Interview with Stanford’s Dr. Nolan Williams on the Benefits of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Interview with Stanford’s Dr. Nolan Williams on the Benefits of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Globally, depression affects approximately 300 million people. It is one of the most pervasive mental illnesses and can be deadly. Despite the severity, less than half of those affected receive any form of treatment.

Lack of access to treatment, the cost of treatment, ineffectual treatments, and a lack of understanding of mental illness are some of the reasons that millions of depressed people aren’t getting the treatment they need to recover from their depression—but Dr. Nolan Williams is hopeful about changing that.

A Stanford-based researcher, Dr. Williams is working to understand how transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) can be used to treat depression, OCD, Tourette’s Syndrome, and other mental illnesses, especially in people who haven’t responded well to other therapeutic or pharmaceutical treatments.

He is a trained psychiatrist and neurologist who studied at the University of South Carolina. There, Dr. Williams trained under the creator of therapeutically used TMS, Dr. Mark George. After completing his residency under Dr. George, Dr. Williams was recruited by Stanford University.

Dr. Williams has spent the past four years building his Brain Stimulation Lab, which offers both therapeutic TMS treatments and researches how TMS can be used to treat other conditions.

As an expert in the field of TMS, Dr. Williams provides some excellent insight into how this treatment method helps patients overcome depression, the hopeful future of TMS, and some of the benefits of TMS. He recently gave an interview on TMS, and below are some of the highlights from this interview we wanted to share.

What is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?

According to Dr. Williams, transcranial magnetic stimulation isn’t a new technology. It’s been around since 1985 but was used as a tool for motor physiology treatments. It wasn’t until 1995 when Dr. Mark George published the first study on using TMS as a therapeutic treatment for depression, that this technology was looked at as an alternative treatment for mental illness.

TMS works by using an electrical current in a magnetic field to target specific areas of the brain and change the way they conduct signals by depolarizing neurons. Doing so can change the functioning of the brain and lead to changes in behavior, the way the brain operates, and a reduction in symptoms. This method also avoids some of the hazards of direct electrical stimulation, like burns.

The goal in TMS is to restore functioning, not to mask symptoms of depression, OCD, or other conditions. It is a highly effective treatment and can target just the parts of the brain involved in mental illness.

The Benefits of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Currently, TMS is strongly recommended for people who haven’t responded to other treatments, including therapy or medication interventions. Treatment-resistant depression, OCD, and Tourette’s are some of the mental illness that respond particularly well to TMS.

In addition to working well on treatment-resistant conditions, TMS is largely side-effect-free. As Dr. Williams states,

I have never had a patient come to say, “My depression is gone, but I feel this weird side effect.” You hear the patients say, “I feel normal again,” or something like that. That is not necessarily the case with psychiatric medications. People do often report experiencing side effects that make them feel a little bit different than what they would expect their “normal” to be.

TMS focuses on restoring normal functioning to the brain for good, which means patients can feel like themselves again.

While there are some side effects of TMS, they are generally non-severe and don’t last long. These can include mild headaches after a session, stimulation of nerves in the scalp, and, in 1 out of 30,000 cases, minor seizures. Dr. Williams notes that the rate of seizures is the same as that seen in pharmaceutical interventions and stresses that this is a very rare response.

Additionally, TMS has an incredibly high success rate. Many patients report a serious decrease in their symptoms for up to 6 months following a 6-week course of treatment. Maintenance sessions can extend the effective period of TMS treatments, without putting patients through a full course of treatment again. Even in patients who are slower to respond to TMS, most report a 50% reduction in symptoms after the first course of treatment, according to Dr. Williams.

The Future of TMS

TMS is approved by the FDA to treat depression, but researchers are hopeful about using this approach to treat other conditions, including:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders
  • Tinnitus
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Dystonia
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Migraines
  • Stroke
  • ALS
  • Chronic pain

Currently, Dr. Williams’ lab is researching the use of TMS to treat conditions outside depression, including Tourette’s, OCD, and substance dependence.

In the future, Dr. Williams is hopeful that electroceuticals, or using treatments using neuromodulation, will become far more mainstream, and possibly even replace medication as a primary treatment for mental illnesses and neurological conditions.

Is TMS Right for Me?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation offers another avenue of treatment for those living with depression, postpartum depression, and OCD. If you’re looking for a drug-free treatment for your depression or have struggled to find a treatment that works effectively for you, we may be able to help.

Our team at Pulse TMS is dedicated to helping our clients feel normal again with personalized TMS treatments. Interested in learning if TMS is a good treatment option for your mental health needs?

Contact our offices to schedule an appointment today! We’re happy to discuss your treatment options with you.

Article By: Chris Howard
Director of Community Outreach & Education Chris Howard has been working in the mental health field since 2010 after seeing the long-term effects of mental illness within his own family. He is a graduate of UCLA where he received his B.A. in Psychology. Having worked closely with those struggling with addiction, Chris considers the concept of community to be an essential part of treatment and advocates for wellness approaches that integrate both leading conventional therapies, as well as holistic practices like yoga and meditation.