By Jen Kohlenberger
So you’ve been approved for MeRT. Congratulations!
Receiving MeRT as part of your mental health treatment plan is an amazing opportunity. If you’re like me, you’re thinking, “finally, this will be the thing that makes me better.” And while MeRT is effective in treating various conditions, it’s important to have realistic expectations as you begin your sessions.
Oftentimes, we come to treatment in crisis. We’re in desperate need of relief. Unfortunately, in treating mental health, there are no quick or easy fixes. Regardless of the modality – work, commitment, and patience are required in order to experience the desired results. MeRT is no different.
What is MeRT?
MeRT stands for Magnetic eResonance Therapy. It is a targeted form of TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation), guided by EEG. It is a non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical, safe and effective treatment for depression, anxiety, ADHD, ASD, PTSD, OCD, TBI and other brain dysfunction.
Before you begin treatment, you will have an EEG. EEG stands for Electroencephalogram, and is a medical test that measures and records the electrical activity of the brain and provides information about brain function.
During the EEG, a technician will fit you with an electrode cap. The cap is attached to wires that connect to an EEG machine. The technician will use a syringe to apply a conductive gel to your scalp through the little holes of the cap. This can be mildly uncomfortable but is generally not painful.
Once you are hooked up to the machine, the technician will turn the lights off and tell you that they are going to begin recording. During the 10 minutes, you are to remain awake but calm, with your eyes closed, and allow non-distressing thoughts to come and go freely.
Pro Tip: Don’t bother washing your hair before the test because you will definitely need to wash it after. Be prepared to have two red marks on your forehead for a short time after the test. If you have anxiety and struggle with sitting still in silence for long periods of time, you can request to play music. This was very helpful for me to stay calm and redirect my wandering thoughts.
The EEG is a painless and non-invasive procedure. It typically takes about 30 minutes to an hour to complete. For MeRT purposes, your EEG report will include information about these types of brain waves: Delta Waves (these are the slowest brain waves and are usually associated with deep sleep or certain brain disorders), Theta Waves (these are slower waves that can be seen during light sleep and in some meditative states, Alpha Waves (these are present when a person is awake but relaxed with their eyes closed), Beta Waves (these are faster waves seen when a person is awake and engaged in mental activities).
After the test, your provider will interpret the EEG recordings to identify any abnormal patterns or irregularities and go over this information with you. The results help in creating your MeRT treatment plan.
Daily MeRT Sessions
MeRT is administered to you 5 days a week. At the beginning of each session, you will be asked a few questions about how you’re feeling, what time you went to sleep and what time you woke up, and how much sunlight you got between the hours of 7-11am. Typically during your first session your technician will determine your motor threshold, based on your response to the stimulation. From then on, while you are seated comfortably, the magnetic coil will be positioned over a specific area of your head, depending on the targeted brain region. You will receive a series of brief and intense electrical currents passed through this coil. The location and intensity are customized to you and your needs. You may experience tapping or clicking sensations on your scalp, along with muscle contractions in the targeted area. These sensations are generally mild and temporary. Each session will be about 30-45 mins depending on your treatment protocol. Each stimulation lasts 5 seconds, during which you are asked to close your eyes. The machine is essentially training your brain to learn these relaxed, awake brain waves so that it can produce them on its own more efficiently in the future.
Pro Tip: Bring a snack– many people experience hunger after a MeRT session. Some side effects to prepare for include fatigue or insomnia, and headaches. These are mild and subside rather quickly.
EEG tests are done about every two weeks during treatment to evaluate the progress. You will meet with your provider and look at the changes to your EEG, comparing one test to another, as well as to the target goal. At this time, your provider may make changes to your protocol in order to reach your desired results within the treatment timeline.
Pro Tip: Don’t give the EEG as much value as your actual experience. Notable changes in the test can vary from patient to patient, but your symptom relief and how you feel are much more informative, reliable, and ultimately more important than the test results.
How Can I Increase Efficacy And Have Lasting Results?
Just like any type of training, consistency is key. The more steady repetition over time, the more likely your brain will adopt the activity and it will stick! This means: don’t miss sessions.
Also, your routine and behaviors outside of treatment are just as important as the treatment itself. Why? If MeRT is successful with repetition and consistency, it only makes sense that we need to continue routines and behavior that mimic what MeRT tells our brain to do. We want to do things that encourage the same waves as MeRT, and minimize things that overstimulate or work against the waves.
Sleep. Restful sleep (especially between the hours of 10pm and 2am) is crucial for your brain to recover from its MeRT “workout”.
Sunlight. Get at least 30 minutes of morning sunlight (between 7-11am). During this time the sun has the most concentrated healing properties. This sun supports the new waves and promotes healthy hormone production. More blue light in the morning helps your body naturally recognize when to be more awake and when to wind down for sleep.
Screen Time. It’s imperative to limit screen time especially in the evening. Blue light later in the day confuses our brain about when to be awake and alert vs. when to rest. It fights the work that is being done by MeRT.
Substance Use. Alcohol and marijuana/THC negatively interfere with your MeRT results. Sober living is required to receive and benefit from MeRT.
It’s best to adopt a healthy routine during your treatment because it not only will improve your results, but it will prepare you for a long-term lifestyle that supports those results. If you receive MeRT, experience symptom relief, and feel better overall, the best thing you can do is continue the things that will encourage those healthy brain waves for the rest of your life. The things you were doing before have not been serving you, so it’s time to make some changes.
Something to think about: MeRT is a highly effective but specialized treatment. Many people don’t get approved for treatment and cannot afford to pay for it out of pocket. If you’re in a position to receive this state of the art treatment, do everything you can to make it count and make it last.
In closing, keep your expectations realistic. In my experience, my most notable improvements from MeRT I have recognized more and more overtime, as I encounter different experiences and reflect on them. Changes in mood, how I respond to things, emotional regulation, quality of sleep, and ability to relax, focus, and be present, are all not only noticeable to me, but also to the people around me. The benefits of MeRT happened subtly but steadily and the overall impact has been vast. I hope you’ll be able to say the same very soon!