Cognitive behavioral therapy appears to be effective for the treatment of depressive symptoms in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). People with autism often suffer from anxiety or mood complaints. However, they often have difficulty finding good psychotherapy, of which cognitive behavioral therapy is a form. Due to lack of knowledge about the effectiveness in ASD, therapists are sometimes reluctant to start psychotherapy in people with ASD. This restraint is not necessary, according to the study by psychiatrist in training Rob Wichers of Amsterdam UMC.

It was not yet clear from scientific research which forms of psychotherapy are effective. Wichers: “If we analyze a large number of studies, it clearly shows a positive result for people with autism when they receive cognitive behavioral therapy. We also see in our research that social skills training reduces anxiety and mood complaints, for both children and adults with ASD.” The research is published in Psychological Medicine.

Reduce anxiety symptoms

Rob Wichers conducted an extensive literature search on all forms of psychotherapy for anxiety and depression in people with ASD. A meta-analysis pooled 36 randomized controlled trials (involving 1726 patients). The effect of the therapies was then examined. Wichers: ”We have shown that cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective therapy for reducing anxiety symptoms in children and for reducing depressive symptoms in adults with ASD. We also saw that it was more effective to involve the family during cognitive behavioral therapy in children with ASD and anxiety symptoms.”

Broader insights

Social skills training also appears to give good results in reducing anxiety symptoms. This effect occurred in both children and adults with ASD. For mood complaints, the therapy also proved effective for children with ASD. Wichers: “These results provide new, broader and age-specific insights into the treatment of anxiety and mood complaints in ASD. Adding our results to treatment guidelines will certainly improve access to psychotherapy for people with ASD.”