The Benefits of Cognitive Therapy for MS

Medications help the physical symptoms of MS. But most people have some mental or emotional symptoms, too. Cognitive behavioral therapy -- also known as “talk therapy” or CBT -- could help ease your mental and emotional roadblocks.

Along with your medicine, talk therapy might help with physical symptoms, too.

What Is CBT?

Talk therapy happens in one-on-one sessions with a psychologist, social worker, or other professional therapist. It can help you change unhelpful thinking and behavior that can hurt your condition. Therapists help you learn to deal with your circumstances so you can feel better.

Your therapist might help you replace unhelpful or incorrect thoughts with better ones. Therapy can teach you to use problem solving to handle tough situations. CBT might also equip you to face your fears and anxieties.

It can also help people deal with illness and its symptoms. It can treat:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sexual problems
  • Numerous other mental or emotional problems

In some cases, it can be just as helpful or more helpful than psychiatric medications for these conditions.

Sessions are typically an hour or less per week and may last from 6 to 12 weeks. Depending on your situation, they could last longer.

How Can CBT Help People With MS?

Talk therapy isn’t about learning to think positively about your MS. Instead, it can help you recognize irrational and unhelpful thoughts and stop them before they start a vicious cycle that can make your MS symptoms worse.

For example, you might think that your speech difficulties make people think you’re drunk. So you may avoid going out with friends and family. That can lead to social isolation, loneliness, and possibly depression.

Depression on its own is an illness and affects up to half of people with MS. It can weaken your immune system or make you less likely to care of yourself. Either of these can make your MS worse.

CBT can help ease depression in people with MS.

Anxiety is another common symptom of MS that CBT could help. You might feel anxious about the uncertainty of your disease. You could feel anxious about self-injecting your medications, too.


Few studies explore the benefits of CBT for general anxiety in people with MS. But many studies show that CBT helps various types of anxiety in the general population. A few small studies explore CBT specifically for self-injection anxiety. In those studies, talk therapy helped people face their fears and inject themselves.

Fatigue is one of the most common, and possibly most disabling, symptoms of MS. Talk therapy can help make people with MS feel less tired. You may discover ways to live a full life in spite of your fatigue. Rather than avoid potentially tiring activities altogether, you may learn to break activities up into more manageable parts.

You might also pick up something called sleep hygiene that can help you get the best sleep possible. Therapists may show you how to get help with tasks that make you tired. They can also help you stop thinking that fatigue prevents you from doing things, or that it’s a signal that your MS is getting worse.

Sometimes trouble thinking clearly, common in people with MS, can lead to things like angry outbursts, dangerous risk-taking, and talking too much about yourself. A small study showed that CBT helped ease these things, especially talking too much.

Lack of sexual arousal is common in people who have MS. In a small study, researchers offered people with MS and poor sexual function counseling and adjustments to medicine that might interfere with sex drive. Couples who received this treatment saw improvements in communication, marital happiness, and sexual satisfaction.

Loss of sexual intimacy in your relationship can take a toll on self-esteem and lead to anxiety and depression. Therapy can address all of these, too.

Some studies suggest that CBT could help slow the progression of your MS or make it less severe. This could be because treating anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem can make you more likely to take your medications and stick to your treatment plan.

Mental and emotional well-being can have a positive effect on your immune system and your overall physical health, as well.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on November 03, 2019



American Psychological Association: “What is cognitive behavioral therapy?”

Mayo Clinic: “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.”

Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics: “Cognitive-behavioral therapy: What benefits can it offer people with multiple sclerosis?”

Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience: “Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders: An update on the empirical evidence.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Multiple Sclerosis: Fatigue.”

Journal of Clinical Neuroscience: “Cognitive behavioral therapies and multiple sclerosis fatigue: A review of literature.”

Multiple Sclerosis Journal: “Neuropsychological counseling improves social behavior in cognitively-impaired multiple sclerosis patients.”

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “Sexual Problems.”

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