While the efficacy of Internet- and mobile-based interventions (IMIs) for treating anxiety disorders is well established, there is no comprehensive overview about the underlying therapeutic processes so far. Thus, this systematic review and meta-analysis evaluated research on mediators and mechanisms of change in IMIs for adult anxiety disorders (PROSPERO: CRD42020185545). A systematic literature search was performed in five databases (i.e., CENTRAL, Embase, MEDLINE, PsycINFO and ClinicalTrials.gov). Two reviewers independently screened studies for inclusion, assessed the risk of bias and adherence to quality criteria for process research. Overall, 26 studies (N = 6042) investigating 64 mediators were included. Samples consisted predominantly of participants with clinically relevant symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and severe health anxiety, as well as of participants with non-clinically relevant anxiety symptoms. The largest group of examined mediators (45%) were cognitive variables, evincing also the second highest proportion of significance (19/29); followed in numbers by skills (examined: 22%; significant: 10/14) and a wide range of other (19%; 7/12), emotional/affective (11%; 2/7) and behavioral mediators (3%; 1/2). Meta-analytical synthesis of mediators, limited by a small number of eligible studies, was conducted by deploying a two-stage structural equation modeling approach, resulting in a significant indirect effect for negative thinking (k = 3 studies) and non-significant indirect effects for combined cognitive variables, both in clinical (k = 5) and non-clinical samples (k = 3). The findings of this review might further the understanding on presumed change mechanisms in IMIs for anxiety, informing intervention development and the concurrent optimization of outcomes. Furthermore, by reviewing eligible mediation studies, we discuss methodological implications and recommendations for future process research, striving for causally robust findings. Future studies should investigate a broader range of variables as potential mediators, as well as to develop and apply original (digital) process and engagement measures to gather qualitative and high-resolution data on therapeutic processes.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF; Grant Identification FKZ 01KG1802 ). The funding source BMBF had no role in the study design, collection, analysis or interpretation of the data, writing the manuscript, or the decision to submit this paper for publication.
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd
- Anxiety disorder
- Mechanism of change
- Two-stage structural equation modeling
- e- and m-Health
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health