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Cognitive group therapy and exercise in the treatment of anxiety and stress

Derek Jones McEntee, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of cognitive group therapy, aerobic exercise, or their combination, on anxiety and stress in college students. Sixty subjects were recruited from a large undergraduate abnormal psychology class. Fifty-three volunteered to participate in the study, and were divided into three experimental groups using matched random assignment. Treatment took place over a six-week period, and groups were labelled as follows; (#1) Cognitive group therapy only, (#2) Aerobic exercise only, and (#3) Cognitive group therapy combined with aerobic exercise. There was also a no-treatment control group (#4) of 17 subjects, consisting of students enrolled in a different course option unrelated to the study. All groups were administered the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), the SCL-90-R, and measures of perceived fitness and anxiety before and immediately following the study. The STAI and the perceived measures were also administered after a two-month follow-up. The following hypotheses were presented: (1) Is participation in either aerobic exercise, cognitive group therapy, or the combination of both treatments more effective in reducing anxiety than involvement in a no-treatment control group? (2) Are exercise and cognitive group therapy equally as effective in reducing anxiety? (3) Is a combination of treatments more effective in reducing anxiety than one treatment? (4) Can anxiety reduction be maintained over time? Results indicated that all interventions were equally effective in reducing anxiety, both combined or individually, as compared to no intervention. Combining cognitive group therapy and exercise was not significantly more effective than either individual treatment. Furthermore, although a trend was present, most effects were not maintained after two months. The lack of longer-term effects may have been due to insufficient sample size and power, or the possibility that these interventions were effective in changing transient states but not established traits. Subjects reported that components from both treatments were effective in attenuating anxiety, and identified a number of possible mechanisms responsible for these changes. Further research examining the effects of combining exercise with other therapeutic treatments is warranted.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Mental health|Psychotherapy

Recommended Citation

McEntee, Derek Jones, "Cognitive group therapy and exercise in the treatment of anxiety and stress" (1995). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9541134.