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About Brain Photobiomodulation

The PBM Clinic at Mass General is dedicated to caring for patients suffering from treatment-resistant neuropsychiatric conditions, including major depressive disorder (MDD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and others. Our service uses transcranial photobiomodulation to treat severe neuropsychiatric conditions, particularly for people who have not had a therapeutic response from medications or who experience side effects. 

Our Treatment Approach 

What is Transcranial Photobiomodulation? How does PBM work?

Photobiomodulation (PBM) uses near-infrared light to stimulate neurons in targeted regions of the brain. The near-infrared light is delivered through diodes that are placed on the scalp and attached to a machine that sends light through the brain. This results in a temporary change in brain activity, which leads to longer-lasting changes over time. The procedure typically lasts 30 minutes or longer depending on the treatment protocol. Patients are comfortably seated, awake, and alert. PBM is completely non-invasive and does not require any anesthesia or sedation. Since no medications are administered, there are no cognitive or systematic after-effects, allowing patients to immediately return to regular activity.

A PBM treatment course can vary in the number of treatment sessions according to each individual patient. Patients undergo an initial evaluation. Throughout the treatment course, patients are closely followed by a clinician who will periodically re-evaluate the patient. Each patient’s symptoms are also tracked through standardized questionnaires to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment.

PBM has been approved by the Massachusetts General Hospital Executive Credentials Committee for off-label treatment of mood and anxiety disorders. Off-label treatments using PBM are usually not covered by insurance and come with an out-of-pocket cost. Please check with your insurance carrier to understand your out-of-pocket costs.

Our Team 

Our staff provides non-invasive treatment for patients with treatment-resistant neuropsychiatric conditions using Photobiomodulation.

Paolo Cassano, MD, PhDPaolo Cassano, MD, PhD
Adult Psychiatrist
Director, Brain Photobiomodulation Clinic
Community Psychiatrist

Frequently Asked Questions

Is PBM effective?
There are numerous studies supporting the clinical efficacy of PBM. However, PBM is not an FDA-approved treatment for any neuropsychiatric condition. Treatments are therefore considered off-label.
What happens during my PBM treatment session?
Each PBM session will take about 20-30 minutes. During treatment, your technician will:
  • Apply two diodes to your scalp
  • Administer near-infrared light for 20-30 minutes. You may feel a slight warming sensation around the diodes during the stimulation
  • Evaluate your progress throughout the treatment to assess the progression of benefits or identify complications
Who will administer my PBM treatment?
PBM is administered by trained technicians under the supervision of attending physicians from the Department of Psychiatry at Mass General. These technicians have followed an internal training and certification process under the supervision of the director of the PBM Clinical Service.
How many PBM sessions will I be getting?
Most patients receive treatment five days a week, for two or more weeks (typically a total of 10-30 treatments). Some patients will need more than 10 treatments to get the best results. The number of sessions will be decided with your care team according to your clinical progress.
Are there any negative side effects?
There is very little risk in PBM. Side effects are usually mild and will only occur during the course of stimulation. These side effects may include a warming sensation under the diode. Rare side effects include headache.
Does PBM hurt?
No. PBM patients sometimes report a mild warming sensation during stimulation, but this usually fades away shortly after stimulation.
How can I learn more about PBM?
Paolo Cassano, MD, PhD, director of the Brain Photobiomodulation Clinic, discussed PBM on the NuroFlex podcast. He talks about the multiple studies he has led since 2009 on transcranial photobiomodulation with near-infrared light for anxiety and mood disorders, including translational studies aimed at discovering the mechanisms of action of photobiomodulation. His translational studies have focused on the effects of near-infrared light on mitochondria, cerebral blood flow (DCS), brain electrical activity (EEG), and on autonomic reactivity (HRV). For his studies on photobiomodulation, he was awarded competitive, national grants such as the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation NARSAD. These groundbreaking projects have demonstrated the preliminary efficacy of near-infrared light for the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Listen to the podcast