Improving Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Autistic Individuals: A Delphi Survey with Practitioners

Debbie Spain*, Victoria Milner, David Mason, Hannah Iannelli, Chris Attoe, Ruwani Ampegama, Lorcan Kenny, Aleks Saunders, Francesca Happé, Karina Marshall-Tate

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


There is emerging evidence of the effectiveness of individual and group cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) for autistic individuals, in particular to address anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. Many CBT studies have incorporated relatively stringent standards, with regards to participant inclusion/exclusion criteria, delivery of manualised approaches and assurance of therapist training and oversight. We know less about what happens in routine CBT practice and, importantly, how service provision can be improved for autistic individuals. The present study recruited 50 CBT practitioners to a three round Delphi survey. The aims were to elicit professionals’ perspectives regarding barriers to the acceptability and effectiveness of CBT for autistic individuals, and to generate consensus, both about ways of enhancing service provision, as well as the autism-relevant training needs of CBT practitioners. Study findings indicated six barriers to accessible and effective CBT for autistic individuals, relating to service provision, practitioner-related factors, client-related factors, CBT-related factors, national guidelines, and systemic considerations. There was participant consensus that changes in five domains (specifically relating to process issues, service provision, practitioners, techniques and therapeutic approach) could improve the CBT care pathway. Consensus was generated about the training needs of CBT practitioners: training about autism, CBT-specific issues, co-occurring conditions and engagement, were deemed fundamental for enhancing practice. Participants also identified autism-relevant issues for clinical supervision. Further sustained research is needed to determine the effects of adapted service provision and improved practitioner knowledge and skills on the outcomes of autistic individuals who have CBT.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Rational - Emotive and Cognitive - Behavior Therapy
Early online date8 Apr 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Apr 2022


  • Autism
  • Clinical supervision
  • Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)
  • Practitioners
  • Training


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