How Effective Is TMS? The TMS Therapy Success Rate

TMS Depression is a serious health concern. The condition is something of a chameleon, in that it affects everyone differently, and looks dramatically different in every personality it touches. For this reason, depression often goes undetected-or is misunderstood-which can exacerbate symptoms and endanger lives. Despite more than 300 million people living with depression worldwide, many aspects of depression are still not entirely understood, and treating depression can prove difficult.


Treatment for depression varies widely, based on a person’s needs, comfort level, and economic ability. Though there are countless ways to treat depression, ranging from lifestyle alterations to simple talk therapy, several areas of study have emerged to focus primarily on depression treatment. One of these therapies is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or TMS.

What Is TMS?

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation-or repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS)-is a depression treatment that uses a magnetic force to alter the patterns of your brain to decrease the symptoms of depression. Placing a magnetic coil against the side of a patient’s head, practitioners then apply a series of pulses within the magnet to stimulate the nerves in your brain responsible for mood control. The theory behind this particular type of therapy suggests that stimulating and awakening areas of the brain that are usually less active in depressed individuals will help alleviate the symptoms of depression and improve a patient’s quality of life.

Because this procedure is noninvasive and merely utilizes magnetic pulses, TMS is considered a safe treatment for depression, without any dramatic or alarming risks. That being said, there are some mild possible side effects brought on by TMS sessions, which can include headaches, lightheadedness, facial tingling or numbness, and discomfort during the procedure. Unlike many other treatment options, however, these side effects usually dissipate immediately after concluding a session, or shortly thereafter. While many people use TMS as a last resort, only engaging a therapist after other avenues have been exhausted, its low-risk process could be an ideal alternative for individuals who are sensitive to standard medication or seemingly inoculated against traditional talk therapy.

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What Does A Standard TMS Session Look Like?

There is some variation within the practice of TMS, but the basic mechanism is the same: a magnet is placed against the scalp-traditionally, near the forehead-and magnetic pulses are delivered. A patient’s first session is usually the longest, as practitioners need to assess how much therapy is likely to be required and establish a starting point for an individual’s needs. Initially, a practitioner will administer therapy to determine a patient’s pain tolerance and comfort level, then move on to “mind mapping” to make sure each session is targeting the correct area of the brain. Once a treatment plan has been established, appointments typically last between 20-40 minutes.

What Is The Expected TMS Therapy Cost?

The cost of TMS therapy is difficult to discern, as it is still considered somewhat experimental to some insurance companies. For this reason, many patients are only able to undergo insurance-covered treatment after traditional methods have not worked; TMS is often not covered as a primary treatment option. If insurance is not able or willing to cover TMS treatment costs, patients can expect rates between $400 and $500 per session. Fortunately, many insurance companies allow doctors and clients to lobby declined treatment options, and alternative treatments might be more favorably decided upon if no other form of healing depression has worked.

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How Effective Is TMS In Treating Depression?

TMS has a 30% success rate, which places it just below traditional antidepressants, which typically see a 50% success rate. Individuals who seek TMS treatment and do experience improved symptoms are instructed to continue seeking regular “maintenance” therapy via a traditional therapy modality or medication, to make sure the results delivered by TMS remain intact.

Although the exact efficacy of TMS is not known, as it is still a fledgling practice, some studies have shown that it does demonstrate consistency in treating patients with depression, though it seems less likely to assist with other psychiatric disorders. Part of its efficacy may lie in the time commitment required for treatment; reportedly, many depression patients stop using therapeutic techniques as early as one month after diagnosis, and TMS requires a minimum of 4-6 weeks to conclude treatment. The consistency of treatment, then, may be a significant contributor to its use as a depression treatment.

Who Is TMS Not For?

One of the reasons TMS therapy is gaining popularity is its nature as a noninvasive treatment. Though this might be great for some, others are considered poor candidates for TMS. These include individuals with pacemakers, stents, aneurysm coils, metallic implants in the upper body, monitoring tools inserted in the head or neck, bullets or shrapnel in the upper body, or tattoos using metallic ink. Because the technique uses a magnet, there is the possibility of disruption in implanted devices, such as pacemakers, during treatment. Metallic implants are similarly problematic, in that the consistent pulse of a powerful magnet could dislodge or otherwise alter the positioning of an implant.

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