The Loss of a Pioneer in Mind-Body Medicine: Herbert Benson, MD

Posted On: March 30th, 2022

Peter Wayne, PhD, Director, Osher Center

The Loss of a Pioneer in Mind-Body Medicine: Herbert Benson, MD

It was with a heavy heart that I learned of the passing of Dr. Herbert Benson on Feb 3, one of the pioneers in the field of integrative medicine. It is unlikely that the now well-established academic discipline of mind-body medicine would exist without Dr. Benson’s trail blazing vision and tireless efforts. Mind-body researchers like myself stand on his shoulders.

As is outlined in his New York Times obituary, Dr. Benson had a gift for seeing and exploring new connections. His initial insights regarding the Relaxation Response arose from his empirical observations as a cardiologist, noticing not only that stressful behaviors negatively impact cardiovascular risk factors, but conversely, behaviors that activate the parasympathetic could be harnessed to reduce such risk. His curiosity led him to studying practices as diverse as Transcendental Meditation, Tibetan Buddhism, and secular prayer––he was often ‘swimming against the current’ of conservative academic cardiology.

In the past 15 years, I have personally enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with researchers and educators from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine (BHI) at Massachusetts General Hospital. I have witnessed first-hand their impact, which continues to grow though successful international conferences, ground breaking research evaluating practical clinical interventions such as the Stress Management and Resiliency Training (SMART) program, and clinical trainings.

Dr. Benson appreciated the unique position that unorthodox programs such as the BHI and Osher Center could hold in relatively conservative and highly visible environments such as the Harvard Medical School. I fondly recall the first time I was invited to give a plenary address at one of the BHI international conferences. After kindly introducing me, as I came to the podium he leaned over and whispered in my ear, “thank you for wearing a tie.”

On behalf of my Osher Center colleagues, I wish to express my gratitude to Dr. Benson for his vision and for laying the foundation for our current efforts. Together with the BHI, and other members of Osher’s ‘center without walls’, we remain committed to researching developing, and implementing programs that care for the whole person—body, mind, heart and spirit.

Peter M. Wayne, PhD
Osher Center for Integrative Medicine
Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital