By Dr. David Woo - January 16, 2023
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) are two kinds of therapy used to treat symptoms of numerous mental health conditions. While they treat many of the same conditions, TMS and EMDR are completely different procedures.
What Is TMS?
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been gaining popularity in recent decades. While it is most commonly used for depression, research shows TMS to be extremely effective against symptoms of several conditions, even for treatment-resistant patients who have not found relief in prescription medication.
TMS is a technique that uses magnetic fields to moderate a patient’s brain activity. The brain is an electrical system, and researchers have found that brain cells can be activated by magnetic stimulation. In a TMS session, physicians use an electromagnetic coil that emits magnetic pulses through the skull. This stimulates and calibrates neuronal activity in imbalanced brain networks responsible for the patient’s distress. By correcting these imbalances, TMS can give patients long-lasting relief from their symptoms.
What Is EMDR?
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is designed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It uses a technique called bilateral stimulation (BLS) involving left-right eye movements and rhythmic stimulation, delivered via tones or taps alternating between the right and left sides. During an EMDR therapy session, a doctor will administer BLS while helping the patient recall the details of a traumatic experience. This is intended to dull the emotions associated with difficult memories.(1)
The hope is that by retrieving stressful information from the long-term memory and allowing the short-term memory, or working memory, to re-process the information simultaneously with BLS, the memory can be restored differently in the brain with significantly reduced emotion. The brain can then process the memory more easily, soothing the trauma and reducing PTSD symptoms.(1)
Comparing TMS and EMDR
TMS and EMDR have key similarities making them attractive alternatives or supplements to traditional mental health treatment. They are both:
- Non-invasive: No surgery or implants are required.
- Outpatient: Treatments are short and simple appointments that do not require hospitalization.
- Medication-free: No prescription drugs are necessary.
Are TMS and EMDR Approved by the FDA?
TMS is FDA-approved for the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and anxious depression. Research suggests this list may be expanding soon, as TMS has been shown to effectively treat additional anxiety disorders, PTSD, substance abuse disorders, Parkinson’s disease and more.
EMDR is not currently approved by the FDA because it is still considered experimental, meaning its efficacy hasn’t been verified by a sufficient amount of research. That doesn’t mean EMDR can’t be helpful. Studies have shown promising results for depression, PTSD, anxiety, and more, but further exploration is needed.
Are TMS and EMDR Covered by Insurance?
Yes, TMS is covered by most major insurance providers. Learn more about insurance coverage for TMS therapy and how to find out if your plan covers TMS.
If your policy covers traditional therapy, it will likely cover EMDR. However, because EMDR sessions often last longer than a 45-60 minute standard therapy session, it’s best to contact your provider to confirm coverage.
Learn More About TMS Therapy
If you or a loved one is struggling with symptoms of depression, OCD, or anxiety, and you’d like to know more about TMS therapy, contact us today to schedule an appointment. Reach out to us on our website or call 212.731.2033.
1. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. American Psychological Association. Updated July 21, 2017. https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/eye-movement-reprocessing. Accessed November 30, 2022.