Neurofeedback vs. TMS
We get a lot of questions these days about TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation). These two technologies can seem similar enough that identifying the differences can be confusing.
Below are common questions we hope will help you become more thoroughly informed:
No. TMS and neurofeedback are completely different methods employed to change brain activity.
TMS uses magnets and is primarily applied to treat depression. Neurofeedback employs feedback to help you learn to stimulate or change your brain. Neurofeedback can be applied to a wider variety of brain-based conditions (see more below).
Mike Cohen has been looking carefully at TMS for a number of years. (Mike is Director of Neurotechnology at the Center for Brain Training). Below are his thoughts on answering this question:
The benefits of TMS
“I’ve been investigating TMS off and on for the past 10 years (and used neurofeedback for 25+ years). I’ve looked into the different types of TMS and TMS equipment. I’ve visited several TMS centers and referred patients for TMS. I’ve asked psychiatrists who referred patients for TMS about their experiences and have talked to my some of my clients who tried it. ”It turns out that TMS hasn’t lived up to its initial promise. Though it can work well for some people I had hoped we’d see a higher percentage of clients get clearly distinct benefits. My perception is that fewer than 50% of patients experience significant effects. Many require a lot of ongoing maintenance for them to hold, but some people do benefit.
“One psychiatrist I interviewed said she quit referring for TMS because too few of her patients did well. TMS protocols used in the U.S. are minimal compared to how they’re used in some other countries.
“TMS has promise, but the technology and methods for targeting the training need to evolve. It would make sense to have a detailed brain map to identify where to target the TMS. That’s often how we use neurofeedback, but currently, that’s not the standard for TMS. TMS primarily targets the same spots on the head for everyone – without knowing if the individual’s needs really match up.”
The benefits of neurofeedback
Neurofeedback has several advantages over TMS:
- While TMS usually requires five 20–40-minute sessions per week for six to seven weeks, neurofeedback is usually done 1-3 times per week. The course of treatment depends on the individual.
- TMS generally targets depression only. Neurofeedback can target a variety of symptoms in addition to depression, including anxiety and sleep.
- About 70% of our neurofeedback clients experience clinical benefits, generally higher than those who benefit from TMS.
- Neurofeedback often costs less than TMS if the TMS treatment isn’t covered by insurance.
- Neurofeedback can take a more comprehensive approach for complex issues by being combined with other neurostimulation tools, other types of neurofeedback and lifestyle changes
- Many people who do neurofeedback find that they can gradually reduce some of their medications, with the guidance of their physicians. TMS patients rarely adjust their medications during treatment.
For most people, and for the benefits outlined above, neurofeedback is often the better choice for many people. Ultimately, however, it is up to your physician to help you decide how to proceed.
Neurofeedback as TMS maintenance
As a side note, we’ve worked with several patients who responded well to TMS who used neurofeedback training for their maintenance rather than using TMS for maintenance. The results were better in some cases when neurofeedback was paired with improved nutrition, exercise, and other lifestyle changes.