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A World Beyond Medication: An Introduction into Brain Stimulation Technologies

By HERWriter
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Some people might be concerned about their personality changing because of using these brain stimulation technologies.

“There has been no evidence that they do change your personality [or] make you into a different person,” Holtzheimer said. “Patients that get well … almost always report that they’re back to themselves. They were not themselves while they were depressed. They’re back to themselves when they’re not depressed.”

ECT is still more of a concern to some, but when used appropriately there is “no evidence that it has any personality effects, dulling effects,” he said.

Also, many patients with severe depression are more concerned about relieving depression instead of having other possible side effects, he said.

“The idea of these brain stimulation therapies … is extremely exciting for psychiatry, this idea of non-pharmacologic approaches,” Holtzheimer said.

However, he does have a word of caution.

“The nature of the field and companies and marketing is such that they’re being promoted and they’re kind of becoming “mainstream” perhaps before we have the data to truly know how well they work and how safe they are,” Holtzheimer said.

Look at the sources below for more specific information on different technologies and products.


Add a Comment10 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I have had severe treatment resistant depression for years. After trying and failing to gain benefit from at least 8 different antidepressants, which either didn't work or caused intolerable side effects, my doctor encouraged me to consider ECT. The doctors told me the only side effect would be possible short term memory problems limited to the duration of the treatments. I had to have 16 treatments before I felt any positive effect, and that positive effect only lasted about three months. My treatments lasted about a month and caused the most crippling headaches I've ever experienced. All I could do after a treatment was take Percocet and sleep for the rest of the day. But my memory problems were much worse. Despite what they'd told me, I lost huge chunks of memory prior to the treatments, which I've never recovered, and my ability to remember things did not return to normal after treatments as promised. Instead, I became totally dependent on writing everything I needed to remember down on a little notebook I still carry with me everywhere to this day. I flunked out of college because I could not retain information long enough to pass my exams. I can't believe they say "It’s better than medication probably and it’s better than no treatment at all." If anyone is even considering getting these "treatments", I encourage you to do some research, because it absolutely ruined my life. It permanently damaged my brain. It should be illegal. And it's sickening that so-called experts are still touting it as "safe and effective".

July 15, 2016 - 11:34pm
EmpowHER Guest

I suffer from bipolar and depression. I own and have used both the Alpha Stim and the Fisher Wallace devices. Personally, and in my case ( everyone is different ), I find the Fisher Wallace device to be effective. I do a 40 minute session earlier in the day. I use the device on a lower setting. The Alpha Stim was effective for treating anxiety but did not have an effect on my depression. I highly recommend the Fisher Wallace device, but once again, everyone is different and it may not work for you. Since you will need a prescription to purchase the device, I strongly recommend you discuss this treatment modality with your physician.

May 12, 2016 - 6:30am
EmpowHER Guest

I have severe depression. I purchased the FW Stimulator. I followed the directions to the T.
Not only did my depression get worse but had insomnia so bad after using it. When I did fall asleep I had nightmares like I've never encounter in my life. I would wake up horrified. I also encountered ear problems, poping of my ears, and ringing. Please be cautious before using this device. I feel that some day someone will die from the product. This is just my opinion!

January 23, 2016 - 1:57am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Can you share how long it took you to recover? This device injured me very, very badly. These devices are incredibly dangerous.

August 14, 2017 - 1:32pm
EmpowHER Guest

I have tried this and it is phenomenal. I recently had a bought of anxiety and depression due to a severe sinus infection. Before the CAT scan and surgery, I was sent to a Thyroid specialist who advised the infection caused tiny cells in my thyroid to burst causing the severe insomnia (would not sleep for days), anxiety and panic attacks. The pain and anxiety started causing me some depression. I saw a psychologist because the doctors kept giving me Loratab for pain and Lorazepam for anxiety that I refused to take due to the side effects. After much research I found a Psychologist in the area who offered an alternative called Alpha-Stim. I was looking for biofeedback, but he believed this would be more beneficial and was it ever. This small device uses Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES) to dramatically reduce anxiety, pain, insomnia, panic attacks, and depression by restoring serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain. It has worked wonders for Soldiers suffering from PTSD also. The waveform passes between two electrodes that clip on to your earlobes, sending a signal to your brain that helps to reduce many behavioral symptoms. It is an amazing devise that has stopped my depression, anxiety, insomnia, pain, and panic attacks since the surgery and medication did not cure me. I basically rented this device for 5 weeks for $150.00. My husband even committed the other day, "What did you do with my Wife." Has improved our relationship and my outlook on life.

January 6, 2016 - 4:07am
EmpowHER Guest

Doctors like Holtzheimer make me sick. He only cares about people paying him $12,000 to do the TMS at his doctors office. I'd take the $600 medical device that has a money back guarantee any day of the week. Heck, those Fisher Wallace guys work with Harvard University and that probably is better than where this Holtzheimer went to school.

November 5, 2014 - 1:05pm
EmpowHER Guest

I purchased a Fisher Wallace Stimulator against the wishes of Dr. Holtzheimer. It changed my life drastically. I've cut my meds down gradually and hope to be off of my dosage altogether. There were days where I felt incapacitated due to all of the side effects of the drugs I was being prescribed. I'd feel a bit of relief, but the side effects made me need more drugs just to treat the side effects. It's a real rabbit hole with those damn drugs. I think that's why doctors don't want people using anything that's not drugs.

I decided to do it after I read that Richard Brown, a psychiatrist at Columbia University, was reporting very good results in the Wall Street Journal. Anyway, I hope people don't think it's too good to be true. I wasted months debating on whether or not to buy the device. They had a money back guarantee for two months. So what the hey? Nothing to lose!!

September 11, 2014 - 1:49pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Fantastic! Congrats for thinking outside the box and trying something new and sharing your story.

October 9, 2014 - 10:57am
EmpowHER Guest

Dr. Holtzheimer's statement is depressing (!). I understand he is reporting on the lack of literature--but his comments are the first I've read that are so negative . He may be dealing with very seriously depressed people. I hope I'm not in that category--though I have had worsening depression over the last 20 years. It' going to be a cold day in hell before I do ECT b/c of the memory problems. I hope I'm not up against that wall any time soon. $12,000 for TMS is a lot. Maybe I can hang on until Medicare!

September 5, 2014 - 1:49pm
EmpowHER Guest

After years of having depression, I am indeed weary from trying different anti-depressants that don't help much, plus the bad side effects can be awful. I am also wary of any new one my doctor suggests. (Hint to writer- you might want to change the typo.) These devices seem like they would be less harmful. I highly doubt my health insurance would cover it though. If it worked well, paying out of pocket would be worth it.

June 26, 2013 - 4:24pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.