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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c238

Herbert Benson papers


The Herbert Benson papers, 1960-2003, document Benson's career as a cardiologist and behavioral medicine specialist atBoston City Hospital's Thorndike Memorial Laboratory, Beth Israel Hospital, New England Deaconess Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and the Mind/Body Medical Institute, and as Mind/Body Medical Institute Associate Professor of Medicine atHarvard Medical School.


  • Creation: 1960-2003.


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Access requires advance notice.There are restrictions on access to portions of this collection. Access to Harvard University records are restricted for 50 years from the date of creation. These restrictions are noted where they appear in Series II. Personal and patient information information is restricted for 80 years. These restrictions are noted where they appear in Series II, III, IV, and V. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult Public Services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Harvard Medical Library does not hold copyright on all materials in the collection. Researchers are responsible for identifying and contacting any third-party copyright holders for permission to reproduce or publish. For more information on the Center's use, publication, and reproduction policies, view our Reproductions and Use Policy.

Permission to use or duplicate any material in Series IXD for commercial broadcast purposes requires the written permission and agreement of the following during their lifetimes:

  1. a. Dr. Herbert Benson
  2. b. Mrs. Marilyn Benson, wife of Dr. Herbert Benson
  3. c. Mrs. Jennifer C. Benson Bufferd, daughter of Dr. Herbert Benson
  4. d. Grergory C. Benson, son of Dr. Herbert Benson


14.1 cubic feet (12 record cartons, 7 flat document boxes, 2 oversize flat document boxes.)
6 cubic feet (5 records center cartons and 1 glass lantern slide cabinet)

The Herbert Benson Papers, 1954-2003, contains the professional records that resulted from Benson's career as a cardiologist and behavioral medicine specialist at Harvard Medical School (HMS), the Mind/Body Medical Institute (MBMI), and other institutions in Boston, Mass. Less than one cubic foot of personal papers accompanies the professional material, most of which dates from 1975-2003, corresponding to HB’s increasingly responsible posts at HMS, BCH, BIH, MBMI, and other institutions.

The bulk of the collection documents Benson’s role as President of the Mind/Body Medical Institute, and his efforts to establish and regulate standards in behavioral medicine. Articles, certificates, clippings, correspondence, memoranda, notes, patient records, reports, film reels, videotapes, and photographs document Benson's research concerning a range of interests, but most often the “relaxation response,” placebo effects, positive effects of faith and spirituality in healing, and Tibetan monk meditation. The papers underscore the decades of careful scientific effort needed to establish credibility for a “new” medical discipline, the importance of generous and reliable funding for clinical research to do so, and the successful use of popular media to explain methods and debunk myths. Overall, the papers document his administrative duties and research interests, especially regarding mind/body medicine, and provide insight about the evolving content and character of the burgeoning field of behavioral medicine over forty years.


Herbert Benson, MD, a cardiologist and specialist in mind/body medicine and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, was born in 1935 in Yonkers, New York. He received the AB from Wesleyan University in 1957, and, after serving as class president from 1958-1959, he received the MD from Harvard Medical School (HMS) in 1961. He married Marilyn Benson, and they had two children, Jennifer Benson and Gregory Benson.

During the four years following graduation, HB completed a medical residency at the University of Washington, Seattle, and clinical and research fellowships at the National Heart Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, and the University of Puerto Rico, San Juan. He returned to HMS in 1965 as a Research Fellow in Medicine, and a Research and Clinical Fellow in Medicine at the Thorndike Memorial Laboratory at Boston City Hospital (BCH).

HB's appointments at Harvard Medical School were as follows: Instructor in Physiology and Instructor in Medicine, 1969; Assistant Professor of Medicine, 1970; Associate Professor of Medicine, 1972; Associate Professor of Medicine at the Beth Israel Hospital, 1977; Associate Professor of Medicine, 1982; and Mind/Body Medical Institute Associate Professor of Medicine in 1992. Harvard University also established the Herbert Benson Professorship in Medicine, activated upon his retirement.

At BCH HB became an Assistant Visiting Physician, II and IV Medical Service (Harvard) in 1967, a Research Associate at BCH’s Thorndike Memorial Laboratory in 1969, and an Associate Visiting Physician with the Harvard Medical Unit in 1971. In 1974, he became Associate Physician at Beth Israel Hospital; in 1986, a member of the active provisional staff at New England Deaconess Hospital, and in 1990, a member of the active staff of the newly merged Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He became founding President of the Mind/Body Medical Institute in 1988.

HB’s pioneering work in behavioral medicine, mind/body studies, and spirituality and healing initially stemmed from efforts to help cardiology patients suffering physical manifestations of stress. Benson used modern scientific techniques to study the body’s innate self-healing mechanisms, and how they may be used to treat or prevent serious diseases, pain, and infertility. His contributions include the original definition of the “relaxation response,” the counterpart to renowned physiologist Walter B. Cannon’s “fight or flight” response, and proof of its physiological value in stress reduction. Benson also analyzed the “placebo effect,” or the physical effects of a treatment or medication that has no specific action on the patient’s symptoms. A proponent of the positive consequences of faith and spirituality for healing, his Himalayan field expeditions and subsequent studies of Tibetan monk meditation served as a bridge between Western medicine and that of other times and cultures, and as evidence of the mind's ability to control physical responses.

HB was a consultant for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on numerous projects between 1972 and 1994, and testified before the US House and Senate to secure funding from the NIH towards mind/body and behavioral medicine research. In addition, his work, mainly at the MBMI, resulted from substantial financial support from the Adolph Coors Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the John Templeton Foundation.

Benson often wrote for professional publications, including the American Journal of Medicine, Behavioral Medicine (where he served as Executive Editor from 1981-1993), and Science. Topics included the relaxation response, placebo effects, positive effects of faith and spirituality in healing, and Tibetan monk meditation.

HB was a best-selling author or co-author of ten books concerning mind/body medicine of which over four million copies are in print. Titles include The Relaxation Response (1975); The Mind/Body Effect (1979); Beyond the Relaxation Response (1984); Your Maximum Mind (1987); The Wellness Book (1992); Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief (1996); The Relaxation Response - Updated and Expanded (25th Anniversary Edition) (2000); The Breakout Principle, co-authored with William Proctor (2003); Mind Over Menopause, co-authored with Leslee Kagan (2004); and Mind Your Heart, co-authored with Aggie Casey (2004).

HB participated in many professional societies, including the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research (1978-1982), the American College of Cardiology (1975-1996), and the Society of Behavioral Medicine (1978-), where he served as President from 1985-1986. The recipient of many awards and citations, Benson lectured widely about research at the MBMI, and often appeared in national and international news programs. He died of heart disease and kidney failure on 3 February 2022 in Boston, Mass.

Series and Subseries Arrangement

  1. Series I. Personal and Family Papers, 1986-1993
  2. Series II. Harvard Medical School Records, 1960-2003
  3. ___ Subseries A. Administrative, Student, and Teaching Materials, 1960-2003
  4. ___ Subseries B. Relaxation Response/ Mind/Body Medical Institute, 1977-2001
  5. Series III. Research Records, 1961-1997
  6. Series IV. Professional Activities and Associations Records, 1961-2001
  7. Series V. Conferences, Lectures, and Symposia, 1964-2002
  8. Series VI. Writings and Publications, 1964-2001
  9. ___ Subseries A. Articles, 1964-2001
  10. ___ Subseries B. Drafts, The Relaxation Response, 1973-1975
  11. Series VII. Newsclippings and Articles, 1970-2000
  12. Series VIII. Photographs, 1975-2000
  13. ___ Subseries A. Loose Photographs, 1975-2000
  14. ___ Subseries B. Staff Photographs, Chronological, 1971-1998
  15. Series IX. Audiovisual Materials, 1969-2001
  16. ___ Subseries A. Film Reels, 1969-1980
  17. ___ Subseries B. Audiotapes, 1977-1986
  18. ___ Subseries C. Videotapes, 1969-2001
  19. ___ Subseries D. Russ Pariseau: Tibetan g Tum-mo Meditation, 1981-1987

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Herbert Benson Papers were donated by Herbert Benson to the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine in 2002-2004.

Processing Information

Processed by: Alyson Reichgott, June 2004

Processing note: Twenty cubic feet, including nine record cartons of audiovisual material added to the collection by documentary filmmaker Russ Pariseau, were integrated to form the ten series of the collection. One cubic foot of published books and pamphlets was discarded, along with approximately two cubic feet of unmarked newspaper clippings, newsletters, and copies of correspondence. Two cubic feet of copyrighted and duplicate audio and video recordings were similarly discarded.

Benson, Herbert, 1935-2022. Papers, 1960-2003: A Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
Language of description
The Herbert Benson Papers were processed with support from the Castle Rock Foundation.

Repository Details

Part of the Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine) Repository

The Center for the History of Medicine in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine is one of the world's leading resources for the study of the history of health and medicine. Our mission is to enable the history of medicine and public health to inform healthcare, the health sciences, and the societies in which they are embedded.

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