What Is TMS Therapy & How Can It Help?
Updated January 03, 2020
Reviewer Lauren Guilbeault
Depression can be a completely debilitating mental health condition, and it affects a far too large percentage of the population. What that means is there are some different types of therapy out there that are looking to combat depression and help those who suffer from it to overcome and return to the lives that they want to live. TMS therapy is one of the ways that scientists and researchers have found to help those who are struggling with depression, and it involves stimulating different areas of the brain.
What Is TMS Therapy?
TMS stands for transcranial magnetic stimulation. While that may sound complicated, it means they're going to stimulate areas of the brain with magnetic fields. In this case, they're stimulating specific nerve cells that are intended to help improve the symptoms that occur with depression. While this type of therapy is not used as the first line of defense, it is used for those who find that other treatment options are not as effective or who have struggled a great deal with other methods of depression treatment and therapy.
How Does TMS Work?
TMS works by using an electromagnetic coil against the scalp. It sits right near the forehead and then delivers magnetic pulses through the skull. You won't feel much of anything (if you feel anything at all), but your brain is getting the effects of the magnet. This beam and magnetic pulse are focused on the area of your brain that actually controls your mood and therefore also controls your depression. For some people, this type of therapy is effective in activating different regions of the brain that the depression can slow. This can help with alleviating some of your symptoms.
Risks With TMS
There are always risks involved in just about any type of treatment, and there is no difference when it comes to TMS. Because it's a noninvasive method of treatment, there is no surgery and no concern of complications from actual cuts or surgical tools. Rather, you could experience headaches, discomfort on the scalp where the coil was placed, lightheadedness or even some tingling or twitching of muscles within the face. These are generally mild or moderate, and they last only a short time. They are also less likely to occur in subsequent treatments.
For some, however, there have been side effects of seizures, mania, and even hearing loss. These are things that have occurred rarely, and they occur primarily in those who have specific other conditions or who have not been given the proper protection before the treatment. It's important to talk with your regular family doctor before you engage in this type of treatment as well, so you can make sure that you're healthy enough to do it and that you don't have any other medical conditions that could make it a risk for you. You'll also want to talk with your therapist about any concerns that you may have and definitely about medical conditions or even medications.
Make sure that the therapist you're seeing is trained fully in this type of treatment as well or have them refer you to someone that is. Even though it is a noninvasive process that doesn't mean that there are no risks, as we've mentioned, and if it is done improperly this type of therapy can be dangerous. Having someone that is fully trained and has experience in the process is going to be an important step, and it should be part of your due diligence before you get started.
If You're Getting TMS
If you're going to get TMS therapy, you want to be prepared first, and that's going to start with a physical and a psychiatric evaluation. Each of these is going to help you determine if you're a good candidate and it's going to let both your doctor and your therapist know exactly how they want to go through the process. If you're pregnant, have implanted medical devices, are taking medications, have seizures or a family history of them, have brain damage of any kind, have mental health disorders, suffer frequent headaches or have other medical conditions you'll need to let your doctor and therapist know and this may not be a good option for you.
During your appointment, you will be kept as comfortable as possible, and you'll be given an adequate amount of the magnetic energy to work with the brain but not to cause side effects. This may take a bit of adjusting, and the entire appointment will likely take around 1 hour. You'll sit somewhere comfortable, in an office, and you'll likely feel a light tapping and hear a light clicking as well. But you're going to be conscious and aware of the entire procedure, so you always know what's going on.
Getting Your Professional Help
If you're looking for a mental health professional, you want to make sure that you're on the right track. A therapist is going to get into the most personal areas of your life, and you need to be willing and able to open up to them entirely. This can be difficult, but if you're committed to finding the right therapist, it's possible. The best thing that you can do is check out all of your options, and that includes going online, to places like My Therapist.
MyTherapist is an online system that allows you to find out about different mental health conditions and also to get access to a range of different mental health professionals that can help you to understand your own experiences better and work towards a better future. These therapists are even entirely online, which means you don't need to worry about how you're going to get to an appointment or even who else is going to see you while you're there. You can just log on and talk to your therapist just like that, from anywhere that you happen to be. All you need is an internet connection.