mental health. Participants were 22–41 years of age, pregnant or up to 6 months postpartum and had an anxiety disorder with or without comorbid depression.
Compared to waitlist, participants in cognitive behavioral group therapy reported significantly greater reductions in the primary outcome of anxiety (State-Trait Inventory of Cognitive and Somatic Anxiety, η2p = .19; Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, η2p = .16), as well as in secondary outcomes including worry (Penn State Worry Questionnaire, η2p = .29), perceived stress (Perceived Stress Scale, η2p = .33) and depressive symptoms (Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, η2p = .27; Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale, η2p = .11). Maternal status (pregnant, postpartum) and medication use were unrelated to treatment outcomes. All gains were maintained, or continued to improve, at 3-month follow-up.
Cognitive behavioral group therapy was effective in improving anxiety and related symptoms among women with anxiety disorders in the perinatal period.