Background and Overview
Since 2006 the objective of Dr. Matthew D. Sacchet’s research has been to advance a scientific understanding of meditation and well-being. To pursue this objective, Dr. Sacchet previously trained and/or held research positions at Brown University and Brown University Medical School, the Martinos and Osher Research Centers at Massachusetts General Hospital, the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology at the University of Tübingen, and Stanford University and Stanford University School of Medicine. In 2019 Dr. Sacchet joined the faculty of Harvard Medical School's Department of Psychiatry and the Center for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Research (CDASR) at McLean Hospital where he founded and now directs the Meditation Research Group. The Meditation Research Group leverages a wide array of approaches drawn from affective and cognitive neuroscience, clinical psychology and psychiatry, computer science and related computational disciplines, contemplative and religious studies, neuro- and micro-phenomenology, human neuroimaging, and psychoneuroimmunology including epigenetics and stress physiology. The Meditation Research Group’s current research, highlighted below, is made possible by funding provided by the CDASR, Ad Astra Chandaria Foundation, Phyllis & Jerome Lyle Rappaport Foundation, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (BBRF), BIAL Foundation, Gatto Foundation, The Ride for Mental Health, and individual donors.
Neuroscience of Mental Illness
Mental illness is associated with the largest global burden of disease of any disease class, and among mental illnesses major depressive disorder (MDD) is the leading contributor. An increasingly clear scientific understanding of MDD promises to guide the treatment of depression and thus reduce the massive burden of this condition and mental illness more broadly. Toward this goal, the Meditation Research Group develops neuroscientific models of MDD. The Group’s current studies include using state-of-the-art neuroimaging united with sophisticated computational approaches to map the brains of depressed patients with unprecedented precision. Collectively, this research promises to contribute to a new psychiatric paradigm that is grounded in mechanistic neuroscientific models that explicitly inform patient-specific treatments.
Meditation Training for Mental Illness
Mental illness is difficult to treat. Indeed, fewer than one in three depressed patients remit after initial treatment. The improved treatment of depression is therefore of high importance. Mindfulness meditation is a contemplative practice that targets the development of present-moment non-judgmental awareness of experience. Mindfulness training has been shown to be as effective for reducing depressive symptoms as common treatments including antidepressant medications and cognitive behavior therapy. The Meditation Research Group’s current studies include a clinical trial of mindfulness for depression that will help to clarify “why” and "for who" meditation is helpful. This research promises to contribute to the development of patient-tailored meditation training, and more broadly, to the improved treatment of MDD and related mental illnesses including anxiety disorders.
Science of Meditative Development
Meditation is often understood in the media and academia to be a tool for "stress reduction". This understanding is limited: whereas meditation can be useful for reducing stress, it has the potential to facilitate deep psychological transformation. This is evidenced by diverse contemplative, philosophical, religious, and spiritual traditions that teach meditation training as a core feature of their soteriological frameworks. Advanced meditation thus has potentially broad and deep implications for mental health and general wellbeing. The Meditation Research Group’s current research includes studies of meditative development and advanced meditation using state-of-the-art clinical, phenomenological, and neuroscientific approaches. This research promises to contribute to new possibilities for meditation training, in both clinical and non-clinical contexts, for fostering wellbeing.