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A Look Into the Controversy Surrounding TMS

Why TMS Has Drawn So Much Backlash Over the Years

According to the National Network of Depression Centers, depression is the leading cause of disability among U.S. citizens between the ages of 15 and 44. While there are dozens of FDA-approved drugs for depression as well as various types of therapy available, these methods do not work for everyone. People who realize that these first-line approaches to treating depression don’t work for them sometimes turn to transcranial magnetic stimulation, also known as TMS.  

While TMS has been proven to help with depression, there is still controversy surrounding it and its effectiveness in treating other psychological and neurological disorders. In this article, the Psych Associates in Annapolis, who are also experts in TMS, will provide a brief overview of TMS as well as the controversy that continues to follow it today. 

A Brief Overview of TMS

TMS Therapy Maryland

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive, non-drug treatment that uses electromagnetic fields to stimulate underactive areas of the brain in people suffering from depression. These electromagnetic fields run through a coil that is placed on the scalp. Different TMS coils are available for physicians to choose from, depending on the type of depression their patient has. For instance, large coils are required for patients diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, as it is associated with structures deep in the brain.  

It is important to note that TMS is only approved for patients with depression who didn’t respond to medication. Physicians may need to conduct a physical exam and/or a psychiatric evaluation before deciding whether or not TMS therapy is a good fit for their patients. 

Common side effects include:

  • Headaches
  • Discomfort at the stimulation site 
  • Facial muscle spasms
  • Lightheadedness

Serious, but uncommon side effects include:

  • Seizures
  • Mania
  • Hearing loss 

Sessions can last anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes. Some patients require five sessions a week for several weeks. The session length, frequency, and time period usually depend on the device being used as well as the discretion of the physician. 

Past and Current Controversies Regarding TMS

TMS Therapy

TMS and Electroconvulsive Therapy

Part of the controversy surrounding TMS stems from people accidentally associating it with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Also known as shock therapy, ECT is a type of cranial therapy used for depressive disorders. The person administering the therapy places electrodes on a patient’s scalp that sends electrical currents to the brain. These currents cause generalized seizures in the patient. Most health professionals frown upon this practice. Some believe it can even be abused for behavioral control or punishment. That being said, electroconvulsive therapy has also produced positive results for patients in the past.

TMS for ADHD

While there is anecdotal evidence that TMS is effective for treating ADHD, there are still no research studies published in peer-reviewed journals that confirm this. As a result, physicians are stuck between waiting for research studies to be released and continuing to treat patients with ADHD using TMS. While some physicians remain faithful to the therapy’s effectiveness in ADHD patients, others believe the treatment is too risky to attempt, especially in young patients. 

Marketing for TMS

As of now, there is no concrete understanding amongst physicians over how TMS is able to cure depression symptoms in certain patients. Many of the claims regarding the effectiveness of TMS trace back to the marketing company NeuroStar. This company provides all marketing materials on behalf of the business that sells the specific helmet used to conduct TMS therapy. 

TMS in the News Today

TMS news Maryland

Transcranial magnetic stimulation has just recently been noticed again by the mainstream media. After a photo of a girl wearing a TMS helmet went viral, The Atlantic dug further into TMS and its effectiveness in its article titled “The Helmet That ‘Resets’ Your Brain.” At one point in the article, the writer brings up the point that, while the complete biology behind TMS’s effectiveness hasn’t fully been discovered, the therapy does appear to impact the functions of the brain. However, the writer also brings up cases where TMS did nothing for the patient.

Overall, press coverage regarding TMS has been relatively positive. That being said, it is important to lean on your primary physician, rather than the media alone, when it comes to decisions regarding your mental health. 


Depression is a complicated disease. There is no single, golden method for treating it. The same medication that works for one patient may not do anything for another. 

At the end of the day, patients need physicians they can trust when it comes to deciding what treatment plan is best suited for them. With Psych Associates in Annapolis, Maryland, the road to treatment is just around the corner. The Psych Associates of Maryland is comprised of professional practitioners dedicated to putting your needs first. Contact our Annapolis associates today to schedule an appointment. 


Header Image courtesy of Penn Psychiatric Center

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