Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is a type of non-invasive treatment that people with major depressive disorder can use to help treat their symptoms. However, it’s not very often used or well-known. This is because this type of therapy works best after other options have been tried. TMS is also used to treat specific types of depression. If you or your therapist are considering giving TMS therapy a try, here is a guide on what to expect from this type of treatment.
How Does TMS Therapy Work?
TMS works by applying a series of short magnetic pulses to specific areas of the brain. This is done by using an electromagnetic coil placed on someone’s scalp. Once the coil is turned on, it creates a small electric current that passes through the scalp and skull into the brain. This current then targets specific nerve cells in parts of the brain associated with major depression.
The goal is to stimulate the nerve cells, which changes how neurons fire and alters brain patterns. This is because depression symptoms are sometimes caused by brain patterns that don’t function correctly. Correcting these patterns brings relief to the client and gives them a chance to heal.
You may also see TMS therapy referred to as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). This is because of the repetitive use of magnetic pulses in treatment. Both terms may be used, but some use rTMS to be more precise on terminology.
Additionally, TMS therapy is:
- Considered very safe
- FDA approved
- Covered by most insurance companies
What Can Someone Expect When Undergoing TMS Therapy?
Firstly it’s important to remember that even though TMS therapy is safe, some guidelines must be followed. There aren’t many, but they are still very important. A client must be an adult and must also be free of metal implants in their skull. Someone that has epilepsy or any other kind of seizure disorder cannot have TMS therapy.
If you are an adult that meets the criteria above and agrees to try TMS therapy, you will be taken to an office to begin your therapy. No sedation is necessary, and you will stay awake through the treatment procedure. You will be seated in a comfortable chair or recliner so you can relax. It might be unexpected, but you will be given ear protection to protect your hearing from the noise of the electromagnetic coil.
Then the electromagnetic coil is placed near your forehead on your scalp, and the treatment begins. The treatment itself does not hurt at all, but the pressure of the coil on the scalp may cause discomfort. Sometimes the tapping the coil makes can be a little uncomfortable at first, but most get used to it after multiple treatments.
If you are feeling discomfort or pain at any time, tell a therapist, and they can adjust the coil and settings to bring you more comfort. Speak with your therapist about this first, but sometimes a client may take over-the-counter pain relief beforehand to reduce discomfort. This type of therapy is administered by someone who is highly trained. You can talk through the treatment, so don’t be afraid to ask a question if you need to. Remember, you may also stop treatment at any time if you feel too uncomfortable to continue.
Treatment sessions can last anywhere from a few minutes to up to an hour, depending on your treatment plan. Usually, the treatment schedule is a session each day for five days a week. This continues between four to six weeks, depending on the treatment plan.
Rare Side Effects
It’s rare, but sometimes TMS therapy can cause mild side effects that last for less than a day after treatment. Some of these are minor headaches and pain at the treatment site because of the pulses contracting the muscles of the scalp. During treatment, some clients may find themselves involuntarily blinking or contracting their facial muscles. Again, this rarely lasts long and will go away on its own. The rarest side effect of all is a seizure, which is why those prone to them are not allowed to receive this kind of therapy.
What Disorders Does TMS Treat?
TMS therapy is mainly used to treat treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and other major depressive disorders. These types of depression are severe. So severe that some or most conventional treatment options will not work on their client. Many clients have tried other forms of therapy and even may be on medication. However, they still experience major symptoms that make their lives difficult despite this. Some clients may even feel as though they have no more options to try. TMS comes in to help these kinds of clients find hope again.
Psychotherapy has very little risk to a client, which is why it is tried first before other types of therapy. TMS, though extremely effective, can still cause side effects that are uncomfortable to the client. It’s why TMS therapy is usually left as a last resort despite its effectiveness. Even though it is non-invasive, it still involves having a noisy electromagnetic coil put on your head, which some find uncomfortable. Once talk therapy and medication prove ineffective, most clients are willing to give TMS therapy a try.
TMS has a good record of helping clients with major and treatment-resistant depression, and many clients feel better once they have finished their treatments. If you or someone you love is struggling with major depression that seems to not get better despite treatment, it’s worth talking to your therapist about TMS therapy. Not all treatment centers offer TMS therapy as a part of their treatment program, so it’s important to ask a particular clinic about it if you are interested.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy is an effective form of treatment for those with treatment-resistant depression. Depression is a complex mental health disorder to live with, and it can make those that struggle with it feel hopeless and alone. Here at Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we offer many types of treatment for those struggling with depression. One which we are proud to offer is TMS therapy, which has proven to help those with major and treatment-resistant depression. If you or someone you love is struggling with depression or a mental health disorder, call (949) 647-4090 today to speak with one of our mental health professionals. Don’t lose hope; treatment is possible for anyone.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.