April 16, 2015 | News | Living with MSMS Research

Music therapy for multiple sclerosis

A number of studies have shown that music can have therapeutic benefits for people with multiple sclerosis by easing symptoms of depression and anxiety and bolstering coping skills. What is unique about music is its ability to engage different parts of the brain, including the areas involved in emotion, cognition (thinking and planning), and motivation.

The therapy itself can take many forms and may include singing, improvisation on simple instruments, or listening to music alone or with a group of people (Raglio and colleagues. World J Psychiatr 2015;5:68-67). “Relational” music therapy uses different types of involvement (e.g. singing, songwriting, playing music) to build a rapport with a music therapist. “Rehabilitative” therapy uses music to stimulate brain function to improve certain areas of functioning. The simplest approach of all is music listening, which people can do on their own as a way of coping with stress, depression or anxiety. No specific genre of music has been shown to be more therapeutic, so the choice of what to listen to is left to personal preference.

The first study in MS used music in conjunction with group sessions, in which people could talk about some of the problems that their MS was causing (Lengdobler & Kiessling. Psychother Psychosom Med Psychol 1989;39:369-373). The researchers found that music and conversation provided needed psychological support and enabled people to cope with feelings of uncertainty, depression, and poor self-esteem.

A second study found that periodic sessions of singing or playing an instrument with a therapist over the course of a year was very helpful in relieving symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improved people’s self-acceptance and self-esteem (Schmid & Aldridge. J Music Ther 2004;41:225-240). Subsequent studies have reported similar results in people with MS (Ostermann & Schmid. Expert Rev Neurother 2006;6:469-477).

An MS clinic may be able to put you in touch with a music therapy program in your area. But even something less formal, such as singing in the shower, can improve your outlook and may make it a bit easier to cope with your MS.

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