Music Therapy

Music therapy is the practice of using music to aid in healing. Variations on music therapy have existed around the world for thousands of years, from the ancient Egyptians and Greeks to Native Americans. Music therapy degrees were first granted in the United States in the 1940s, with the National Association for Music Therapy establishing the practice as an official discipline in 1950. In the United States, there are approximately 5,000 practicing student and professional music therapists. Music therapy is gaining increasing recognition in the conventional medical community.

Treatment Approach

Music therapy may involve creating, listening to, or moving to music. Trained music therapists assist people in choosing music appropriate for them. This therapy can take place individually or in groups. Music may also be used to facilitate imagery (see Guided Imagery page).

The mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of music therapy are not known. It is known that music produces emotional responses through a neural pathway distinct from the one used for verbal communication. Consequently, music therapy may provide a unique way to produce, process, and change emotional responses. Music therapy may also aid in producing the relaxation state, which has many therapeutic possibilities.

For people with incoordination or walking disorders, music may help with movement. Music may cause entrainment, a process by which movements become more regular, rhythmic, and efficient when set to music.

Evaluation in MS and Other Conditions

In the limited research that has been conducted evaluating the efficacy of music therapy in MS, some possible benefits have been noted. Music therapy may improve anxiety, depression and self-esteem. It may also help with respiratory muscle weakness in people with MS. Group music therapy in people with MS may provide important psychological support and help with coping with the disease.

Music therapy has also been researched in other medical conditions. In Alzheimer’s disease, music therapy may improve attention and concentration, while also decreasing aggression and agitation. Music therapy has been shown to improve learning in children and college students. In people with stroke and Parkinson’s disease, music therapy may improve walking and increase coordination. Music therapy has also been found to improve various types of pain.

The studies involving music therapy in medicine have produced several general results. First, women, children, and adolescents appear to be the most receptive to music therapy. Second, live music appears to be more therapeutic than recorded music. Lastly, this therapy appears to be more effective when less pain is present.

Adverse Effects

Music therapy is widely considered to be extremely safe. However, if the music is excessively loud, greater than 90 decibels, it may cause hearing impairment and increase blood pressure.


Music therapy is a low cost, low risk treatment option that may help ease some MS-associated symptoms. Large-scale, rigorous clinical studies have not been conducted, but the limited work available suggests some possible benefits. Music therapy may help with depression, anxiety, self-esteem, cognitive problems, coping, pain, incoordination, and walking difficulties. Further research into the effectiveness of music therapy in MS and other medical conditions is needed.

References and Additional Reading


Bowling AC. Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2007, pp. 182-184.

Gaynor ML. Sounds of Healing: A Physician Reveals The Therapeutic Power of Sounds, Voice, and Music. New York: Broadway Books, 1999.

Hanser S, Codding P, Eslinger P. Music therapy. In: Weintraub MI, Micozzi MS, eds. Alternative and Complementary Treatments in Neurologic Illness. New York:Churchill Livingstone, 2001, pp. 255–267.

Spencer JW, Jacobs JJ. Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach. St. Louis: Mosby, 2003.

Journal Articles

Lengdobler H, Kiessling WR. Group music therapy in multiple sclerosis: initial report of experience. Psychother Psychosom Med Psychol 1989;39:369–373 [in German].

Marwick C. Music therapists chime in with data on medical results. JAMA 2000;283:731–733.

Schmid W, Aldridge D. Active music therapy in the treatment of multiple sclerosis patients: a matched control study. J Music Ther 2004;61:225–240.

Wiens ME, Reimer MA, Guyn HL. Music therapy as a treatment method for improving respiratory muscle strength in patients with advanced multiple sclerosis: a pilot study. Rehabil Nurs 1999;24:74–80.

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