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Why Courtney Platt Wants Others Living With Multiple Sclerosis (MS) To Try Music Therapy

Famed dancer and choreographer with relapsing multiple sclerosis joins national effort to help people living with MS achieve mind-body harmony through music therapy.


The following information was provided to BuzzFeed by Bristol Myers Squibb in partnership with Courtney Platt and is meant to provide an overview of the potential benefits of music therapy in multiple sclerosis and encourage you to learn more about MS in Harmony.

In 2012, Courtney Platt was performing on FOX’s Season 7 So You Think You Can Dance Tour and she noticed her lower body was going numb from the waist down. While being a professional dancer and choreographer comes with its share of aches and pains, the then 23-year-old knew it wasn’t something she could ignore when she began to feel something that she describes as “shocks going down her spine.”[1]

Her doctors confirmed her worst fears when they discovered lesions on her brain and plaque on her spinal cord, telltale signs of relapsing multiple sclerosis (MS).

“And when I first found out I have multiple sclerosis, I had a flood of questions ... ‘how would this affect my dancing?’ ‘What could I do to support my well-being?’”

Multiple sclerosis affects one million people in the United States[2], and Courtney’s diagnosis of relapsing MS, where the patient has periods of stability between episodes, is the most common type at the time of diagnosis.[3]

In addition to its debilitating physical effects on the body, MS has lesser-known effects on patients’ mental health.[4] The disease’s symptoms include fatigue, trouble concentrating, and worsening memory, all of which are hidden from outside observers and leave the patient feeling lonely and isolated.[5] For this reason, many with MS experience anxiety and depression.[4,6]

To deal with these symptoms, Courtney's recently learned about a surprising type of therapy called music therapy, or MT. Music therapy covers a wide range of interventions.[7] Through exercises like moving in different ways or dancing to music, writing and singing songs, playing music, simply listening to music or making playlists, and more, it can evoke the kinds of brain responses that could have positive effects on the body, and also the brain, helping with the mental symptoms, like memory loss or worsening memory, trouble concentrating and with divided attention, and difficulty finding the right word.[7,8,9,10,11]

Courtney explains, “I’ve found amazing clarity and acceptance in understanding how multiple sclerosis is affecting my mind and body. It has been wonderful for me to take that understanding further with the practice of music therapy, and I’m super excited to have another tool to help me manage my condition so that I can continue to tackle whatever comes my way.”

To share the benefits of music therapy far and wide, Courtney is joining her brother-in-law, Ben Platt, an award-winning actor, singer and songwriter ("The Politician", "Dear Evan Hansen"), Bristol Myers Squibb and the American Music Therapy Association on a new, first-of-its-kind digital offering designed to help people living with MS achieve mind-body harmony through music therapy: MS in Harmony.

While Courtney may come from a musically inclined family and background, she’s quick to clarify that it’s not a prerequisite for benefiting from music therapy.

MSinHarmony.com offers educational content and videos featuring music therapy techniques specifically designed for people living with MS and led by credentialed music therapists. Making this interactive and engaging opportunity to explore music therapy accessible to people with MS and their care partners, in the safety and comfort of home, is particularly important to the Platts.

Says Courtney, “My family — from my parents to my husband to my brother-in-law — have been there by my side to help me manage life with relapsing multiple sclerosis. I can’t imagine making it through all this without them. One of the reasons I’m so excited about MS in Harmony is that it’s a perfect way for friends and family to get involved and see firsthand the types of things people with MS can do to help keep their minds and bodies healthy. Dancing can be equally as fun solo or with a partner!”

In an effort to spread mind-body harmony, Courtney and Ben are asking everyone to check out and follow the initiative’s Instagram channel - @MSinHarmony. MS in Harmony music playlists also are available via Spotify.

“To everyone else who is navigating through life with multiple sclerosis – I hear you, I see you and I’m doing this for you – for us. And for everyone who has someone they love that’s impacted by multiple sclerosis. Music therapy isn’t just helpful, it’s fun, too. I’ve always embraced the power of dance – and I hope these exercises might help others realize its power, too,” said Courtney.

As for how MS has affected her career, in many ways, it hasn’t. Balancing her busy schedule with the demands of being a new mom (Courtney and her husband, Jonah, had a baby in 2019) can certainly get stressful at times, but her doctor encourages her to keep on dancing. In recent years, she’s lent her talents to other high-profile projects such as "Glee", "VH1's Hit the Floor", and "The Simpsons."

To learn more about the potential power of music therapy, people living with MS and their care partners are encouraged to visit MSinHarmony.com and talk to their MS care teams about how music therapy may fit into their care plans.


All images courtesy of Bristol Myers Squibb.

[1] Khare S, Seth D. "Lhermitte's Sign: The Current Status." Ann Indian Acad Neurol. 2015;18(2):154–156. doi:10.4103/0972-2327.150622

[2] How Many People Live with MS? National Multiple Sclerosis Society. https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/How-Many-People. Accessed February 5, 2021.

[3] Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). National Multiple Sclerosis Society. https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/Types-of-MS/Relapsing-remitting-MS. Accessed February 5, 2021.

[4] Emotional Changes. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/MS-Symptoms/Emotional-Changes. Accessed February 5, 2021.

[5] MS Symptoms. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/MS-Symptoms. Accessed February 5, 2021.

[6] Depression & Multiple Sclerosis. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. https://www.nationalmssociety.org/NationalMSSociety/media/MSNationalFiles/Brochures/Brochure-Depression.pdf. Accessed February 5, 2021.

[7] What Is Music Therapy. American Music Therapy Association. https://www.musictherapy.org/about/musictherapy/. Accessed February 5, 2021.

[8] Thaut M, Peterson D, McIntosh G, Hoemberg V. "Music mnemonics aid verbal memory and induce learning – _related brain plasticity in multiple sclerosis." Front Hum Neurosci. 2014;8:395. Published 2014 Jun 13.

[9] Gallagher L and Bethoux F. "Therapeutic use of the arts for patients with multiple sclerosis." US Neurology. 2017;13(2):82–9. doi:10.17925/USN.2017.13.02.82

[10] Aldridge D, Schmid W, Kaeder M, Schmidt C, Ostermann T. "Functionality or aesthetics? A pilot study of music therapy in the treatment of multiple sclerosis patients." Complement Ther Med. 2005;13(1):25-33. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2005.01.004

[11] Ghai S and Ghai I (2018) "Effects of Rhythmic Auditory Cueing in Gait Rehabilitation for Multiple Sclerosis: A Mini Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis." Front. Neurol. 9:386. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2018.00386