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Does TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) Really Work to Treat Depression?

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Patient wondering whether TMS works for depression

Patients who struggle with treatment-resistant depression know how difficult it can be to find a treatment option that really works to relieve their symptoms. They have often tried medication and psychotherapy, but have gotten little to no results. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a newer form of treatment, used for patients who have have not responded well to other forms of depression treatment.

TMS uses magnetic waves to gently stimulate the part of the brain connected with feelings of depression. Unlike Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), a depression treatment that uses electric currents to induce a seizure in the patient, TMS is done on an outpatient basis, does not require anesthesia, and stimulates the brain without inducing a seizure.

Studies of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) show that it is an effective and long-lasting treatment for depression.

A 2007 study on TMS examined 301 patients with treatment-resistant major depression over a period of 6 weeks. Approximately half of the patients were treated with TMS, while the other half were treated with a sham (placebo) TMS. The active TMS group was more than twice as likely to experience complete relief from depression compared with the sham TMS group.¹

When researchers at Brown University looked at depressive symptoms before and after TMS among patients of various ages at clinics throughout the United States, they found that TMS improved symptoms in 58% of patients, and eliminated symptoms in 37% of patients.²

In a 2014 study, researchers examined the long-term effectiveness of TMS by continuing to check in with patients every 3 months after treatment. Of the patients who had experienced relief from depression after the initial treatment, 62.5% continued to show positive results over the course of a year.³ These studies showed not only that TMS is a valuable treatment, but that it also has long-lasting benefits.

So, is TMS really an effective way of treating depression?

The simple answer: Yes.

Numerous studies have shown that TMS can help improve and even completely eliminate depressive symptoms in the long term. The best part is that TMS is effective where other treatments, such as medications or psychotherapy, have not provided relief. For patients with treatment-resistant depression, TMS may be the treatment option that really works.


1.O’Reardon JP, Solvason HB, Janicak PG, et al. Efficacy and safety of transcranial magnetic stimulation in the acute treatment of major depression: A multisite randomized controlled trial. Biol Psychiatry. 2007;62(11):1208-16. LinkAccessed March 15, 2018.

2. Carpenter LL, Janicak PG, Aaronson ST, et al. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for major depression: A multisite, naturalistic, observational study of acute treatment outcomes in clinical practice. Depress Anxiety. 2012;29(7):587-96. Link. Accessed March 15, 2018.

3. Dunner, DL, Aaronson ST, Sackeim, HA, et al. A multisite, naturalistic, observational study of transcranial magnetic stimulation for patients with pharmacoresistant major depressive disorder: Durability of benefit over a 1-year follow-up period. J Clin Psychiatry. 2014;75(12):1394-401. Link. Accessed March 15, 2018.

Dr. David Woo

Dr. Woo has been seeing patients in private practice since 2002, always with the goals of combining evidence-based medicine with psychodynamic psychotherapy and collaborating with other mental health professionals to ensure the best possible outcomes for his patients. He has been certified to administer TMS at his practice since 2017. His greatest clinical interests include helping patients suffering from depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

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