How Effective Is TMS? The TMS Therapy Success Rate

Updated March 3, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

TMS, or Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, can be an effective treatment for depression in some people. This type of treatment generally involves the stimulation of different areas of the brain using a magnet for 20 to 40 minutes. Sessions are typically scheduled five times per week for four to six weeks, and the effects can last for six months to one year. It’s generally recommended to follow up TMS treatment with talk therapy or medication to maintain its effects. Insurance may not always cover TMS, and cost can be a barrier to treatment. Another depression treatment option may be therapy, which can be finished in person or online.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation As A Treatment For Depression

Depression can be a serious mental health concern that tends to affect everyone differently and look dramatically different in every personality it touches.

For this reason, depression often goes undetected, which can exacerbate symptoms. Despite more than 300 million people living with depression worldwide, many aspects of depression may not be entirely understood, and treating depression can be difficult.

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

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

If TMS Isn’t An Option For You, Consider Talk Therapy.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS), can be a depression treatment that generally 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 may then apply a series of pulses within the magnet to stimulate the nerves of the brain responsible for mood control.

The theory behind this particular type of therapy generally suggests that stimulating and awakening areas of the brain that are usually less active in depressed individuals can alleviate the symptoms of depression and improve a patient's quality of life.

Possible Side Effects Of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Therapy

Because this procedure is non-invasive, TMS is normally considered a safe treatment for depression, without any dramatic or alarming risks.

That being said, there can be some mild 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 TMS 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.

Qualifications Necessary To Administer TMS Therapy

Only a qualified TMS therapist should administer TMS. This treatment type is not usually taught as a regular part of earning a psychology certification and is typically considered a specialty. This can play into the overall cost of TMS, and patients should generally take the time to thoroughly check all credentials before enlisting the assistance of a practitioner. The equipment involved in TMS normally requires delicate handling and a thorough understanding of the brain and could prove painful if not used correctly.

What's A TMS Session Like?

There can be some variation within the practice of TMS, but the basic mechanism is generally 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 may need to assess how much therapy is likely to be required and establish a starting point for an individual's needs.

Initially, a practitioner may administer TMS therapy to determine a patient's pain tolerance and comfort level, and 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.

During an appointment, a patient is usually placed in a comfortable chair and given earplugs to deaden some of the sound emitted by the magnetic machine. The magnet is typically activated for a few seconds. When activated, patients may hear a clicking or tapping sound and feel a similar sensation against the skin.

The magnet may be deactivated for a few beats and then reactivated. Sessions typically continue in this vein for the duration of treatment and can be performed on an outpatient basis. Some patients may report slight dizziness or headaches immediately following a session.

How Often Do Sessions Have To Occur To Be Effective?

Most practitioners recommend regular treatment with TMS, which usually means five sessions per week for a four- to six-week period. Treatment can veer outside of this standard but usually requires at least this great a time commitment. Improvement in symptoms can take several weeks, but some patients report feeling changes as early as the first treatment.

Once treatment has concluded, patients typically go on to use traditional treatment methods, such as talk therapy or medication, to maintain TMS results.

TMS Therapy Cost

The cost of TMS therapy can be difficult to discern, as it is still considered somewhat experimental by some insurance companies. For this reason, many patients are only able to undergo insurance-covered treatment after traditional methods have not worked; Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is often not covered as a primary treatment option.

If insurance is not able or willing to cover Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation 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 depression treatment has been successful.

How Effective Is TMS For Depression?

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

Exact Efficacy Of TMS Therapy

Although the exact efficacy of TMS is not known, as it is still viewed as a fledgling practice, some studies have shown that it can demonstrate consistency in treating patients with depression. However, it generally 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 usually requires a minimum of four to six 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 may be its nature as a non-invasive treatment. Though this might be great for some patients, others can be considered poor candidates for TMS. These can 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 can be similarly problematic in that the consistent pulse of a powerful magnet could dislodge or otherwise alter the positioning of an implant.

Tourette Syndrome, Schizophrenia, And More

TMS is generally not an ideal match for patients seeking to treat Tourette syndrome, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Although many of these can occur concurrently with depression, clinical studies demonstrated that TMS was generally not an effective therapy for these issues, as patients reported little to no changes in symptoms of each of these disorders following treatment. Instead, TMS can improve depression and major depression disorders specifically.

Lack Of Insurance Coverage

Due to the likelihood of insurance companies turning down Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation therapy as a first option, TMS may not be an ideal solution for people who have not tried talk therapy, cognitive therapy, or medication. These individuals are unlikely to receive insurance coverage, and out-of-pocket expenses for the process can be prohibitive.

Online Therapy As Treatment For Depression

Fortunately, research shows that online therapy can play a significant role in reducing depression and anxiety symptoms. For example, one study found that online therapy could be even more effective than traditional in-person sessions, with 100 percent of participants in the online group showing continued symptom reduction three months after treatment.

Aside from efficacy, other potential benefits of online therapy can include its affordability, reachability, and customizability. Please be sure to reach out and get the help you deserve if you feel you’d benefit from working with a mental health professional.

If TMS Isn’t An Option For You, Consider Talk Therapy.


TMS may be worth looking into if you do not respond to more traditional routes of depression treatment. Although it may not function as a miraculous cure for all symptoms of depression, ongoing studies suggest that it can be a low-risk, non-invasive source of treatment.

TMS therapy can also be helpful for individuals who do not feel safe or comfortable utilizing talk therapy, as TMS does not generally require the same amount of vulnerability or discussion that talk-based therapies do and can provide relief without necessarily having to recall painful memories or suppressed information.

TMS can also prove helpful for individuals who experience intense side effects on regular antidepressant medication. While not all antidepressants possess dramatic risk favors, several of the most popular options can run the risk of significant side effects. The possible side effects of TMS tend to be mild and typically dissipate quickly. 

While TMS may not be a treatment for everyone, it has generally shown immense promise in its field and has given researchers some hope for establishing useful, effective treatments for mental disorders using biological alterations to the brain. While it has not shown any sort of application for other mental health ailments, TMS could be a great option for men and women trying to seek out alternatives to the tried-and-true methods of depression treatment. However, it may not be the only option; online therapy, for example, can be another effective method of alleviating depression symptoms.

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