When it comes to depression treatment, the only given is that there is no given. Depression shows up differently in different people, and no two treatment plans are exactly the same.  For some people, standard antidepressants and talk therapy are effective in alleviating their symptoms the first time around. Others try a number of different medications before they find one that works for them. And then there are those who suffer from treatment resistant depression, and nothing seems to make a difference for long. 

Fortunately, mental health treatment continues to evolve, and researchers continue to seek and develop alternatives to standard depression treatment in order to alleviate symptoms for people who have tried multiple treatments without relief. Some alternative depression treatments, including Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), involve activating or inhibiting the brain with electricity. Depression often involves low brain activity, and these brain stimulation therapies can essentially help “reset” the brain and lead to symptom improvement. 

*10 TMS Treatments cost $1,500. Payment upfront. Any unused treatments will be credited.*
*A typical course is 30 treatments with a total cost of $4,500*

Although TMS and ECT both use electricity to stimulate nerve cells in key areas of the brain, the two treatments work a little differently.  Here’s what you need to know:


What is TMS and how does it work?

TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation, uses a magnetic field similar to those used in MRI machines to stimulate nerve cells. TMS therapy San Diego involves placing a small electromagnetic coil on the patient’s head and then delivering a series of magnetic pulses to the brain. These pulses cause small electrical currents that activate targeted nerve cells and modify the connectivity of the large-scale brain networks. This process is done with the help of a computer program that allows the practitioner to target very specific regions of the brain involved in mood regulation. 

TMS therapy is pain-free, though some patients do report a light tapping or knocking sensation while the magnetic pulses are administered. TMS sessions last approximately 40 minutes, and no anesthesia is required. Many patients find the experience relaxing and will listen to music or doze off. 

TMS treatment involves a series of 5 sessions per week for 4-6 weeks. Many patients begin to experience symptom relief within a couple of weeks after starting treatment, but even when this is the case, it is still recommended to complete the full course. Some patients found that TMS increased the effectiveness of their antidepressant medications, while others achieved full remission and determined that they no longer needed medication. 


What is ECT? 


ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy, also involves the delivery of electric currents to the patient’s brain, but unlike TMS, the delivery is direct. During the ECT session, the patient is under general anesthesia, and the practitioner places electrodes at precise locations on the patient’s scalp. Controlled electric currents are then delivered to the patient’s brain, causing a brief “therapeutic seizure” that affects neurons and chemicals in the brain. Because the patient is asleep during the procedure, they feel no pain. 


A single ECT session lasts approximately an hour, which includes 15-20 minutes of treatment time, and 30-40 minutes of recovery time. Typically, a course of treatment includes 3 sessions per week for 3 to 4 weeks. ECT treatments improve symptoms of depression and other mental disorders at a higher rate than most antidepressant medications, but follow-up sessions are usually required to maintain the results. And because of the risks of anesthesia, ECT is often considered only in cases of severe depression when other treatments have not worked. 


TMS vs ECT: Which is best for you?


Both TMS and ECT can be effective in treating the symptoms of depression for those who have been unable to find relief through standard treatment methods. But because they’re completely different treatments, there are several different factors to consider when comparing them, including:


  • Success rates / patient responsesOne study found that ECT was slightly more effective than TMS but that patients prefered TMS over ECT.
  • Side effects – ECT patients report more significant side effects. TMS patients report minor and short-lived side effects.
  • Treatment specifics – ECT requires general anesthesia and may necessitate a hospital stay, but TMS can more easily fit into a person’s daily schedule
  • Cost – ECT is typically more expensive than TMS, though both may be covered by insurance
  • Patient medical history – For example, a person with a pacemaker cannot undergo TMS


When comparing ECT and TMS, it’s important to discuss your questions and concerns with a trusted mental health practitioner before making a decision about which one is best for you. 


Suffering from depression? Pacific Health Systems can help. 

If you or someone you love suffers from depression, you’ve come to the right place. At Pacifc Health Systems in San Diego, our providers specialize in primary care, psychiatry services in San Diego, psychology services, and advanced depression treatment. Whether you’re just starting out in your journey to optimal mental health or you’ve spent years searching for lasting relief, we can help. We offer a wide range of depression treatments, and we’re committed to the health and wellness of every patient who comes through our door. For more information on our services or to schedule a consultation, give us a call at (619) 267-9257 today.