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.

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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’

One month into research

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.



Back to the books!

Ellie Rosenthal ’16

First Week (back) in ParaDEIS

As a WOW fellow I am so happy to be joining a group of engaged, motivated and adventurous students. While this year’s WOW fellows span the globe from India to LA, South Africa to Vietnam, I have begun my summer work in more familiar ground: Waltham, Massachusetts. I am working in the Laboratory for Biological Health Psychology right here at Brandeis University. Though my surroundings are familiar, my experience thus far feels new and exciting. Waltham as a city has much more to offer than I realized: local cuisine (Lizzy’s Ice Cream? In a Pickle?!), a farmers market en plein air,  a beautiful bike path, an outstanding thrift shop, and there’s still more to find! I am living independently and looking forward to this opportunity to expand my self-reliance and personal initiative.

Health psychology is a fascinating new field, and I am particularly interested in it as I intend to pursue a career that promotes both psychological and physiological wellness. The Laboratory for Biological Health Psychology investigates how psychosocial states – such as anxiety, depression, acute stress and chronic stress – can affect our health, and the intracellular pathways that link these mental states to physical outcomes. I became interested in this lab while taking Health Psychology at Brandeis. I expressed my interest to my TA, and she put me in contact with the professor in charge. I began attending lab meetings, and was offered a position as a summer research assistant.

As a research assistant in this lab I am primarily working on a new, upcoming study known as Athletes and Stress. The lab team consists of one head professor, several Ph.D. and masters students, myself, and one other undergraduate research assistant. This team is inspiring, diverse, friendly, helpful and funny, and it is an enjoyable environment to work in. Athletes and Stress is a large and long-term project looking at differences in the emotional and biological stress response in student athletes, active non-athletes, and minimally active. The purpose of this study is to examine the extent to which these three groups differ in their stress responses, and determine the potential contributing factors for these group differences.

My lab responsibilities are varied and will change over the course of the summer. While we await final project approval from the Institutional Review Board, I am being trained in the lab protocol and procedure, learning about equipment use, helping to set up and format the two-week take-home diary portion of the study, and doing literature search and review. Next week I will also be joining a subgroup within Athletes and Stress. This group of graduate students is working on writing papers from different angles relevant to the study. I will be helping find sources for their papers, peer-edit their work, and engage in frequent group discussions.

I will be concentrating on the diary portion of Athletes and Stress as I am being allowed to do an independent focus on data collected in the diary. For this independent portion I am doing lots of literature review.  If you’re interested in learning a bit more about how stress affects our health and the types of research being done in this area, check out this fantastic documentary on the work of Robert Sapolsky. Sapolsky is a neuroendocrinologist and professor at Stanford University, and a leading researcher in this field.

This summer I am looking forward to learning the many steps that go into conceptualizing, creating, and conducting a psychological study. Since I am joining in its preliminary stages, I have the chance to see how a research question is developed into a full-fledged study.  I hope to learn what sort of complications psychological researchers face and how we can overcome these obstacles. I also hope to learn what aspects of research ignite my interest and my personal challenges and strengths. I think this will be a summer of learning and growth, and I am excited to have begun!

– Clara Gray ’15