What Is TMS Therapy And How Can It Help?

Updated June 18, 2024by MyTherapist Editorial Team

Depression can be a completely debilitating mental health condition, and it affects a significant part of the population each year (approximately 8.6% as of 2019). Depression is one of the most treatable mental health conditions, and there are various types of therapy available to help those who are experiencing distressing or uncomfortable symptoms. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is one way medical professionals have successfully treated depression, and it involves stimulating different areas of the brain. Ahead, we’ll explain how TMS works, what conditions may benefit from TMS treatment, and where you can find additional helpful resources.

What is TMS therapy?

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TMS therapy is one option for treating depression symptoms

TMS stands for transcranial magnetic stimulation. While that may sound complicated, it means that in treatment, a practitioner will stimulate areas of the brain through the use of magnetic fields. In this case, they’re stimulating specific nerve cells 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 have struggled a great amount with other depression treatment and therapy methods. Daily use of TMS therapy for four to six weeks is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of major depressive disorder in patients who are resistant to medications.

How does TMS therapy or deep brain stimulation therapy 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 receiving the magnet’s effects. 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, TMS therapy effectively activates different regions of the brain where depression can slow. This can help with alleviating some of your symptoms.

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There are always risks involved in just about any type of treatment, and there is no difference when it comes to TMS. Because TMS is a non-invasive 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. 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 don’t have any other medical conditions that 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 medications.

Ensure 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 non-invasive 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 who is fully trained and has experience in the process will be an important step, and it should be part of your due diligence before you get started.

What to expect during your first TMS therapy session

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 will help you determine if you’re a good candidate for TMS therapy, 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 trauma of any kind, have mental health disorders, experience frequent headaches, or have other medical conditions, you’ll need to let your doctor and therapist know, and TMS therapy may not be a good option for you.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

During your appointment, you will be kept as comfortable as possible, and you’ll be given an adequate amount of 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 one hour. You’ll sit somewhere comfortable in an office, and you’ll likely feel a light tapping and hear a light clicking as well. You’re going to be conscious and aware of the entire procedure, so you always know what’s going on.

Help is available online

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TMS therapy is one option for treating depression symptoms

If you’re interested in trying other steps outside of TMS therapy that doesn’t involve traveling to an in-person practitioner’s office, or you’d just like to talk through some symptoms of depression you’ve been having, the online counselors at MyTherapist are available to empathize and offer guidance. Through online counseling, you can book virtual therapy sessions at convenient times and from any location with a stable internet connection. You can even text your dedicated therapist directly if you could use some support in the moment.

Various studies have affirmed the efficacy of online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a treatment for reducing the symptoms of depression in people of all ages and demographics. A review of 17 evidence-based studies found that online CBT was even more effective in mitigating symptoms of depression than in-person counseling

Takeaway

If you’ve been feeling sad, down, or emotionless for a notable period of time, it could be worth discussing what you’re going through with a detached, professional third-party observer. Mental health counselors are not there to cast judgment or assign blame – they are there to use whatever tools are at their disposal to ethically support a client in reaching their goals. 

If you are struggling to find happiness or relief after a difficult time, you can reach out to a trustworthy online counselor at MyTherapist for support. Whether you seek therapy on its own or in conjunction with TMS therapy, making the choice to increase your support network is a healthy decision in its own right.

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