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.
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.
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!
I can’t believe it’s already been one month working at the Benson-Henry Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital! One of the best parts about this internship is how comprehensive it is in terms of the tasks I get to work on at the Institute and the hospital. At Benson-Henry, we work on tons of different projects and studies all at the same time. Most of our studies center around the body’s reception of the relaxation response, which is essentially the opposite of the fight-or-flight response. Right now, we’re working on a study that examines various manifestations of the relaxation response (i.e. meditation or yoga) in healthy individuals who are chronically stressed, a study that tracks the same response in individuals who have a certain susceptibility gene for multiple myeloma, and a study that explores how the relaxation response can affect resident students in medical school. And those are just a few of the projects I am working on! In comparison to some of the research I do at Brandeis and in the classroom, at the BHI I really get to follow experiments all the way through and see all of their different parts come together. Because we’re working on so many projects at once, each project is usually in a different place than the one next to it. That is to say, some studies are in their beginning phases in terms of recruitment, some are in full swing in terms of data collection, others are pushing through data entry, and still others are being analyzed.
One of the best parts about this internship is that I get to combine and manipulate much of what I have learned in my psychology classes at Brandeis in science. For instance, for the chronic stress study, one of the biomedical measures we are collecting is cortisol, a steroid hormone involved in stress in the body, a hormone I have learned about in multiple classes. It’s really interesting to combine what I learned about cortisol in my Biological Basis of Motivation neuroscience class with what I learned about cortisol in my Adolescent psychology class to really see cortisol in action. Similarly, I just started a literature review for the Institute on a new research topic we are starting that will focus on stress and eating disorders. After taking Research Methods and reading multiple research articles, I am thrilled that I can incorporate those classroom lessons in practical psychology in the real world. I am especially enjoying working with the research coordinators at the BHI because they all have such different and unique research interests and have already proven to be great resources for me as I delve into the world of research and clinical psychology.
Below is a video of Dr. Herbert Benson explaining the benefits of the Mind Body Medicine.
The BHI also holds many classes for multiple populations with various focuses. Below is a video compiled by Mass General about stress, teenagers, and the relaxation response.
This week marks my second week as a research assistant intern at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. The Benson-Henry Institute is a clinical psychology institute running out of the psychiatry department at MGH where we focus on health care and research relating to mind body medicine. Specifically, the Benson-Henry Institute studies the relaxation response, which is essentially the opposite of the fight-or-flight response in the body. The BH not only studies what types of exercises and techniques can elicit the relaxation response (i.e. yoga, meditation, etc), but also how the relaxation response affects our health. Studies published out of the BH have found that the relaxation response can help cancer patients, patients suffering from various mental disorders, and just about everybody else. Some of the published work by the Benson-Henry Institute can be found here.
There is always a lot going on at BH! We have multiple studies in constant motion, as well as patients interacting with doctors, and lab work through the hospital.
As a research intern, I am lucky enough to get to work with lots of different studies. This week, we are finishing up and organizing data for a 5-year longitudinal study on stress reduction. Next week, I’ll be starting data collection and entry on a study on myeloma and its interaction with the relaxation response.
One of the other great parts about this internship, aside from really getting my hands dirty in the research realm of clinical psychology, is getting to learn about everything else and everyone else who works at MGH. Benson-Henry has wonderful ties with various parts of the hospital, from the psychiatry department to the biomedical labs. For instance, every Thursday, the psychiatry department hosts grand rounds. Though most of the interns assumed this meant walking around the hospital following a doctor, grand rounds is actually one day a week to showcase some of the work and research that simultaneously occurs sometimes behind-the-scenes in the department. Today, we heard from an intern who is about to get his PhD and wrote his dissertation on adolescent depression. He talked about how gender, race, and therapy affect depression trends. As I was walking out of the lecture with another intern from Brandeis, we reflected on how incredible it was that we were able to understand so much of the talk because of the psychology courses we had taken. We knew how his study was formatted, and we were familiar with the tests he used to understand and measure depression, and we felt comfortable asking questions.
Finally, one of the coolest parts about grand rounds is that they all take place in the Ether Dome, the site of the first surgery at Mass General. Below is a picture of the Dome.