Final Reflections from my time at the Benson-Henry Institute

I originally set out with the goal of learning the Relaxation Response and being able to understand it and integrate it into daily life. However, this is only one of so many things I learned during my time at BHI this summer. In addition to learning about the Relaxation Response, through participating in team conference calls, I learned about the science behind mind-body medicine in general, neural pathways that allow RR to be effective, and best practices for utilizing RR in daily life.

This experience definitely helped to clarify my career interests. I have never before considered research as a field of interest for my career, mainly because I never had much exposure to it. Through my internship, I learned that research is not simply lab work. My particular role in research at BHI was in recruitment for and maintenance of clinical trials, and I did the majority of my work with contacting and enrolling participants. I learned that research is so much more than strictly bench-work, and that has made me more likely to consider a field in a health-related field that is more research-intensive.

My advice to someone seeking an internship in the health field is to be open-minded about the type of internship you envision yourself pursuing. In my personal experience, I had never had experience with research and I did not know what about research would interest me. I jumped into the field with this internship and I have been completely surprised about what my work has entailed. Mostly, I just did not know that the recruiting work I was doing is involved under the umbrella category of research. To someone looking to pursue an internship at BHI, my advice would be to ask lots of questions. There were many topics that I learned about through our group conference calls, especially regarding trials that had gone on prior to my arrival at BHI, so I was unfamiliar with the material discussed and the terms used. By asking many questions I caught up and feel like I had a better grasp on the subject matter at hand. (For an idea of all their trials, consult their homepage under “Conditions & Treatments)

I am particularly proud of my ability to pick up many tasks quickly throughout the course of the summer. Between the different trials that were going on and the many components of each one, I  learned such a wide variety of skills. Not only that, but through careful notes and detailed SOPs which I created during my first month of working, I was able to teach other interns when they arrived. This really reaffirmed the amount I had learned, when I saw how much I was able to teach others.

That is all for my time with WOW. I am happy to report that I will be continuing as an intern at BHI through the Fall semester, so my learning is far from over! I am so glad I had the experience that WOW offered me this summer, and the skills I  developed will remain with me going forward!Gianna Petrillo ’19


Midway Update from The Benson-Henry Institute!

Hello WOW Blog readers!

Gianna here, with a report of my second month’s adventures at the Benson-Henry Institute. This month has been a busy one, with an increase in responsibilities and a greater variety of tasks that I have been exploring.

As an update from my last blog post, I mentioned the RR sessions we hold here at MGH. I led my very own RR session earlier this month! To think I only began working here at the beginning of the summer and that I have already been trained  to lead RR has been a real, tangible indicator of all the information I have gathered so far. I’ve even included a picture of me from my first RR session I led.

Two current highlights I will be reporting on in this post are my creation of hair collection packages, another aspect of our clinical trial upkeep, and my work on an abstract—my first piece of research writing here at BHI! For the hair packages, when we perform clinical trials an important part is hair collection. The hair is very carefully and securely packaged when it is sent to us, and we record the hair samples we receive before sending them to the lab for data analysis. I have learned the entire process of hair collection, including package preparation and sending, package receiving and data entry, and transport to the lab. The data that hair samples can provide us with is one’s cortisol level: a biological marker of stress in an individual. Because our clinical trials aim to reduce stress, the hair samples combined with our questionnaires that rely on self-reporting measures give us an indicator of the changing stress levels over the duration of a relaxation intervention. When I discovered all of this data is contained in your hair I was amazed! And one more interesting fact: every centimeter of hair from your scalp down accurately represents one month. So in collecting 3cm of hair, we are able to collect stress data for the past 3 months! Click here to learn more about the cortisol levels your hair contains.

Below I’ve included a picture of the hair sample kit I created—I discovered the most uniform and methodical way to create hair packages for collection was to create several in the same fashion. It begins with a large envelope which holds everything, and inside we included a blank envelope for easy return and a plastic bag with foil in which participants put their hair sample.

My other project that I am currently working on is an abstract. This is giving me a chance to utilize my understanding of BHI’s methods and objectives—to elicit the relaxation response and monitor how it works in practice—in order to contextualize and analyze data from one of our clinical trials. For a reminder about mind body therapies, which are the focus of our institute, see this site which outlines some facts about Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). This abstract will be submitted for MGH Clinical Research Day and as a future task for this internship I will create a poster analyzing and explaining the data our center has gathered. In reflecting on my initial thoughts when beginning my internship, I would say I underestimated the degree to which I would do hands-on work and create tangible products.

As I reflect on my time at my internship so far and look forward to the time I have left here, I have appreciated the atmosphere that the BHI research team has created and welcomed me into. There have been numerous times I gave updates over conference calls or offered my opinion during group meetings and I have always felt like my contributions were valued. This has given me a positive outlook on the healthcare field which I plan to enter one day as a profession, and this experience has given me a great jumping-off point. Another feature my internship has given me that differs from other work I have done is that, particularly in the context of clinical trials, there are always many tasks that go into organizing and managing the day-to-day operation, so it has been challenging to prioritize which work is most pertinent at the moment. In academic life there are more regular deadlines and there is more direct supervision over individual tasks, such as assignments and assessments. Here, though, all members of the team have so many things they are simultaneously managing that it becomes very important for each individual to learn how to juggle many small tasks in any given day. Thus, some of the skills I have improved upon most are time-management and organization, which I thought I was an expert at before. If anything, until I had to handle upwards of ten tasks in a given day for a variety of up to three or four different projects I did not realize how much more I had to learn. But the learning curve was steep and quick, and now I feel that my efficiency and organizational skills have improved exponentially. These are absolutely skills I will use in the coming academic year, both for schoolwork and in the leadership roles I hold outside of the classroom.

Tune in a few weeks from now when I will be posting my final blog post! It’s hard to believe that my time at BHI this summer is almost over!

GP ’19



Beginning at the Benson-Henry Institute

Hello all! I am excited to be sharing my journey interning at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. BHI, an MGH affiliate, rallies around the Relaxation Response: a technique that teaches people awareness techniques and coping skills to combat everyday stress and more challenging situations when they arise. BHI’s mission is to encourage the incorporation of the Relaxation Response into all forms of healthcare worldwide, through research and clinical practice. The majority of their work is done through research and clinical trials and providing individuals with tools and methods to reduce the impact of stress on their lives. And it’s working! In fact, a study BHI recently conducted shows that “BHI Participants Reduced Doctors Visits by 43%.” If you’re interested in reading more about this study please click here.

(Image from:

In my first two weeks at BHI I have become deeply immersed in the clinical trial process. Currently, we are working on two big groups of studies that I am part of. The first, a pair of parent studies, are evaluating the efficacy of the Relaxation Response through a BHI-developed Resiliency Program on reducing stress in two parent populations. The studies are virtually identical procedurally, and they are wait-list control group trials which means participants are divided randomly into either a wait-list or a control group and their stress levels are compared before and after they undergo the program. What I find to be really interesting is the way BHI measures stress. For this study, they use both self-reporting measures through a series of surveys as well as biological indicators of stress through quantitative measures.


The second type of study is still in startup, so while I  participate in the recruiting process firsthand for the parent studies, I also  see what goes into a startup for a study before it even begins. For our study in startup,  I  participated in a full study run-through where I acted as the patient and we tested the electronics and walked through the entire study visit to ensure it will run smoothly when it begins.

A diagram of the Resiliency Approach our Program Teaches (

I have done so many things during my short time here already. I have learned to read and understand study protocols, recruited on a large scale for the final cohort of the parent study, learned to converse over the phone with potential interested participants and explain our programs as well as answer questions, and I have  interacted with numerous clinicians including physicians during research team meetings. I have undertaken the important task of writing detailed SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) to aid in the training of future interns. I have participated in an RR session, where we lead relaxations for hospital staff to elicit the Relaxation Response during the workday, and I hope to lead one of these sessions during my time here. I now have a good understanding of the importance of the Relaxation Response and I hope that by leading an RR session and learning more about the detailed practices which we teach in our programs I will be able to implement the RR into my daily life and teach those around me to do the same!


I have already learned so much in my first two weeks at BHI and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead! I have BHI to thank for welcoming and teaching me, and I have much more to learn. I’ll be back with another update in a few weeks!

-GP ’19’