Mental Health Champions: How Ben Spielberg of TMS & Brain Health Is Helping To Advance Treatments…

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Mental Health Champions: How Ben Spielberg of TMS & Brain Health Is Helping To Advance Treatments for People Suffering From Major Mood Disorders

In contrast, you can’t argue physical ailments. They’re visible. If your arm is broken, someone sees your cast. With a mental health condition, many people won’t understand it unless someone close to them has dealt with mental health issues. Mental health conditions aren’t worn on your sleeve, and the messaging, education, and awareness are not present enough for general society to make sense of mental health conditions.

As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Ben Spielberg, M.S., Founding Neuroscientist & Chief Executive Officer.

With a decade of experience in brain-based behavioral health, Ben Spielberg, M.S., has devoted his career to advancing treatments for those suffering from major mood disorders, such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. During graduate school at Columbia University, he developed a specialty in clinical neuromodulation and neuroimaging, in which he used brain scans to predict off-label uses for TMS, neurofeedback, and ketamine. Spielberg’s research has been published in prestigious journals such as Brain Stimulation and ACR Open Rheumatology; and presented at The Clinical TMS Society, The International Neuropsychological Society, and the Western Psychological Association.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I grew up going back and forth between Los Angeles and New York. Both my mother and my father were clinical psychologists, which⁠ — as I’m sure you can imagine — had both its advantages and disadvantages.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?

At TMS & Brain Health, we’ve made it our goal to create a respite for people who have tried the usual treatments for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other general mood disorders. We see people who have tried various medications and forms of talk therapy and haven’t seen any results.

It’s such a special opportunity. If this were twenty years ago, there really wouldn’t be any other option for those patients⁠, except for maybe electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). However, because of all the scientific developments achieved in the past twenty years, we now have many different options that we can offer people — treatments like transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), ketamine infusions, and neurofeedback⁠. These are all evidence-based techniques that have higher probabilities of effectiveness, better efficacy, and safer side-effect profiles than most traditional treatments.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

When I was young, I learned about neurofeedback, which is a way to volitionally control certain parts of one’s own brain in order to decrease some sort of psychiatric symptoms. For instance, if you look at a screen and are connected with an EEG recording your brainwaves, whenever the computer detects any sort of aberrant or maladaptive brain patterns, you’ll get negative feedback on the screen. It will either dim or shrink. The converse is whenever you exercise “positive brain pattern” (i.e., the brain patterns we wish to reinforce), then you get positive feedback in which the screen enlarges and brightens. Over time, one learns how to control their own brain patterns.

I was doing neurofeedback at a technician level and helping other facilities set up offices to offer neurofeedback. When I graduated undergrad with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, I felt like I needed more of a hard science understanding, and I was really fascinated by the field of neuromodulation, which focuses on all of the non-pharmaceutical ways to actually change what’s going on in the brain. So I went to Columbia University for graduate school. When I was there, I got a job working at a TMS clinic and started learning about other forms of neuromodulation. Seeing the change happen for patients in real time inspired me to do what I do now. I’d see people who had tried 10–20 different types of medication with no relief whatsoever and within a few weeks of doing TMS, they were smiling and laughing again, ready to play basketball or go back to work, or whatever they wanted to do.

Being there on the technician side of things and seeing patients get better and better every single day made me want to start my own clinic, TMS & Brain Health.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I wouldn’t say I had an “aha moment,” necessarily, but rather a series of small moments that led me here. That final trigger came after looking at other providers and realizing that most in this country use very out-of-the-box, one-size-fits-all approaches. I knew that I could create a practice that personalizes treatments for each patient and treats each person as an individual as opposed to just another number.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

She was the first patient with whom we really explored personalization of the protocols. This was a woman in her thirties. She hadn’t worked in four years because of her depression. She had some anxiety, OCD, and PTSD. She had run the gamut in terms of medication. Every medication would work for about six months before it would stop working. Her psychiatrist would increase the dosage but then it would eventually stop working again after another six months. It reached a point where she was maxed out of a lot of SSRIs.

We structured her protocol by starting with an excitatory protocol on the left side of her head for about three minutes, which worked really well, and her depression diminished quickly, but it left her feeling anxious and with sleep disturbances. In response, we added a more calming protocol on the right side for about three minutes, which is standard for that protocol. That approach ended up having the reverse effect; it was too calming and started slowing her down. All of a sudden, instead of sleeping too little, she was sleeping too much.

As a team, we decided to keep turning down this right-side calming stimulation pattern until we reached a point where her sleep became perfectly optimized, she had no anxiety or OCD symptoms, and the depression was still at bay. That landed us at a protocol of 20 seconds, which was unheard of for TMS at the time, but it has become a successful protocol for my patients today. It’s a microdose of stimulation, and she was the first person with whom we explored that small of a duration. After four weeks, she was in complete remission, all of her questionnaire scores were in the normal range, she went back to work, and she’s still doing fantastic to this day.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I think my experience was the contrary in many ways. Early in founding TMS & Brain Health, I had people that didn’t necessarily share my vision for what I wanted the practice to be, and a lot of exterior challenges that tested my resolve and drive to be successful. While we were getting off the ground, I woke up at 5 a.m. every single day and started working without knowing if this would work out in the next few months. And once it finally felt like we were getting into gear, the pandemic hit. But, somehow we still managed to make it work despite battling against many odds getting the business off the ground.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

Today’s stigmas about mental illness trace back to antiquated iterations of past society. Back in the day, if a man expressed sadness or discussed his mental health, he was seen as weak.

In contrast, you can’t argue physical ailments. They’re visible. If your arm is broken, someone sees your cast. With a mental health condition, many people won’t understand it unless someone close to them has dealt with mental health issues. Mental health conditions aren’t worn on your sleeve, and the messaging, education, and awareness are not present enough for general society to make sense of mental health conditions.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

The healthcare system in the U.S. is, at least partially, driven by financial components. We have a large issue with getting healthcare reimbursed by insurance companies, especially mental health care. A lot of insurance companies subcontract their mental health departments out to other companies. They have very difficult requirements to get mental health treatments covered; when they are covered, the reimbursement rates are substantially less than those of any other specialty. There has been a significant uphill fight for mental health care.

In Southern California, I’ve spoken with countless people who can’t find a good psychiatrist or therapist that actually accepts their insurance policy.

What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

First and foremost, I like to optimize my health and wellness with simple lifestyle strategies that I can control every day.

  • Exercise. First thing in the morning, before the phone starts ringing and emails start rolling in, I go to the gym. It’s become my meditation space — a place where I can set goals and make a point to get better each day, whether that’s lifting more weight or running longer.
  • Sleep. I make it a point to stick to a sleep schedule and ensure I get enough rest to function at my best every day.
  • Nutrition. I make it a point to eat healthy and avoid sugar at all costs because sugar can cause dysregulation and negatively affect my mood and cognition.

Secondly, I focus on the company around me, which is a huge source of energy and inspiration in my day-to-day life.

  • Work. I intentionally create a workplace environment where everyone feels appreciated and part of the team.
  • Companionship. Outside of work, I make it a priority to spend time with my loved ones — my dog, in particular.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

I think graduate school ruined my ability to read anything other than research papers and textbooks, but there were a couple of books that have been formative in cementing my interest for pursuing a brain-based career: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks, a series of true stories about patients who were seen by the British neurologist Oliver Sacks; and Brain On Fire by Susannah Cahalan, a first-person story about a woman with a rare disease who was seen by a number of different specialists before eventually finding out what was causing her personality, cognition, and mood to deteriorate.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can visit

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Mental Health Champions: How Ben Spielberg of TMS & Brain Health Is Helping To Advance Treatments… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.