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Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

What is TMS?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non invasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression and other psychiatric and neurological disorders. It is a technique for gently stimulating the brain. It utilizes a specialized electromagnet placed on the patient’s scalp that generates short magnetic pulses, roughly the strength of an MRI scanner’s magnetic field but much more focused. The magnetic pulses pass easily through the skull just like the MRI scanner fields do, but because they are short pulses and not a static field, they can stimulate the underlying cerebral cortex (brain). Low frequency (once per second) TMS has been shown to induce reductions in brain activation while stimulation at higher frequencies (> 5 pulses per second) has been shown to increase brain activation. It has also been shown that these changes can last for periods of time after stimulation is stopped. TMS was first developed in 1985, and has been studied significantly since 1995.

TMS is typically used when other depression treatments have not been effective, when the patient cannot tolerate the side effects of medication, or simply choose to have an effective treatment without the risks of medication. It is approved as an effective treatment for depression and OCD by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. and our equipment is approved by the FDA and Medsafe here in New Zealand. It is widely used in Australia, the US and Europe. We are the only providers of TMS in New Zealand.

It is an effective the treatment of anxiety as well as in patients who experience auditory hallucinations. There is good evidence that it has potential benefits in the treatment of autistic disorders and we had success in treating patients with this disorder. Other medical uses for TMS include the treatment of tinnitus and complex pain syndrome.

TMS is different from other brain-stimulation therapies, like electroconvulsive therapy. It is a nonconvulsive procedure; patients don’t have a seizure, and they are awake and alert the entire time. There are also no cognitive side effects or memory loss in TMS, which are common in patients who undergo ECT. In fact there is evidence that TMS might improve cognitive function. TMS has been available overseas for over twenty years with great advances over the past ten.

How it works

1. You will attend an initial assessment to determine whether TMS is the recommended treatment for you. You will have the opportunity to clarify your questions in this initial interview (we don't provide consultations by email). 

2. If TMS is recommended and you agree to proceed, we will book you for 5 sessions per week, usually in the morning for the whole course of the therapy (two to six weeks depending on the diagnosis and protocol).

What happens during an rTMS procedure?

During a TMS session, an electromagnetic coil is placed on your scalp near your forehead. The electromagnet delivers a magnetic pulse that stimulates nerve cells in the region of your brain involved in mood control, anxiety, pain, or the subject of your treatment. It aims at restoring normal brain function. For each rTMS session, the patient sits in a comfortable reclining chair and is made to feel relaxed. Patients might wear earplugs during treatment for their comfort and hearing protection, as rTMS produces a clicking sound with each pulse.

During the first rTMS session, several measurements are made to ensure that the TMS coil will be properly positioned over the patient’s head. Once this is done, the TMS coil is suspended over the patient’s scalp. I will then measures the patient’s resting motor threshold, by administering several brief, totally painless pulses. The motor threshold is the minimum amount of power necessary to make the patient’s thumb twitch even if ever so slightly, and varies from individual to individual. 

Once the motor threshold is determined, the coil is then brought forward so that it rests above the front region of the patient’s brain. Treatment is then commenced.  During the treatment, patients will hear a series of clicking sounds and will feel a tapping sensation under the treatment coil.

Who administers rTMS?

rTMS is always prescribed by a psychiatrist. Resting Motor Threshold (RMT) is determined by the psychiatrist. The treatment itself is administered by an experienced TMS technician under the supervision of the psychiatrist or by the psychiatrist. The rTMS technician or psychiatrist will be present to monitor the patient during the treatment. The patient can stop treatment at any time by asking the staff member present. There is no need for sedation.


Generally TMS produces a slight knocking or tapping sensation on the head. This is also associated with a tapping sound produced by the TMS device. When administered at some stimulation sites it can cause contraction of the muscles of the scalp and occasionally the jaw. Mild headache and transient lightheadedness may sometimes result from TMS. These symptoms usually resolve by themselves shortly after the treatment is over.

What are the side-effects of rTMS?

rTMS is well-tolerated and associated with few side-effects and only a small percentage of patients discontinue treatment because of these. The most common side-effect, which is reported in about half of patients treated with rTMS, is headaches. These are mild and generally diminish over the course of the treatment.  Over-the-counter pain medication like paracetamol can be used to treat these headaches. On even rarer occasions some patients may still complain of hearing problems immediately following treatment. The evidence indicates these effects are very short-lived and resolve completely.

rTMS does not cause the side-effects caused by antidepressant medications, such as weight gain, gastrointestinal upset, dry mouth, sexual dysfunction, or sedation. The most serious risk of rTMS is seizures. However, the risk of a seizure is exceedingly low. We follow up-to-date safety guidelines that are designed to minimize the risk of seizures and no seizures have been reported when treatment protocol is followed.

Who cannot get rTMS therapy?

Patients with any type of non-removable metal in their heads (with the exception of braces or dental fillings), or within twelve inches of the coil should not receive rTMS. Failure to follow this rule could cause the object to heat up, move, or malfunction, and result in serious injury or death. The following is a list of metal implants that can prevent a patient from receiving rTMS:

  • Aneurysm clips or coils

  • Stents in the neck or brain

  • Implanted stimulators

  • Cardiac pacemakers or implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) - not an absolute contraindication

  • Electrodes to monitor brain activity

  • Metallic implants in your ears and fragments in your eyes (eg.welders)

  • Shrapnel or bullet fragments in or near the head

  • Facial tattoos with metallic or magnetic-sensitive ink in your head

  • Other metal devices or object implanted in or near the head (except for titanium, crowns and fillings, which are safe).

What Will TMS Treatment Cost Me?

The first consultation where your diagnosis and treatment is evaluated to determine if TMS is appropriate costs $475.00. The treatment consists of a daily session of 37 minutes every day, except for the weekends and the cost will be NZ$1475.00 per week.

A successful treatment will reduce the number of follow up visits to a specialist, improve the quality of your life, reduce time off work, avoid long term side effects of medication like weight gain and costs of ongoing medication costs. Therefore, the long-term cost of TMS might be substantially cheaper then long-term treatment with medication by reducing doctors visits and medication costs, the costs involved with the treatment of the potential long-term negative effects of medication on the patients' health.

TMS is relatively cheap in comparison with other equivalent medical procedures. For example, while a minor surgical procedure of 30 minutes or less might cost you up to NZ$4,000.00 or more, the full course of rTMS for depression will cost between $5,900.00 for 20 sessions of about 30 minutes each over a period of four weeks (or NZ$8,850.00 for a six weeks treatment). Furthermore, it will not cause the side-effects commonly experienced with medications, or long-term effects like weight gain. In some cases, it might save the costs associated with the use of long-term medications. TMS will not impact in your ability to drive, or to go back to work straight after each session.

The types of payment we accept include MasterCard, Visa (a 3% surcharge on credit cards apply), Eftpost and Cash. Health insurers in New Zealand do not cover the costs of TMS yet (check with your insurer first to confirm).

How can I get TMS treatment?

TMS is one of the treatments for depression offered at our clinic. Before scheduling you for treatment, you will be evaluated by our psychiatrist to determine if TMS would be safe and appropriate for you. Alternatively, if you already see a psychiatrist, you can ask him or her to refer you directly, in which case treatment can be scheduled quicker.


Phone (09) 486 0182 to make an appointment