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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Essential to patient care: rTMS technicians deliver innovative therapy to help patient recovery

February 15, 2017 - ​​Brain stimulation therapy has the power to change and transform lives, and the technicians who provide it to patients are essential to their treatment. Caitlin Newberry, a CAMH rTMS technician, delivers Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy to patients enrolled in research studies at the Temerty Centre for Therapeutic Brain Intervention.

“People come here with a burden on their shoulders. They say I’ve tried everything else. This is their last resort,” says Newberry, who has a BA in Psychology and did mental health research at St. Michael’s Hospital before joining CAMH. “It’s wonderful to see someone with 40 years of depression, with only occasional relief from sadness, get results with this therapy.” 

rTMS Technician Caitlin Newberry is getting patient Shelley Hofer ready for a treatment that will deliver electromagnetic pulses to stimulate areas of her brain associated with depression.
rTMS Technician Caitlin Newberry is getting patient Shelley Hofer ready for a treatment that will deliver electromagnetic pulses to stimulate areas of her brain associated with depression.

Patients participating in Temerty Centre research studies get treatment for illnesses ranging from anorexia and depression, to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They receive treatments five days a week over four to six weeks.

One of Caitlin’s patients is Shelley Hofer, who has lived with depression since childhood. Recently, she was in a research study where she responded well to treatment. She now receives repeat compassionate treatment courses (if her symptoms return) with a form of TMS called Theta Burst Stimulation (TBS). TBS delivers three minutes of electro-magnetic pulses to stimulate the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (area of the brain associated with depression).

“I would have died if I didn’t get this help,” adds Hofer, who has tried medications, Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and psychotherapy over the past 20 years. “CAMH is a save-your-life hospital.”

“Caitlin is like that light at the end of the tunnel. She makes a huge difference because of who she is and the work she does,” says Hofer, who travels three hours roundtrip for a three-minute treatment. 

rTMS Technician Caitlin Newberry looks over a patient’s MRI scan to prepare for a therapy session using Theta Burst Stimulation.
rTMS Technician Caitlin Newberry looks over a patient’s MRI scan to prepare for a therapy session using Theta Burst Stimulation.

Newberry was the first repetitive TMS (rTMS) technician at CAMH when she started nearly four years ago. She’s now part of a four-technician team that treats up 40 patients daily. They know how to administer various TMS research treatments for different studies, so if a colleague is away they can help any patient.

“I feel lucky to be part of a team that is helping patients who were struggling for decades get healthier and better,” adds Newberry. “You slowly see this thaw. It’s like they are waking up. By the end of the treatment, patients are now smiling, joking, making plans and looking forward to the future.”

Newberry learned this therapy under the supervision of Dr. Daniel Blumberger, co-director of the Temerty Centre. She did a month of treatment observations, supervised applications of the treatment, and studied the theory and history of rTMS.

“Caitlin and the team of technicians play a key role in delivering treatment and monitoring patients’ progress, so we can treat patients and learn how to improve brain stimulation therapies and get more people better with this treatment,” says Dr. Blumberger. “The rTMS techs are an integral part of the clinical and research teams administering innovative, non-invasive therapies that are successful in relieving disabling symptoms for patients like Shelley.”

This therapy is not a cure, but post-treatment MRIs and follow-up assessments show most patients feel the positive impacts months after treatment has ended. While TMS is not yet covered by OHIP, CAMH and three other Ontario hospitals currently offer treatment through participation in research studies.

“Depression is everywhere and it doesn’t have to be as bad as it is if this therapy was more accessible,” says Newberry. “Our hope is to have therapy be made more available, because seeing someone change before your eyes from day one to day 30 is remarkable.”​

 

 ​Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

 

TMS involves a series of short magnetic pulses directed to the brain to stimulate nerve cells. Since 1985, research has been conducted with TMS to understand and treat a number of neurological and psychiatric conditions. Visit the About TMS web page to learn more.

 

 Related Links

 

TMS therapy for autism

Learn about research using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) treatment for autism and watch a video describing this therapy.

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