MS in Harmony: helping people living with multiple sclerosis achieve mind-body harmony through music therapy

February 23, 2021
H

ave you ever wondered why you sometimes feel goosebumps or shivers down your spine when a vocalist hits a perfect high note? Or why you can instantly recall lyrics to a song you haven’t heard in years when it appears again on your playlist?

It turns out that music can have measurable effects on specific parts of our brains – stirring emotion and spurring changes that can cause powerful sensations and physical reactions. An established health professional called a music therapist harnesses these special properties of music as part of comprehensive management plans for people living with central nervous system (CNS) diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS). 

Through an initiative called MS in Harmony, Bristol Myers Squibb and the American Music Therapy Association are partnering with award-winning actor, singer and songwriter Ben Platt (“The Politician,” “Dear Evan Hansen”) and his sister-in-law Courtney, a dancer, choreographer and actor (“So You Think You Can Dance,” “Glee,” “VH1’s Hit The Floor,” “The Simpsons”) who lives with relapsing MS, to encourage people living with MS to give this unique, and fun, intervention a try.

MS in harmony logo
MS FAST FACTS
  • MS is a disease of the CNS with a wide range of symptoms that can be hard to predict, can change over time and can affect everyone living with the condition differently
  • Some of these symptoms are physical and some are mental 
  • Learn more about MS and music therapy here
  • Listen to playlists from Courtney and our music therapists on our MS in Harmony Spotify channel here

“Multiple sclerosis interferes with communication between the mind and the body. With educational content and videos of music therapy techniques specifically designed for people living with multiple sclerosis, MS in Harmony is a first-of its-kind offering that aims to help patients and their care partners achieve mind-body harmony through music therapy,” said Tina Deignan, senior vice president and U.S. business unit head for Immunology at Bristol Myers Squibb. 

Research suggests that music therapy may be beneficial in terms of the impact it has on both physical and mental function in people living with MS. It may also help address some of the emotional challenges associated with the disease, including depression, low self-esteem and anxiety. 

“Dance is my passion and it has become my career,” said Courtney Platt. “As someone living with relapsing multiple sclerosis, I’ve found amazing clarity and acceptance in understanding how the disease is affecting my mind and body. I’m super excited to have another tool in music therapy to help manage my multiple sclerosis.”

Music therapy can include a wide spectrum of exercises – everything from writing and singing songs and playing music, to listening to music and creating playlists.

“In multiple sclerosis, research has shown that music therapy may help improve walking speed and stride, as well as memory and attention, among other things, and realizing these benefits does not require a background in music or any particular talent,” said Deborah Benkovitz Williams, president of the American Music Therapy Association. “We’re proud to partner with Bristol Myers Squibb on this important initiative that is enabling the multiple sclerosis community to try music therapy informed exercises, in the safety and comfort of home, and encourage everyone to experience what the site has to offer.”

The MS in Harmony centerpiece – MSinHarmony.com – explains what the research shows and provides an interactive opportunity to explore music therapy techniques. Video interventions are designed specifically for people living with MS and led by board certified music therapists. Some of the videos on the site feature Ben and Courtney Platt.

“I’m doing this for those of you out there living with multiple sclerosis – and those of you caring for someone with multiple sclerosis,” said Ben Platt. “My brother’s wife Courtney has relapsing multiple sclerosis, so I get it, and I want to help by sharing information about the role of music therapy in working toward harmony of the body and mind.” 

The Platts join the other MS in Harmony partners in encouraging everyone to visit MSinHarmony.com and follow @MSinHarmony on Instagram to learn more and experience the potential effect of music therapy today.

“Our guiding vision at Bristol Myers Squibb is to transform patients’ lives through science, and that includes non-conventional treatment and support strategies, too. We’re thrilled to have the chance to make music therapy informed exercises more accessible to the multiple sclerosis community through this unique initiative,” added Deignan.