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The Lowdown on TMS Therapy

By 
Brooke Barash

When medication and therapy aren’t doing the trick, TMS can be a great way to manage mental health. With its overwhelming success, it’s becoming increasingly popular within the psychology community. Still, it isn’t yet considered mainstream. Because of that, it’s easy to imagine why deciding to start this treatment method would dial the nerves up a bit--but that’s what we’re here for! Here’s everything you need to know about beginning Transcranial Mental Stimulation.


Anxious man lying on therapist's couch
Feel like you’ve tried everything when it comes to healing severe depression, anxiety, or OCD? There are more options available than you’d think! TMS might be the key to breaking past that blockage, keeping you from living life to the fullest. If you’re feeling curious, talk to your doctor or psychiatrist to find out more. Image courtesy of Pexels.


When To Look Into TMS

When we seek care for mental health concerns, be it depression, anxiety, PTSD, or others, the first course of action is usually finding a trusted therapist. If psychotherapy isn’t getting us noticeable results, the next step is adding on medication. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation provides more options for debilitating mental health symptoms, despite these two widely used methods. 

In short, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is a non-invasive treatment method for severe, long-standing mental illnesses. It's mainly used to heal treatment-resistant depression, but can work well for anxiety, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder). 

Beginning the TMS process might mean looking for a med replacement, but it doesn’t have to. A couple of reasons to use this treatment method as an alternative to medication would be having allergies to certain medicines or avoiding some commonly associated adverse effects like suicidal ideation. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation can also be used as a way to augment the effects of taking medication. With that said, continuing with talk therapy is always a good idea both during and after treatment. 

Woman getting TMS treatment
Pictured is a woman about to receive TMS treatment under the care of specially trained practitioners to help manage her PTSD symptoms. Image courtesy of Spectrum News.


What Makes TMS Tick?

The machine pictured above is quite the conversation starter! So, what does it do?

Using an electromagnetic coil against the scalp, the electromagnet sends a series of magnetic pulses to the brain area that handles emotional regulation (it’s the same area where depression is found). The purpose of this is to stimulate the site to help alleviate symptoms. 

Leaders in the field still don’t fully understand how the targeted stimulation works to physically treat mental illness(es). Yet, it has shown to significantly impact treatment-resistant depression with each new case. So much so, it’s been FDA approved. 

According to Dr. Adam P. Stern, about 50-60% of people who didn’t gain relief from talk therapy and medication noticed a profound difference after going through TMS treatment. About a third of those people said their depressive symptoms had disappeared entirely. 

While Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation does have the power to reduce or alleviate symptoms altogether drastically, they can reappear. In this way, TMS bears similarity to medication. But like medication, TMS can be done more than once, showing the same results as the first round. 

Chairs in a waiting room
Starting a new form of treatment can be pretty intimidating but life-changing. TMS has helped many people with treatment-resistant depression and other mental illness(es) in an unimaginable way. Take the plunge! It’s worth it. Image courtesy of iStock.

The First Appointment: A Rundown

Each TMS appointment goes through a sort of order of operations. Here’s what to expect during the first appointment:

Since TMS is a non-invasive procedure, there’s no physical preparation that needs to happen before treatment. 

It’s standard procedure to remove anything magnetic-sensitive (keys, credit cards, belts, etc.) when arriving. Because the treatment is quite loud, earplugs are a must for hearing health and comfort. But don’t worry if you have none--the treatment center will provide them. 

After that, a physician will take measurements of the head. This is to ensure the electromagnetic coil rests in connection with the emotional regulation center of the brain. The practitioner will then do a series of test pulses to assess motor threshold, which is basically how much power it takes to make a thumb twitch. These steps are essential since both head circumference and motor threshold vary from person to person. 

The treatment itself is easy. For 20-40 minutes, all that’s left to do is sit back and allow the magnetic pulse to stimulate the brain. Unlike ECT (Electric Convulsive Therapy), the person receiving TMS is awake during each session. 

As for how TMS feels, it’s relatively painless--just a few clicks here and there. 

When talking about her experience sitting in the chair, one woman says, “It felt like someone was ringing a doorbell in my head, you know.”

One of the more appealing things about TMS is that each session begins and ends at the facility. Anyone going through the treatment process can go about their day as they usually would. Convenient, right?

Depressed woman staring into the distance
Mental illness can leave us feeling stuck--especially if we’ve already tried what we think there is to offer. But in many cases, not all options have been explored. Keep reading for some hopeful information on TMS. Image courtesy of Anastasia Shureava via Pexels.


When Does TMS Start Working?

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation requires patients to repeat treatments five days a week. The amount of time it takes to complete a full course generally ranges from four to six weeks. Still, it may differ depending on the severity of the disorder, motor threshold, etc. 

What sets TMS apart from medication is how fast-acting it can be. It takes up to about six weeks to start noticing positive returns from medication. But those undergoing TMS may begin feeling relief within their first week. 

Another thing that makes TMS different from medication is what little maintenance it takes to keep up its positive effects. When finishing treatment, patients may not experience acute depressive symptoms for up to five years!

If you or someone you know has been suffering from long-standing depression or other disorders, it may be time to search for new options. Sometimes, true healing just takes an extra push! Don’t wait to start living the life you deserve. For more information on TMS and mental health, visit MyTransformations. 







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