Brattleboro Retreat Introduces Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for Treatment-resistant Depression

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — For some people with major depressive disorder, first-line treatments such as anti-depressants and psychotherapy do not provide lasting relief. For these people, the Brattleboro Retreat, a specialty psychiatric hospital for people of all ages, now offers transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

Approved by the FDA in 2008 as a treatment for depression, TMS is a type of safe, well-tolerated, and non-invasive brain stimulation that painlessly applies electromagnetic pulses to the brain via a magnetic coil. This treatment stimulates growth of new neural pathways in areas of the brain that are either underactive or overactive. When treatments are applied daily on weekdays for up to six weeks, these neural pathways are strengthened, helping to improve brain function and mood.

According to Kurt White, vice president of Outpatient Programs and Community Initiatives, TMS is effective for the majority of patients, with minimal risks and side effects. “Studies have shown that nearly two-thirds of TMS patients had either full remission of their depression symptoms or measurable improvement,” he said. “Unlike ECT, which itself is highly effective, TMS is an outpatient procedure without the need for anesthesia and without significant side effects.”

White explained that some TMS patients feel mild headaches after their first few treatments, but this typically fades, and the procedure itself is painless for most people. Also unlike ECT, in which a seizure is induced, TMS carries a very small risk of seizures — fewer than one in 30,000 treatments. TMS is available at the Brattleboro Retreat with a prescription from a licensed medical doctor.

“All of our psychiatrists here who prescribe TMS are TMS-credentialed and understand the function and benefits of the process,” White said, adding that the procedure’s benefits are cumulative and typically involve daily treatments during weekdays for up to six weeks, followed by a three-week tapering period with less frequent treatments. “While the first appointment requires a bit of time for measurements and calibrations, most sessions will last just a few minutes to a quarter-hour, plus time to check in with the technician. Aside from travel time, the treatment takes about a half-hour a day and has minimal impact on daily living.”

To learn more about TMS treatment, visit brattlebororetreat.org/tms. Those who wish to know if they qualify for the treatment are advised to speak to their doctor or therapist. They may also fill out a pre-intake form online at brattlebororetreat.org/admissions or call (802) 258-3700. TMS is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurers. Verification of insurance acceptance is provided free of charge by the Brattleboro Retreat.