Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation and why I use it

Today’s post is all about Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES for short and because I honestly don’t want to keep typing that). Often, when I first bring this up to clients, or mention it to other people, the first thing that comes out of their mouth (or that I assume they’re thinking based on the “what the?” look they give me) is Electric Shock therapy. No. CES is NOT Electric Shock therapy. They are two very different things. So let’s just clear the air about that right off the bat!

So what is CES?

CES is a non-invasive form of therapy which uses pulsed microcurrents to react on the electrical currents in your brain- mainly your cerebral cortex (or, the wrinkly part of your brain that contains neurons). To put it another way, your brain has a certain amount of electrical currents or electricity- it’s electric. Electricity (in my extremely basic knowledge of it) works through currents. CES uses a microcurrent to help redirect, or stimulate this current that our brains are presently functioning on. Or so the theory goes. Because honestly, even though there has been a ton of research on CES, no one knows EXACTLY how/why it works.

During a CES treatment, a person will place electrodes on their ears or head for around 20-40 minutes. The small device (most devices are around the size of a smartphone) delivers a microcurrent which in turn impacts the user’s brain waves. In those with anxiety or depression, it is thought to react on your 5-HT receptor which is known for it’s role in the production of Serotonin (widely known for it’s role in depression and anxiety).

CES has been FDA approved for use since about 1979. This means it’s been around for quite some time and is considered relatively safe. There are very few side effects with CES- but that said, some people experience a slight headache, skin irritation at the electrode site, and sometimes nausea. Although, it should be noted, these side effects are pretty rare and are considered manageable by most who experience them.

It isn’t yet available to purchase over-the-counter in the United States. Other countries however have it available for purchase without a prescription. In the US, it can be purchased with a prescription or recommendation of a licensed provider. In my experience, this seems to be fairly easy for people to obtain, and most CES companies will assist people in this process. With this said, many insurance companies do not cover the cost of these devices at this time. Not to say your insurance company won’t cover the cost- but most do not (you can always call your insurance provider and ask…never hurts!).

Why do I use CES?

In short, because it works. I’ve seen it work. Not just on myself, but with friends, family, and in my profession. I’m not going to sell it as a cure-all, because it’s not. The reality is that anxiety, depression, and insomnia are much too complex; and there is too many factors that contribute to these disorders that often times one thing alone is not going to “cure” it. Most of the time, as with many disease or disorders, there needs to be a multi-faceted approach. Yes, I’m pretty holistic minded if you haven’t gathered that by now.

I started using CES about one year ago. I had read about it and researched it prior to actually getting the opportunity to use it. And then my boss said “I’m thinking of hosting an Alpha-Stim training for my providers. Anyone interested?”….I jumped at the chance. During the training we were able to try the device ourselves. I put it on, used it, and I was sold. Hearing our trainer talk about the studies and research to support it’s use, and how to use it with patients was just an added bonus…but I was already hooked!

As I’ve mentioned on my blog before for those of you long time readers, I suffer with anxiety. Yes, I’m a therapist who has anxiety. It’s okay….I’m human. So for me, CES offered a way to help me manage my own stress and anxiety without medication. It also gave me the opportunity to share this with my patients- win/win.

In addition to being effective, it is also pretty safe to use. It has two contraindications (meaning it shouldn’t be used in these circumstances) which are pregnancy, and if a person has a pacemaker. It is contraindicated during pregnancy mainly because there are not enough, if any, studies to show it is safe to use during pregnancy and so it is better to err on the side of caution and not use it. With those two conditions in mind, CES is safe to use on pretty much everyone else…even pets! In fact, during our training, the trainer mentioned some vets use this in their practice to help calm animals down for surgery or other procedures. Cool huh?

What CES device do I use?
My Alpha Stim M Device

I use the Alpha-Stim. There are several other CES devices out there, however I feel the Alpha-Stim has been the most thoroughly researched, has been around the longest, and seems to have the best reviews/results. This is why I personally chose to use this device as I feel the most confident in it for use in my patients, myself, and my family.

One of the drawbacks to CES- and the Alpha Stim- is the price. In most cases, the Alpha Stim M costs over $1000, where as the Alpha Stim Aid (which can only be used with the ear buds) costs $600+. That’s the part where people usually gulp loudly. As a provider, I honestly wish it were more affordable up front or at least covered by most insurances, because often the price tag is what stops many from purchasing their own and so many of my patients will rely on using it only in my office. While this works, it’s not ideal. There are some company’s out there who will provide financing options for people who are interested- in my state, Begin Healing, INC is one such company.

What happens during treatment/what does it feel like?

This is probably one of the most common questions from people, after they’ve asked if it’s electric shock therapy of course. People are often a little apprehensive because, admittedly, it sounds a little scary. But trust me, it’s not.

CES is non-invasive, meaning you don’t have to put anything inside of you or be sedated to use it, and it’s pretty simple. If using the ear buds, cotton ear pads are placed on the ear buds and a couple of drops of conducting solution is placed on the pads. Then, the ear buds are clipped to the user’s ear lobes and the device setting is set.

The device can be set a frequency as high as a 6 at 100 MhZ and for 10, 20, 40, or 60 minute sessions. Most people start out at a lot lower frequency and for less time initially. I call it “getting your feet wet”. It’s scary to try something new like this, and why intimidate yourself by trying to go balls-to-the-wall? You know what I mean? Of course, with that said, if you start at a low frequency and find it isn’t enough or feel you’d like to try a higher setting, then by all means.

The best way I can describe what it feels like the first time you use it is like you’ve had a glass of wine or a couple drinks. It’s a “buzzed up” kind of feeling. I really have to find a more PG way to describe it for my underage patients- for them I usually say “kind of day dreamy” (please comment below if you have a better way to describe it!). This feeling usually comes on during the first 3-5 minutes of use and decreases slowly after that until you just hit a point of feeling relaxed. Following the first time you use it, this feeling isn’t as noticeable. Most everyone I’ve used it on describes feeling very relaxed after use. In fact, my husband dozes off every time he uses it…just for a few minutes during use, but still (I’m a mean wife…I razz him about being a “lightweight”….it’s all in good fun, he doesn’t get offended, don’t feel too bad for him).

Most people don’t notice the currents. However, occasionally you will feel a slight tingle or sensation on your ear lobes. This isn’t typically painful (although everyone pain threshold is different, I have yet to have someone tell me it’s too uncomfortable or painful). Most of the time, you don’t notice the current and feel nothing on your ear lobes except the pressure of the clips.

Even though it is deeply relaxing and calming, it is safe to drive following the use of the device. That’s usually another common question I get from people- “am I going to be able to drive home?”….yes, yes you will. You can go about your day as usual. If you notice in the picture above, there is a lanyard on the device. I wear it around my neck and go about my daily life while using it.

How often should I/do you use it? I use it daily to every other day. I feel it is a crucial part of my own personal self-care and helps me deal with the chronic stress I am exposed to in my daily life. With this said, the device does not HAVE to be used daily to be effective. Some see results with weekly use, and some with use two to three times a week. It honestly depends on the person.

Typically, I use mine in the morning right after I wake up. I have a sort of meditation/quiet time practice every morning, and I’ve incorporated Alpha Stim as a part of this routine. I also find my stress and anxiety are highest in the morning when I wake up, and so I feel this helps me to ease this so I am able to go about the rest of my day as a real live functioning human.

So, I hope this gave you a deeper understanding of another way to approach anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Please feel free to comment below with questions or ideas for future posts.

Until next time,


One Reply to “Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation and why I use it”

  1. I have used the Alpha Stim myself and I recommend it. It is benign, convenient, simple to use, and effective. Thanks, Jennifer!


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