Herbert Benson

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Herbert Benson
Born 1935 (age 79–80)
Yonkers, New York, US
Nationality U.S.
Fields Medicine, physiology
Institutions Harvard Medical School
Beth Israel Hospital
Massachusetts General Hospital
Andover Newton Theological School
Alma mater Harvard Medical School
Known for Great Prayer Experiment
Benson-Henry Institute
Spouse Marilyn Benson
Children 2, Jennifer and Gregory

Herbert Benson (born 1935), is an American medical doctor, cardiologist, and founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He is Mind/Body Medicine Professor at Harvard Medical School and Director Emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute (BHI) at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is Founding Trustee of The American Institute of Stress. He has contributed more than 190 scientific publications and 12 books.[1] More than five million copies of his books have been printed in different languages.[2][3]

Started in 1998,[4] Benson became the leader of the so-called "Great Prayer Experiment", or technically the "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP)". The result published in 2006 concluded that intercessory prayer has no beneficial effect on patients with coronary artery bypass graft surgery.[5] He, however, still believes that prayer has positive health benefits.[6]

Benson coined "Relaxation Response" (and wrote a book by the same title) as a scientific term for meditation, and he used it to describe the ability of the body to stimulate relaxation of muscle and organs.[7]


Benson was born in Yonkers, New York. He graduated with B.A. in Biology from Wesleyan University in 1957. He entered medical course at Harvard Medical School and earned his MD degree in 1961. He continued post doctoral pragrammes at King County Hospital, Seattle; University Hospital, University of Washington, Seattle; National Heart Institute, Bethesda; University of Puerto Rico; and Thorndike Memorial Laboratory, Boston City Hospital. In 1969 He was appointed Instructor in Physiology and later Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He was promoted to Assistant Professor of Medicine the next year. From 1972 he became Associate Professor. He was appointed Associate Professor at the Beth Israel Hospital in 1977, the post he held until 1987. Then he returned to the medical faculty at Harvard. With the establishment of Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard in 1992, he became Associate Professor, and is now full Professor. He is practising Physician at Beth Israel Hospital since 1974. Between 1990 and 1997 he was Lecturer in Medicine and Religion at Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre.[8][9]

Benson became founding President of the Mind/Body Medical Institute of Harvard Medical School in 1988. He founded the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine of the Massachusetts General Hospital in 2006,[10] where he became its Director.[1]


Benson is a pioneer in mind/body medicine, one of the first Western physicians to bring spirituality and healing into medicine. In his 40+ year career, he has defined the relaxation response and continues to lead teaching and research into its efficacy in counteracting the harmful effects of stress. The recipient of numerous national and international awards, he lectures widely about mind/body medicine and the BHI's work. His expertise is frequently sought by national and international news media, and he appears in scores of newspapers, magazines, and television programs each year. His research extends from the laboratory to the clinic to Asian field expeditions. His work serves as a bridge between medicine and religion, East and West, mind and body, and belief and science.

Benson participated in a dialogue that was held at Harvard in March 1991, as part of a conversation between scientists and Buddhists initiated by 14th Dalaï Lama, organized by the Mind and Life Institute. Book Review: MindScience.

Mind body medicine[edit]

Benson has pioneered mind-body research, focusing on stress and the relaxation response in medicine. In his research, the mind and body are one system, in which meditation can play a significant role in reducing stress responses. He continues to pioneer medical research into bodymind questions. He introduced the term "Relaxation Response" as a scientific alternative for meditation. According to him, relaxation response is the ability of the body to induce decreased activity of muscle and organs. It is an opposite reaction to the fight or flight response.[7] With Robert Keith Wallace, he observed that relaxation response reduced metabolism, rate of breathing, heart rate, and brain activity.[1][11]

Intercessory prayer[edit]

Benson started a research project in 1998 to study the efficacy of prayer among patients undergoing coronary artery bypass graft surgery. The project funded by the John Templeton Foundation explicitly claimed that its objective was not to prove or disprove the existence of god.[4] It became popularly known as "Great Prayer Experiment",[12] but technically called the "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP)". It was described as "the most intense investigation ever undertaken of whether prayer can help to heal illness."[13] The result published in 2006 concluded that intercessory prayer has no beneficial effect on patients with coronary artery bypass graft surgery.[5][14][15]

Personal life[edit]

Benson married Marilyn Benson, and they have two children, Jennifer and Gregory.[9]

Awards and honours[edit]

  • Mosby Scholarship Award of Harvard Medical School in 1961
  • DHL (honorary) from Becker College in 1997, from Lasell College in 2002, and from Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology 2007
  • Medical Foundation Fellowship during 1967-1969
  • Fellow of the American College of Cardiology in 1976
  • Medical Self-Care Award for 1976
  • Honorary President, Chinese Society of Behavioral Medicine and Biofeedback in 1988
  • Distinguished Alumnus Award of Wesleyan University in 1992
  • DPS (honorary) from Cedar Crest College in 2000
  • Hans Selye Award of 2000
  • National Samaritan Award from The Samaritan Institute in 2002
  • Mani Bhaumik Award from The Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA, California, in 2009



  1. ^ a b c "Dr. Herbert Benson". Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  2. ^ "Dr. Herbert Benson". The Legacy of Wisdon Project. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  3. ^ "2000 Hans Selye Award". The American Institute of Stress. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Dusek, Jeffery A.; Sherwood, Jane B.; Friedman, Richard; Myers, Patricia; Bethea, Charles F.; Levitsky, Sidney; Hill, Peter C.; Jain, Manoj K.; Kopecky, Stephen L.; Mueller, Paul S.; Lam, Peter; Benson, Herbert; Hibberd, Patricia L. (2002). "Study of the therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer (STEP): Study design and research methods". American Heart Journal 143 (4): 577–584. doi:10.1067/mhj.2002.122172. PMID 11923793. 
  5. ^ a b Benson, Herbert; Dusek, Jeffery A.; Sherwood, Jane B.; Lam, Peter; Bethea, Charles F.; Carpenter, William; Levitsky, Sidney; Hill, Peter C.; Clem, Donald W.; Jain, Manoj K.; Drumel, David; Kopecky, Stephen L.; Mueller, Paul S.; Marek, Dean; Rollins, Sue; Hibberd, Patricia L. (2006). "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: A multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer". American Heart Journal 151 (4): 934–942. doi:10.1016/j.ahj.2005.05.028. PMID 16569567. 
  6. ^ "Dr Herbert Benson: Prayer Has a Therapeutic Effect". VISUAL MEDITATION. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Mitchell, Marilyn (29 March 2013). "Dr. Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response". Psychology Today (Sussex Publishers, LLC). Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  8. ^ Benson, Herbert (2011). "Curriculum Vitae". Massachusetts General Hospital. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  9. ^ a b "Benson, Herbert, 1935- . Papers, 1960-2003: A Finding Aid". Oasis: Harvard University Library. President and Fellows of Harvard College. 26 August 2004. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  10. ^ "About the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine". Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  11. ^ Emory, Margaret (15 December 2011). "DR. HERBERT BENSON ON THE MIND/BODY CONNECTION". BrainWorld. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  12. ^ Gamble, Dave (30 June 2013). "Scientific Studies of Prayer – the good, the bad, and the really really ugly". Skeptical Science. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  13. ^ Weissmann, G. (2006). "NIH funding: not a prayer". The FASEB Journal 20 (9): 1278–1280. doi:10.1096/fj.06-0701ufm. PMID 16816099. 
  14. ^ "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP)". John Templeton Foundation. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  15. ^ Cromie, William J. (6 April 2006). "Prayers don't help heart surgery patients". Harvard University Gazette (President and Fellows of Harvard College). Retrieved 12 July 2014. 

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