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Treat OCD with TMS therapy at Montare Behavioral Health in California and Arizona

Using TMS for OCD: What to Know

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Prescription medications and certain forms of talk therapy can be effective for many people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder, but these interventions don’t work for everyone. Since it was approved by the FDA in 2018, TMS for OCD has proved to be a beneficial option for people who did not achieve the relief they hoped for via medication or psychotherapy. 

Understanding OCD and TMS Therapy

To get a better understanding of how TMS can be used for treating OCD, it can help to look at the disorder and the treatment separately first. We’ll begin with OCD.


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that (as its name suggests) can cause people to struggle with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors

In the context of OCD, obsessions are recurrent, intrusive thoughts that are sources of considerable distress. Examples of common obsessions include:

  • Intense fear of becoming contaminated
  • Emotional anguish when items are out of order
  • Excessive concern that you’ve forgotten to turn off the oven or failed to complete some other basic household safety task
  • Sudden urges to harm someone, such as by steering your car into a crowd of pedestrians
  • Unwanted mental images of a sexual or blasphemous nature

Compulsions are actions that a person feels forced to engage in. Examples of OCD-related compulsions include:

  • Washing your hands, brushing your teeth, or showering an excessive amount of times every day
  • Needing to touch certain items in a predetermined order before you can leave a room
  • Turning lights on and off multiple times, or unlocking and relocking a door, to ensure that the action has been completed
  • Avoiding certain activities or situations, such as refusing to shake hands, in response to an obsession such as fear of contamination

It is important to emphasize that the symptoms of OCD are not merely personality quirks or a strong desire for order. They are unwanted thoughts and urges that can cause great psychological pain and undermine a person’s ability to live a full and satisfying life.


Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is a noninvasive type of treatment that uses electromagnetic pulses to stimulate areas of the brain that may be associated with certain mental health concerns.

What does the TMS therapy machine look like

Modern TMS therapy began with the development of prototype devices in the 1980s. After decades of research and advances in the technology, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved TMS for the treatment of depression in 2008. Over the next 10 years, the FDA also authorized healthcare providers to use TMS therapy to treat patients who had chronic pain and OCD.

During a TMS session, the patient usually wears a helmet-like device that contains a small metal coil. The device is usually positioned with the coil touching the patient’s scalp near their forehead. When the device is activated, it emits one or more electromagnetic pulses. These pulses pass through the skull and reach a few centimeters into the patient’s brain.

Experts believe that the electromagnetic pulses promote greater neural activity in the area of the brain directly below the coil, which in turn increases production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.

Does TMS Treat OCD?

As we noted in the previous section, TMS was originally approved to treat depression, but it is now also permitted to be used to help people who have OCD. 

While medication and therapy have helped many people, a significant number of OCD patients do not respond well to these services. For example, an August 2022 article in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry reported the following statistics about substandard outcomes:

  • 40% of OCD patients don’t improve with medication.
  • 25% of OCD patients don’t take part in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) sessions. 
  • 31% of OCD patients who begin CBT end their participation before completing a full course.

Since 2018, when the FDA approved TMS for obsessive-compulsive disorder, many people whose symptoms did not improve through more traditional interventions have experienced reductions in the frequency and severity of OCD symptoms.

Benefits of TMS Over Traditional Therapy for Treating OCD

The specific benefits that a person receives from any type of therapy can be influenced by a variety of factors, including the types of symptoms they have been experiencing, how these symptoms have affected their life, and if they are also struggling with a co-occurring substance use disorder or mental health concern.

With these caveats in mind, the following are examples of the potential benefits of TMS for OCD:

  • TMS is a virtually painless technique that poses little risk of serious side effects.
  • TMS sessions are relatively brief, typically lasting about 30 minutes.
  • TMS therapy can be provided on an inpatient or outpatient basis.
  • TMS can address the underlying neurological component of OCD.
  • TMS may be able to help people who did not benefit from other treatment techniques.

The good news is that you may not have to choose among TMS, CBT, and medication. For some people, TMS therapy proves to be an effective complement to traditional therapy and/or prescription medications. 

We mention this in many blog posts, but it bears repeating here: There is no single path of treatment that works for everyone who has a mental health disorder. What’s most important are understanding the many options that are available to you and selecting a provider who will customize their services according to your specific needs and goals.

Contact Us About Treating OCD With Our TMS

Montare Behavioral Health provides a full continuum of personalized care at multiple locations throughout southern California. Our programming is designed to serve adults whose lives have been disrupted by OCD, other mental health concerns, and co-occurring substance use disorders.

Treatment options at our OCD facilities include inpatient care, day treatment, and intensive outpatient programming. In addition to TMS for OCD, we also offer a dynamic array of other therapies and support services, which ensures that we can develop truly individualized treatment plans for every person who chooses to heal with us.

In each of our locations and at every level of care, our patients work in close collaboration with a team of highly skilled and deeply compassionate professionals. We understand how devastating untreated OCD can be, and we are committed to offering the focused solutions that will help each patient achieve their treatment goals and experience improved quality of life.

To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call us today.