What Is Magnetic Therapy for Depression?

For most people with depression, traditional treatments like antidepressant medications and talk therapy are enough to keep symptoms at bay. However, these therapies do not work for everyone, and patients with treatment-resistant depression often struggle to find success with their treatment plans.

Fortunately, there is an option that can provide relief when other therapies fail. This treatment, transcranial magnetic stimulation or TMS, is a magnetic treatment for depression that is FDA-approved and has been found to be effective for treatment-resistant depression and other severe cases.

TMS is a non-invasive procedure involving the use of high-powered magnets to stimulate brain activity. A device is used to send magnetic pulses to the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

While possibly unfamiliar to the public, TMS has been around for a long time. The medical community has been using magnets for many years for imaging, pain management, and more.

What to Expect When Undergoing TMS Treatment

If you are considering TMS as a possible treatment for depression, you might be wondering what to expect. The first session is called the “mapping session.” During this session, precise measurements are taken to ensure that the TMS helmet is correctly positioned on the head. The device is then calibrated until the patient feels a series of pulses in the right hand, causing the thumb to twitch. These pulses are safe and painless, and are used as a guide for the proper administration of the therapeutic pulses.

After the helmet is placed and calibrated, treatment can begin on the same day. The procedure feels like a series of gentle taps on the head. Some patients may experience unusual sensations but the treatment should not be painful and can be stopped at any time. The first appointment takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Subsequent appointments are only 20-25 minutes, and are usually prescribed for a frequency of about five times per week, for four to six weeks.

Most patients tolerate TMS treatments very well. Only about five percent of patients dropped out during trials, much lower than the average percentage of participants who terminate medication trials early. This confirms the use of magnetic treatment as a good alternative for patients with depression who have not responded well to other therapies.  

TMS Uses Electromagnetic Technology to Treat Depression

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is sometimes referred to as “magnetic therapy for depression” or even “magnet therapy for depression.” This procedure was first approved in the U.S. in 2008 to treat patients with depression who had not responded well to other treatments.

In a large clinical trial, more than 36 percent of patients treated with TMS showed significant improvement. This might not seem like much, but patients on their second or more antidepressant treatment plan are decreasingly likely to successfully achieve remission from their depression: 27% after one failed antidepressant plan, 15% after two, 12.1% after three, and less than five percent for more than three failed antidepressant regimens. It should also be taken into account that the patients who participated in the trial had already undergone at least one failed course of treatment for depression in the past, and studies have shown that the odds of success decrease with each new treatment.

So, how does magnetic therapy for depression work? TMS bears many similarities to traditional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. Certain aspects of the TMS procedure are similar to an MRI. For example, like with an MRI, the patient must remove all jewelry, as well as credit cards and other metallic objects, before having the treatment performed, due to the presence of powerful magnets. MRIs use strong magnetic fields to produce detailed images of the structures and organs in the body. Transcranial magnetic stimulation works in the same way — it produces a strong magnetic current, which stimulates areas of the brain that control emotion. TMS promotes new brain cell activity in these areas of the brain, which helps to relieve depression.

Active Recovery TMS uses deep TMS (dTMS) instead of repetitive TMS (rTMS) to treat patients suffering from depression. Generally speaking, the brain is highly resistant to the formation of magnetic fields. As a result, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation is only able to reach a few centimeters below the surface of the brain. However, dTMS is different. The structure and orientation of the coils within the helmet help the magnetic field reach deep within the brain into the prefrontal cortex, an area closely connected with depression.

TMS is non-invasive and is performed by a trained technician. During treatment, the patient is simply fitted with a special helmet placed directly against the head. The helmet contains a coil that sends brief but intense electromagnetic pulses to the prefrontal cortex — the area of the brain that controls emotion and is often implicated in depression. The magnetic current helps change the brain’s neural networks in the prefrontal cortex, resulting in significant improvements for people with treatment-resistant depression.

TMS Is a Tolerable Option for Treating Depression

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is often preferred over other types of treatment for severe or treatment-resistant depression, such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). In comparison with ECT, magnetic therapy depression treatment is much less invasive.


Additionally, magnetic therapy does not have the serious side effects that can occur with ECT, such as memory loss and confusion. The possible side effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation are minimal like muscle soreness or headache, both of which can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications. In rare cases, there may be a very low risk for seizure, comparable to the seizure risk associated with commonly prescribed antidepressant medications. The risks of TMS are fewer than other therapies and are far outweighed by the benefits and efficacy of the treatment.

TMS treatments are very tolerable, especially when compared with electroconvulsive therapy, which is performed under general anesthesia. Patients undergoing TMS are awake the entire time, the procedure itself is painless, and patients generally tolerate it very well.

A typical course of TMS treatment for depression consists of 36 sessions, usually five days per week for four to six weeks. After each session, the patient is fully capable of driving home and immediately returning to normal daily activities. There is no need to arrange for downtime or a ride to and from appointments, as would be necessary with ECT. This makes magnetic therapy much more realistic an option for someone who is in school or working full-time.

TMS Can Be a More Appropriate Treatment Option for Depression

Traditional depression treatments don’t work for everyone. If you have treatment-resistant depression, you have probably discovered this fact for yourself. You might have found that standard treatments don’t provide enough relief, or maybe they don’t work for you at all.

Treatment-resistant depression refers to depression that has not been resolved in spite of multiple rounds of treatments or therapies. Factors that can contribute to treatment failure include, but are not limited to, early discontinuation of treatment, incorrect dosage, or comorbid disorders (disorders occurring concurrently with the depression). However, for many people with treatment-resistant depression, their symptoms simply do not respond to antidepressant medications.

Many people who are taking antidepressants for depression decide to stop taking the medication due to experiencing inadequate relief or debilitating side effects. Fortunately, there are other treatment options for people with severe depression.

Although electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, is effective for treatment-resistant depression, this intervention carries the risk of more severe side effects, including memory loss and disorientation. These side effects can last for days after the treatment is over. TMS is a more tolerable treatment that has fewer risks and side effects than electroconvulsive therapy.

Many patients find magnetic therapy for depression much more tolerable than antidepressants, as well. Antidepressant medications are responsible for a variety of side effects including weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and fatigue or drowsiness. In order to avoid the negative aspects of antidepressant use, many patients simply stop taking the drugs but then their depression goes untreated.

If one round of antidepressants still hasn’t provided relief from depression symptoms, then it may be appropriate to consider TMS as a treatment option Combined with talk therapy and appropriate coping skills, TMS can be a very effective treatment for depression, as evidenced by its high success rate.

If you have questions about magnetic therapy for depression, contact Active Recovery TMS today for more information. Magnetic therapy for depression offers a real chance at lasting recovery, without the risk of the serious side effects that are seen with other treatments.


Is TMS a new treatment?

TMS is a relatively new treatment. It’s been used since the mid 1980s and was approved for use by the FDA ub 2008.

What is TMS?

TMS stands for transcranial magnetic stimulation. It’s a treatment that uses magnets to stimulate the prefrontal cortex to promote brain cell activity to decrease depressive symptoms. It’s a drug free therapy with contraindications so limited that patients require no post-treatment monitoring and are able to drive home straight away.

What are the most common side effects of TMS?

The most common side effects of TMS are scalp discomfort and headache.

Is TMS the same as shock therapy?

No. Shock therapy induces a seizure which has to be induced under anesthetic and with muscle relaxants; memory loss and confusion are common side effects. Patients must be monitored post treatment. TMS used magnets to stimulate the brain; there are no drugs involved. Patients may experience a headache or scalp discomfort but are otherwise able to directly resume normal activities.

All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Reliance on any information provided by the Active Recovery TMS website is solely at your own risk.

Meet Jonathan Horey, MD

Dr. Jonathan Horey became familiar with TMS while training and working at Columbia University in New York City where many of the early and important studies on TMS were conducted. Dr. Horey has since completed more extensive training in TMS and keeps himself up-to-date with the latest research on brain stimulation techniques, including TMS.