Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for MS

How a Therapist Can Help You

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), or care about someone who does, you know just how unpredictable it can be. Physical symptoms may come and go and can range from mild to severely disabling.

But physical symptoms are just one aspect of living with MS. Many people with MS also have emotional and mental health symptoms. There are MS treatments available that can help with physical symptoms, but it's important to address mental health issues, too.

This article will discuss the emotional impact of MS. It will also examine the potential benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for MS.

Woman during a psychotherapy session

FilippoBacci / Getty Images

How MS Can Impact You Emotionally 

Physical symptoms are likely what led you to seek a diagnosis and, at first, relieving these symptoms was probably uppermost in your mind. The road to diagnosis can be long and stressful, and it wouldn't be surprising if your first reaction was a sense of relief.

However, confirmation of a lifelong illness can trigger an emotional roller coaster. Of course, everyone reacts in their own way and in their own time, but you might feel:

  • Fear, worry, anxiety
  • A sense of loss, sadness, grief
  • Moodiness, irritability, anger
  • Increased stress

Major depression is common in people with MSand has a direct impact on overall quality of life.

What Friends and Family Feel 

MS can have a profound effect on family and friends as well.

It can put a strain on marriages and other intimate relationships. Children who have a parent with MS may also have emotional problems and increased symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Caregivers can also have depressive symptoms and reduced quality of life. That's why it's important for caregivers to take care of themselves, too.

When Someone You Care About Has MS

When someone close to you has MS, it's natural to focus on their needs. You want to be supportive, but knowing just what to do and how to do it is hard. You may find yourself grappling with:

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Helplessness
  • Stress

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy looks at how your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are connected. It's based on the premise that how you think about something affects the way you feel about it, which affects what you do.

Once you uncover a negative cycle, you can learn healthier thinking patterns that lead to more helpful actions. CBT usually has a set number of sessions with specific goals in mind—it's not an open-ended style of therapy. You may have some work to do on your own between sessions.

Because it's been proven effective for a variety of mental health conditions, CBT is sometimes called the gold standard of psychotherapy.

How CBT Helps People Living With MS

CBT can help you find better ways to manage the challenges of life with MS. It might also help you stick to your treatment plan and take better care of yourself. There is some evidence that CBT can help improve issues such as:

In the same way CBT can help people with MS, it can also help loved ones. That includes romantic partners, parents, children, and friends. By identifying unhelpful thoughts that affect your emotions, you can change your actions to find solutions and improve coping skills.

If going to a therapist's office is a logistical problem, ask about telehealth options.

Other Counseling Techniques That Can Help 

CBT may not be right for everyone. Once you speak with a therapist, you will be guided to the type of therapy that's a good fit for you. Other MS counseling options may include:

How to Find a Therapist 

A good place to start is by asking your neurologist or general practitioner for a referral. You can also check out these searchable databases:

Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Health

Besides seeing a therapist, there are other ways you can boost your mood. Here are a few techniques that may help improve your emotional health over the long haul:

Move and Stretch Regularly 

Moving, even in small amounts, is good for you. Regular physical activity may help improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. If MS makes exercise difficult, try a few minutes of walking and stretching spaced throughout the day.

Prioritize Good Quality Sleep

Sleep problems can exacerbate mental health problems. Consider these tips for getting better sleep:

  • Create a regular sleep schedule.
  • Do something relaxing in the hour before bed.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evening.
  • Clear the room of electronics that chirp or produce light.

Listen to Your Favorite Music

Listening to music can boost both physical and mental well-being. Whether it's a blast from the past or the latest hit, listening to your favorite tunes when you need a pick-me-up will likely raise your spirits.

Connect With Others

Symptoms of MS can make you withdraw from social activities. But connecting with others is good for your mental health.

Good relationships matter. It's not just about getting and giving support, it's also about having fun. So, reach out to friends and keep the lines of communication open.

Laugh Often 

Laughing on a regular basis may have a positive influence on:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Look for lighthearted humor in everyday situations. Watch comedies, read funny books, tell jokes with friends. Play. Whatever tickles your funny bone can go a long way toward boosting your mood.

Practice Meditation and Mindfulness

Mindfulness can help improve your mood and mental well-being.

Mindfulness in everyday life means paying attention to your surroundings, thoughts, and feelings. It means being fully present in the moment. You can also set aside time for mindfulness meditation, during which you turn your focus toward your own body and mind.

Try Deep Breathing Exercises

Even one session of deep, slow breathing may help reduce anxiety. You might feel the effects fairly quickly.

You can try taking several long, deep breaths when you're feeling tense, or you can dedicate a small block of time every day for deep-breathing exercises.

Share Your Feelings 

Bottling things up can leave you frustrated, so consider sharing your feelings with someone you trust. Sometimes, just saying things out loud can provide a sense of relief from stress. If you're not comfortable with that, you might find it useful to write your thoughts in a journal.

Develop a New Hobby 

Taking up a hobby may help decrease symptoms of depression.

It's easy to get so caught up in "to do" lists and chores that you neglect fun. Consider getting back to an abandoned hobby or developing a new one. It may take a few tries to find the one that clicks, but it will likely be well worth the effort.


If you are experiencing emotional or mental health issues related to MS, you can get help. CBT is a form of therapy that focuses on the connection among your thoughts, your emotions, and your actions. It has a good track record for helping people turn negative patterns into positive ones.

CBT may also prove useful for friends, family, and caregivers of people with MS.

In addition to CBT, there are things you can do every day to boost your mood. Something as simple as laughing or hanging out with friends can help.

A Word From Verywell

If you're struggling with emotional or mental health issues, you're not alone. These are common in people with MS. And you don't have to endure them in silence; help is available.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your options, including the benefits of therapy. Your healthcare provider can refer you to the appropriate mental health provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What type of therapy is best for MS?

    The best therapy is the one that works for you. It could be CBT, or it could be another type of therapy. A qualified therapist can assess your situation and recommend the type of therapy most likely to help you feel better.

  • How does MS impact your mental health?

    MS is a chronic disease that can affect many areas of your life. In many cases, that translates into increased stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

  • How can you emotionally support a loved one with MS?

    Be there. Listen without judgement. Accept the unpredictable nature of MS and be flexible.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Ann Pietrangelo
Ann Pietrangelo is a freelance writer, health reporter, and author of two books about her personal health experiences.