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Published: June 2, 2022

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) are non-invasive brain stimulation techniques that can produce long-lasting changes in mood and behavior. While they share several common mechanisms and effects, there are also important differences.

If you're interested in brain stimulation therapy or want to know more about the treatments, you may have a few questions about the two procedures. This blog answers some key questions and outlines some of the similarities and differences between them.

If you still have questions, please contact us at GIA Miami to speak to one of our expert team members. All calls are free and confidential - just give us a call.

What Is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation uses gentle magnetic pulses to stimulate certain areas of the brain - usually the right and left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. TMS works by passing an electrical current through a magnetic coil, generating a magnetic field over the client's scalp. This magnetic field induces tiny electrical currents in the target brain cells, stimulating neuronal activity.

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) specifies TMS therapy that uses trains of repetitive pulses, as opposed to single-pulse TMS. Because almost all mental wellness treatment centers use rTMS therapy, the two terms are often used interchangeably.

What Conditions Does TMS Treat?

TMS was first developed for treatment-resistant depression, receiving FDA clearance in 2008. Since then, research has shown it to be an effective treatment for a range of mental disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and addiction.

What Does a Standard Course of TMS Treatment Look Like?

A standard TMS treatment course typically consists of daily sessions over four to six weeks, followed by a few weeks of tapering off sessions. Sessions are usually between 20 and 40 minutes long. Clients can resume normal activities immediately after sessions and drive to and from the treatment center.

Does TMS Have Any Side-Effects?

TMS has very few side effects, especially compared to antidepressant medications. The most common side-effects are:

  • Mild headaches
  • Mild scalp discomfort at the treatment site
  • Muscle twitches
  • Jaw pain

All of these side effects are temporary and often reduce over the treatment course.

TMS also comes with a small risk of seizures. However, this risk is comparable to or less than that of other depression treatments.

Read more: TMS vs Ketamine

What Is Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (TDCS) Treatment?

Transcranial direct current stimulation (TDSC) involves sending a weak electrical current across the brain, usually by placing two electrodes (or two groups of smaller electrodes) on either side of the client's head. During a TDSC session, current flows between the electrodes, modulating brain activity in the motor and cognitive domains as it passes through.

TDSC may involve either cathodal stimulation or anodal stimulation. Cathodal stimulation hyperpolarizes neurons, decreasing the possibility of interaction; while anodal stimulation depolarizes neurons, increasing the possibility. In general, researchers consider cathodal stimulation to temporarily facilitate brain activity in the area beneath the electrode, while anodal stimulation inhibits it.

What Are the Benefits of tDCS?

Researchers posit that tDSC may produce long-lasting changes in neuronal behavior, depending on the duration and intensity of stimulation. However, unlike TMS, there are few large-scale studies observing the clinical effects of tDSC, with many sample sizes too low to make valid conclusions.

The present research shows that TMS can have a significant impact on motor and cognitive brain function, by targeting the human primary motor cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex respectively. One study found that tDSC effectively reduces excitability in the human motor cortex after treatment, depending on the client's state during treatment. Another study found that TDSC may foster implicit motor learning and performance in real-life complex tasks.

Scientists have also effectively applied tDCS to reduce symptoms of depression and reduce hallucinations in people with schizophrenia. While more research in these fields is required, the treatment offers exciting potential.

What Are the Side Effects of tDCS?

There are no serious recorded side effects of tDCS treatment. Any side effects are mild and temporary, and may include:

  • headaches
  • discomfort at stimulation sites
  • moderate fatigue
  • redness of the skin beneath the electrode pad
  • difficulty concentrating
  • acute mood changes
  • nausea

What Are the Key Similarities and Differences Between TMS and tDCS?


  • Both TMS and tDCS are brain stimulation techniques
  • Both treatments are non-invasive and do not require anesthetic
  • Both treatments have few side effects, and common side effects are mild and temporary
  • Both treatments work by affecting brain functions and activity


  • TMS uses repeated electromagnetic pulses while tDCS uses a constant, weak electrical current.
  • TMS is a neuro-stimulator while tDCS is a neuro-modulator
  • tDCS equipment is small, battery-powered, and portable; while TMS devices are wall-powered, larger, and heavier.
  • TMS is backed up by years of research, clinical trials, and real-world studies across a variety of mental health conditions. It is currently FDA-cleared for major depressive disorder and OCD. On the other hand, there is limited research and resources on transcranial direct current stimulation.
  • As an established mental wellness treatment, scientists and medics have developed standard protocols for TMS treatment, studying the optimum method of application.

Read more: TMS for stroke patients

What Is the Difference Between TMS, tDCS, and Electroconvulsive Therapy?

Unlike TMS and tDCS, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) requires the client to be under anesthetic during treatment. Electroconvulsive therapy involves sending an electrical current through the brain to deliberately produce a seizure. While the treatment is generally safe, it can have adverse effects including confusion and memory loss.

TMS and tDCS use a current that is far weaker than in ECT therapy. They come with a very low risk of seizure and you can remain conscious throughout the treatment.

What Is Theta-Burst Stimulation?

Theta-burst stimulation is a type of rTMS that requires only 1-3 minutes of stimulation, compared to 20-40 minutes for standard rTMS treatment. A newly developed protocol, theta-burst stimulation may have similar or even better efficiency in treating depression than standard rTMS. It may represent a less time-intensive, safe, and effective mental wellness treatment.

TMS Treatment at GIA Miami

At GIA Miami, we offer the most advanced and up-to-date TMS technologies from our state-of-the-art facility in downtown Miami. Our pioneering team contains world leaders in the field, ready to apply their exceptional expertise to your recovery journey. We are dedicated to offering treatment programs based on the forefront of mental wellness science in a compassionate and individualized approach.

Our founder, Dr. Bonci, has co-authored groundbreaking research on the use of TMS for behavioral and substance addiction. He oversees TMS treatment at GIA, ensuring the highest optimal treatment protocols and equipment are available to each client. You couldn't be in better hands.

At GIA, we understand that each client has multiple needs, and offer a comprehensive treatment experience to suit every individual. We combine TMS with other therapies including:

  • cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • group therapy
  • family therapy
  • couples therapy

We provide each client with an individualized treatment plan which we continually evaluate as treatment progresses. When you leave the center, we work with you to design an aftercare program that supports long-term, meaningful recovery.

Contact Us Today

If you are struggling with your mental health or looking to improve your mental performance, contact us today. We're here to help you become the best version of yourself.

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