Cognitive Therapy Versus Systematic Desensitization. Is One Treatment Superior?


In a recent review of psychotherapy outcome research, Shapiro and Shapiro (1982) reported evidence that cognitive therapy was considerably more effective than systematic desensitization. The present review reassesses this finding by examining a substantially larger sample of studies that have compared these two forms of treatment. Our analyses indicate that (a) cognitive and desensitization treatments are roughly equal in efficacy, and (b) Shapiro and Shapiro's earlier finding may have occurred only because most of the studies they examined were conducted by investigators with an allegiance to cognitive therapy. Our review also reveals that therapies combining both cognitive and desensitization treatments are no more effective than one of the treatments alone. The comparable level of improvement observed for cognitive, desensitization, and combined treatments has important implications for psychotherapy theory and research. © 1985 American Psychological Association.

Publication Title

Psychological Bulletin