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Is guided self-help as effective as face-to-face psychotherapy for depression and anxiety disorders? A systematic review and meta-analysis of comparative outcome studies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 April 2010

P. Cuijpers*
Department of Clinical Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Amsterdam and VU University Medical Center, The Netherlands
T. Donker
Department of Clinical Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Amsterdam and VU University Medical Center, The Netherlands
A. van Straten
Department of Clinical Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Amsterdam and VU University Medical Center, The Netherlands
J. Li
Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, People's Republic of China
G. Andersson
Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Swedish Institute for Disability Research, Linköping University, Sweden Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Psychiatry Section, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
*Address for correspondence: P. Cuijpers, Ph.D., Professor of Clinical Psychology, Department of Clinical Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, Van der Boechorststraat 1, 1081 BTAmsterdam, The Netherlands. (Email:



Although guided self-help for depression and anxiety disorders has been examined in many studies, it is not clear whether it is equally effective as face-to-face treatments.


We conducted a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials in which the effects of guided self-help on depression and anxiety were compared directly with face-to-face psychotherapies for depression and anxiety disorders. A systematic search in bibliographical databases (PubMed, PsycINFO, EMBASE, Cochrane) resulted in 21 studies with 810 participants.


The overall effect size indicating the difference between guided self-help and face-to-face psychotherapy at post-test was d=−0.02, in favour of guided self-help. At follow-up (up to 1 year) no significant difference was found either. No significant difference was found between the drop-out rates in the two treatments formats.


It seems safe to conclude that guided self-help and face-to-face treatments can have comparable effects. It is time to start thinking about implementation in routine care.

Review Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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