4 Common Types of Brain Stimulation Therapy

Brain stimulation therapies have spent a lot of time in the limelight during recent years.  Despite this attention, few are actually aware of what brain stimulation therapy is as well as the common uses of these therapies to treat mental disorders in patients who have failed to see relief from psychotherapy treatments.  

In this article, we’re going to shed light on 4 of the most common brain stimulation therapies.

What is Brain Stimulation Therapy?

Brain stimulation therapies operate on a neurological level.  These therapies employ magnets, electricity, or direct implants.  For many patients who have tried endless avenues for major depressive disorders, ECT or TMS therapy (both of which are approved by the FDA) offer relief where other therapies have failed.  

As these treatments need to be targeted towards a patient’s individual needs, the process includes researching the psychiatric history as well as interviews with loved ones and numerous sessions of planning with a psychiatrist and a patient.

Given the facts that 14 million Americans suffer from depression and only ⅓ of patients respond to the first antidepressant they try, thousands of patients seek brain stimulation therapy as a solution every year.  

However, it is important to remember that these therapies are for patients who have tried other treatment avenues and failed to see results.   

4 Types of Brain Stimulation Therapy

  1. TMS therapy

Transcranial magnetic stimulation employs short pulses of magnetic fields that stimulate the cells in the brain thought to be responsible for controlling mood.  The procedure is noninvasive and is typically performed as an outpatient procedure in a psychiatrist’s office over the course of multiple appointments.   

In 60% of cases where patients did not respond to traditional depression treatments, patients responded to tms therapy.   In comparison to the 17% success rate of medication, those suffering from various mental disorders may find a successful treatment with transcranial magnetic stimulation.

A patient may seek tms therapy to treat to recurring depressive episodes that have not responded to other forms of treatments.  Many patients will turn to TMS first as the side effects are often minor with the most common symptom reported as scalp tenderness during the first week.

  1. ECT therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy is one of the oldest brain stimulation therapies.  First appearing to the mainstream in the 1930s, the procedures of the past were coupled with serious side effects.  With today’s medical technology, ECT therapy is often successful when other treatments failed to offer relief.   Patients might seek ECT therapy as a treatment for:

  • Severe depression.  
  • Treatment-resistant depression.
  • Severe mania.
  • Catatonia.
  • Agitation or aggression in dementia patients.

When the risk of suicide is high and patients are looking for a solution after other treatment avenues have failed, ECT therapy may provide rapid results.

Using electricity, electroconvulsive therapy passes electric currents through the brain creating a controlled seizure.  These electric currents can change brain chemistry and in some cases, quickly reverse the symptoms of various mental illnesses.  Though certain side effects are still possible, the controlled setting now allows psychiatrists to minimize the risk and maximize the benefit.

  1. Vagus Nerve Stimulation

This procedure is reserved for those who are suffering from major depressive disorder and have sought at least four other forms of treatment for their depression.   Much like other brain stimulation therapies, it is turned to when psychotherapy and medication have failed to treat the symptoms of a major depressive episode. Despite the fact that many insurance companies do not cover VNS procedures, they have proven useful in treating the symptoms of major depressive disorder.

  1. Deep Brain Stimulation

Deep brain stimulation or DBS employs a surgical implant to send controlled electrical stimulation to targeted areas in the brain.  Much like a cardiac pacemaker, it works to stimulate specific areas of the brain that control the receptors responsible for the symptoms.  Again, this therapy is reserved for those who have proven to be resistant to psychotherapy and medication.

The Future of Brain Stimulation Therapies

Moving forward, brain stimulation therapies may gain popularity amongst patients seeking relief from long term suffering and failed medication trials.  Psychiatrists and researchers alike are pushing forward with alternative solutions and as mental health becomes a less taboo subject to the media; more and more people are becoming aware to the options they have to treat mental disorders like major depression, anxiety disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

What are your thoughts on brain stimulation therapies?  Share your thoughts in the comments.