Thursday, August 2, 2012

Mind body medicine empowers patients and helps alleviate medical symptoms


Mind body medicine empowers patients and helps alleviate medical symptoms and conditions

Mind body medicine is an evidence-based, multidisciplinary field that draws from medicine, nursing, psychology, neuroscience, genomics, nutrition, and exercise physiology to enhance the body’s natural healing capacities. This field of practice adopts the perspective that health is optimized when mind body approaches are used in combination with conventional medicine, surgery and/or pharmacology.

The field of mind body medicine was pioneered by Herbert Benson, MD, Director Emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine (BHI). In the 1970s, he coined the phrase the “relaxation response,” which is the body’s innate mechanism to reduce stress. Learning techniques to elicit this physiologic state can help to buffer the harmful effects of an activated stress response and is the cornerstone of the clinical practice and research at BHI. According to BHI’s Director, Gregory Fricchione, MD, “Mind body medicine provides scientifically-based self-care education that serves as an important link between clinical care and public health.”

Dr. Benson speaks with a patient after leading her in a relaxation response exercise.

At BHI, our clinicians pride themselves in providing patient-centered, compassionate care that aims to empower patients. Through individualized and group-based services, patients learn different skills to evoke the relaxation response, thereby reducing stress.  The programs also incorporate cognitive and behavioral skills to enhance resiliency and reinforce the importance of positive lifestyle behaviors, such as healthy nutrition, regular physical activity and restorative sleep.

In this short article, we discuss three of BHI’s most popular programs, and how they’ve impacted patient lives.

Relaxation Response Resiliency Program (3RP)

Also known as our medical symptom reduction program, the 3RP was established in 1979. The program meets weekly for eight weeks and is attended by adults who are suffering from a wide variety of symptoms, including insomnia, fatigue, GI disorders, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. The program is directed by Peg Baim, NP and Leslee Kagan, NP.

Donna Rubenoff attended the 3RP in 2009 at the suggestion of a friend; she was looking for a solution to relieve her chronic stress and medical problems. She says, “During the program, I learned to elicit the relaxation response after not having meditated a day in my life. I also learned how to restructure my negative thoughts. After meditating daily, I felt a difference in my world view.”

Since finishing the 3RP, Donna has maintained her meditation practice and credits the program with relieving her medical symptoms. She soon decided to change her career path and help others learn to meditate to elicit the relaxation response.

For the past two years, Donna has led a meditation group at her temple. She also conducts meditation groups at senior residence communities in the Greater Boston area and is teaching a series of classes at the Brookline Adult & Community Education Center. Donna recently launched a website for her business, appropriately called Mediation With Donna.

Mind Body Program for Women 

From left to right: Peg Baim, MS, NP; Aggie Casey, MS, RN and Leslee Kagan, MS, FNP

BHI offers a medical symptom reduction program geared specifically towards women. This eight-week group is valuable in that it provides an intimate setting where women are able to connect and support one another in addition to learning skills to help them cope with women’s health related symptoms. Since its inception, the group has helped thousands of women, including Patty Charette, who completed the program in 2005 and has since returned to be a peer counselor at BHI.

Patty initially came to BHI for help with anxiety, job stress, insomnia, tinnitus and a GI disorder. From the start, Patty felt a strong connection with program director Leslee Kagan. Patty states, “Leslee is a powerful healer. No doctor was able to fully help me, but she did.” She consulted with Leslee for assistance with finding specialists to define and treat her health conditions. Since completing the program, many of her symptoms have ameliorated. “I’m more resilient and less reliant on medication,” Patty says.

The program, she says, “increased her sense of power and efficacy.” While she couldn’t predict or control everything in her life, Patty realized she could influence her reactions to stressors. “This change in thinking,” she declares, “made me feel less of a victim. I can consciously make a change within myself to achieve wellness.”

The Cardiac Wellness Program

The Cardiac Wellness Program is a 13‐week program that helps participants to make heart-healthy lifestyle changes to lower their risk of heart disease and stroke, lose weight, quit smoking and manages stress. Patients with heart disease and those at risk for heart disease are eligible to participate. Each weekly session includes on-site monitored exercise, individual nutrition counseling, weekly yoga or relaxation, and stress management. Held at MGH West in Waltham, this program is led by Aggie Casey, RN.

Josephine Carbonaro is a 70-year old woman who participated in the program last year. Under severe stress, she was referred by her MGH provider for elevated blood pressure and cholesterol.

“I loved the one-on-one attention and the positive feedback I received,” she states. To Josephine, cognitive restructuring and nutrition counseling were the most beneficial parts of the program. “They teach you to notice when you get stressed, then to stop, breathe, reflect and choose.” “Learning to cook healthy meals was [the greatest benefit]. I lost 25 pounds and my cholesterol went down 40 points.”

Josephine felt so strongly about the program that she enlisted her husband to enroll, as well. “Mind body medicine really does work, there’s no question about it. It helped us undergo a life change.”

At BHI, our nurses and clinical staff help patients discover their innate ability to heal. Darshan Mehta, MD, Medical Director, sums it up nicely. “Our goal is to teach patients skills. We want patients to be in the driver’s seat of their own health.”


Please visit our website at and send inquiries about our upcoming programs at MGH  to Sue Clough at or 617-643-6054. For the Cardiac Wellness Program at MGH West, contact Lauren Lortie at or 781-487-6100.

MGH healthcare providers are able to refer patients to BHI via the CRMS application. If you do not have access to CRMS, please download a referral form.

This article originally appeared in the July 19, 2012 issue of Caring Headlines, an MGH publication. Read the whole issue here.


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