Life with MS

Music Therapy has the Power to Help

By Kimani Hendricks
As we think of summer, we may recall times when we stayed outside for most of the day, eating, laughing, and listening to music with friends. While the pandemic we face or the summer heat may now keep us inside, music remains, lifting our spirits. Indeed, many people describe it as therapeutic.

Music truly can be therapy. Music therapy is a form of medicine designed to increase the psychological, cognitive, physical, and social well-being of patients.

These sessions go beyond playing songs. Therapists use a multitude of techniques, including singing, songwriting, imagery, and even instrumentation. These techniques can lead to improvement in the quality of life by addressing emotional needs, relieving pain and stress, and lending a hand in physical rehabilitation.

How it helps

Music affects the brain in multiple ways. So different types of music therapy can treat different MS symptoms. The cerebellum plays a significant part in timing in motor activities, and, if damaged because of MS, results in difficulty with movement. Studies show in clinical trials that a particular type of music therapy, rhythmic auditory stimulation, is beneficial to those with MS that struggle with gait.

Performing and hearing music activates the frontal lobe, which regulates cognitive functions from memory to problem-solving abilities — all the while traveling through the temporal lobe.

Music restoration due to neuroplasticity, which allows the mind to restructure itself, forms new pathways where old ones are disrupted by MS lesions. Rhythm and music have been shown to improve mobility, speech, and movement of the hands and mouth.

In short, music stimulates the mind and processes throughout its entire system. Elena Mannes, author of The Power of Music, writes, “Scientists have found that music stimulates more parts of the
brain than any other human function.”

Practicing Music Therapy

Some methods can be practiced in-home. However, the road to greater benefits often begins by joining individual and group sessions with a certified music therapist. Based on the needs of the client(s) and chosen content, meetings vary between 25 and 60 minutes. Because music is ageless, sessions run for both adults and children.

Certified music therapists complete a four- year and/or graduate-level academic program, complete a six-month supervised internship, and then pass an exam to become certified by the national Certification Board for Music Therapists.

Many music therapists work in collaboration with other therapy professionals as part of a multidisciplinary team. You can find board-certified music therapists in schools, hospitals, outpatient clinics, and through in-home service agencies. The American Music Therapy Association ( maintains a roster of board-certified music therapists all over the country.