When persistent depression doesn’t improve with medication and psychotherapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy offers more than a glimmer of hope — it provides a highly effective lifeline to better mental health.
Given that TMS is so effective for addressing treatment-resistant depression, it’s not surprising that technology companies have made an effort to replicate the therapy in a more convenient package. Now there are wearable neuromodulation devices that anyone who’s suffering from depression (or anxiety or insomnia) can buy and use in the comfort of their own home.
At-home brain stimulation with a device like the Fisher Wallace Stimulator® may be based on the same premise as TMS therapy, but the two treatments have some big differences.
If you’re wondering which is best for you, the mental health and neuromodulation specialists at TMS & Brain Health can help — here’s how conventional TMS therapy compares to self-guided treatments with an at-home brain stimulation device.
TMS therapy basics
TMS uses noninvasive magnetic energy to target and stimulate the specific area of your brain that has become less active because of a persistent mental illness like depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Before TMS therapy begins, our team uses electroencephalogram (EEG) testing to calibrate, measure, and pinpoint the exact area of your brain that’s most affected by your specific mental health disorder.
During a TMS session, we position an electromagnetic coil directly on your scalp over the most affected area. The coil generates a steady stream of low-amplitude magnetic pulses that pass through your skull and into your brain, where they actively stimulate the sluggish cells that have kept your brainwaves locked in an abnormal and detrimental pattern.
Over the course of your TMS treatment cycle, our team continuously monitors and measures your brain activity, so we can adjust your therapy in real time and keep it as targeted as possible.
At-home brain stimulation
Like other at-home brain stimulation devices, the Fisher Wallace Stimulator uses a mild electric current — not magnetic energy — to trigger the production of serotonin and generate renewed activity in the area of your brain that controls and regulates your mood.
With this self-directed, one-size-fits-all treatment, you position an elastic band around your forehead that holds an electrode firmly against each temple.
Then, while sitting comfortably in a chair, you switch on the battery-operated device and set it to level two, which is the level that’s generally recommended to treat anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Like TMS therapy, at-home brain stimulation requires daily use to generate the kind of brain changes that lead to symptom improvement. The Fisher Wallace Stimulator is designed to be used for 20-minute daily sessions, once during the day to treat depression or anxiety, and/or once a couple of hours before bedtime to treat insomnia.
If you don’t experience some degree of symptom relief after 14 days of use at level two, you’re advised to try level three or four for another two weeks. Either way, the makers of the device suggest using it for at least one full month (ideally twice a day) before you assess how well the treatment is working for you.
Unlike TMS or neurofeedback, the Fisher Wallace Stimulator can’t directly target certain portions of the brain. When a user turns the device on (with one electrode on each earlobe), it creates an a low powered, diffuse electrical field that interacts with the brain. Because the electrical field is large and diffuse, one can’t be certain exactly which part of the brain is being stimulated, whether or not it’s the whole brain, and how healthy that actually is.
The TMS advantage
Comparing TMS therapy to at-home brain stimulation with a device like Fisher Wallace is like comparing apples to oranges — just as apples and oranges both qualify as fruit, TMS therapy and at-home brain stimulation both qualify as neuromodulation.
But that’s really where the similarities end.
The Fisher Wallace Stimulator uses a low-level electrical current to stimulate your brain, which makes it a weaker derivative of conventional electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), not a derivative of transcranial magnetic stimulation.
While at-home brain stimulation with low-level electric energy doesn’t come with the same risks as regular, full-scale ECT, it’s also not as powerful, precise, or individualized as TMS therapy.
The human brain is a complicated place, and TMS therapy takes that fact into full account by finding, measuring, and calibrating the specific area of your brain that’s most affected by your mental health condition. Placing two electrodes on your temples at home simply doesn’t have the same targeted effect.
In addition, TMS therapy is constantly adjusted to meet your brain’s changing needs as you advance through your prescribed treatment cycle. Continual monitoring means we can actually see how your brain is improving over time, and we can take steps to optimize your treatment along the way. As a one-size-fits-all treatment, at-home brain stimulation just can’t compare.
Here at TMS & Brain Health, we specialize in intermittent theta burst stimulation, also known as Express TMS. Because Express TMS recalibrates your brain 10 times faster than regular TMS, your daily session takes just three minutes to complete.
To learn more about the benefits of TMS therapy, call your nearest TMS & Brain Health office in Los Angeles or Santa Monica, California, today, or click online to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced specialists any time.