Dessa Bergen-Cico


Dessa Bergen-Cico is a Professor in the Department of Public Health, Coordinator of the Addiction Studies program and faculty in the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program at Syracuse University. She holds a Research Appointment at the Syracuse Veterans Administration Medical Center and Fellow of the American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders. Dr. Bergen-Cico is a Certified Addiction Specialist (CAS), Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) and a Certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Teacher. She completed her MBSR Teacher Training through the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Dessa has been selected for two Fulbright Scholar and was selected as a Rotary Peace Fellow in the International Rotary Peace Program at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand.


Ph.D. Community Health, Syracuse University 1992

M.S. Health and Exercise Science, Syracuse University, 1988

B.F.A. College of Visual and Performing Arts / B.S. School of Education, Syracuse University, 1986


Her areas of specialization focus on: a.) alcohol, other drugs, and addictive behaviors; b.) traumatic stress, c.) the use of mindfulness-based practices for prevention and recovery from trauma and addictions, and d.) complementary health practices. She is the author of more than 40 scholarly publications, including the book “War and Drugs: The Role of Military Conflict in the Development of Substance Abuse.”

Research Focus

Dr. Bergen-Cico’s research focuses on

  • The impact of violence, conflict and trauma on substance use and addictions
  • The use of mindfulness and complimentary health strategies for prevention and recovery
  • Neural mechanisms of mindfulness practice

Dr. Bergen-Cico has several ongoing studies examining neural changes and outcomes associated with mindfulness based practices.

Research Projects

Examining Changes in the Stress Response, Cognition and Neural Networks in Response to Mindfulness Interventions Using Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS)

This research focuses on identifying the mechanisms of change in neural networks and physiological (biometric) measures that occur as a result of participating in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs. This study aims to identify neural networks associated with traumatic stress and to measure neural responsiveness to change following MBSR. More specifically this research uses functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), heart rate and galvanic skin response (GSR) in conjunction with psychometric measures to triangulate mechanisms of change pertinent to trauma and stress.

Nature Inspired Scenes for Guided Mindfulness Training: Presence, Perceived Restorativeness and Meditation Depth

The research focuses on the development and testing of a virtual reality (VR) meditation interface to support mindfulness meditation practice. The aims of this research are to test whether VR simulation of an outdoor natural space has a restorative effect on attention; and the mediating effects of the sense of presence participants’ feel. This study uses functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), heart rate and galvanic skin response (GSR) to measure the neurophysiological relaxation response.

Mindfulness-Based Meditation for Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress

This is research being conducted with the Syracuse VA’s Center for Integrative Health to study the efficacy of brief mindfulness programs led by VA clinicians and veteran peers on posttraumatic stress (PTSD). This study builds on Dr. Bergen-Cico’s previous research with the VA CIH to examine the psychological and physiological benefits of integrating mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) into primary care for Veterans with PTSD. To date this research has found that even brief (4-week) mindfulness-based programs reduce cortisol output, depression and PTSD symptoms.

Trauma Resiliency in Urban Environments

Dr. Bergen-Cico’s work and research in this area seek to interrupt the transmission of intergenerational trauma and support community members in cultivating resiliency and wellbeing. One current project is the Trauma Resiliency in Urban Environments (TRUE) program which implements and evaluates trauma informed mindfulness-based program for women affected with histories of trauma and substance use disorders. This work focuses on meeting the needs of “hot spots” and census blocks with high rates of violence in the city of Syracuse and has been supported in part by the Health Foundation of Western and Central New York.

Therapeutic Benefits of Dogs for Veterans with Traumatic Stress

Since 2014 a team of Falk College faculty and students, under the leadership of Dr. Dessa Bergen-Cico, have worked with Clear Path for Veterans to conduct evaluative research of the psychological and physical health benefits of companion dogs through Clear Path’s dog owner trainer program for veterans.

Mindfulness-Based Programs in Schools Mindfulness, Complementary Health

We have been conducting research on the benefits of integrating mindfulness and yoga into public schools. To date our research has found that mindfulness and yoga significantly increase self-regulation among pre-schoolers, middle school and high school students. Self-regulation is an important factor in psychological and physical well-being in addition to supporting academic achievement. Our research findings support the integration of mindfulness-based practices and programs as public health strategies to promote health across the lifespan.

Psychological Benefits of Mindfulness-Based Practices for College Students

Research has found mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) to be associated with improved mental health and quality of life. To better understand the operant effects of meditation on mental health, this research examines the effects of MBSR practice on psychological health and quality of life. Quality of life is measured by more than the absence of illness or decrease in anxiety and stress, it is also measured by flourishing, well-being, facets of mindfulness and self-compassion. The project is led by Dr. Dessa Bergen-Cico.

Recent Publications

  • 2019 Costa, M., Bergen-Cico, D., Grant, T., Herrero,R., Navarro, J., Razza, R. & Wang, Q., Nature inspired scenes for guided mindfulness training: presence, perceived restorativeness and meditation depth. Self-regulatory Strategies to Augmented Cognition. Switzerland, Springer.
  • 2019 Bergen-Cico, D., Kilaru, P., Rizzo, R. & Buore, P., Stress and wellbeing of first responders. In Ronald Burke & Silvia Pignata Stress and Wellbeing in the Public Sector. Chettenham, U.K. Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • 2018, Bergen-Cico, D., Smith, Y., Gooley, C., Hannon, K., Spicer, M., Woodruff, R., Wolford, K., & Gump, B., Dog ownership and training reduces posttraumatic stress and increases self-compassion among veterans: results of a longitudinal control study. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 24(12), 1166-1175, doi10.1089/acm.2018.0179
  • 2018, Bergen-Cico, D., Lane, S., Keefe, R., Larsen, D., Salaam Jennings-Bey, N, Panasci, A., Jennings-Bey, T, & Rubinstein, R., Community gun violence as a social determinant of elementary school achievement. Journal of Social Work in Public Health. 33(7-8), 439-448.
  • 2018, Owora, A., Salom-Bey, N., Lane, S., Rubinstein, R. Jennings-Bey, T, & Bergen-Cico, D., Culturally congruent mentorship can reduce disruptive behavior among elementary school students. Pilot and Feasibility Studies, 4 (147) doi: 10.1186/s40814-018-0339-8.
  • 2018, Surguladze, S., Chikovani, G., Revazishvili, T., Dzadzamia, N., Razmadze, T., Iashvili, N., & Bergen-Cico, D Mindfulness as a mediating factor between empathy and burnout in people of caring professions. International Journal of Psychology and Psychoanalysis.4(1), 1-6 doi: 10.23937/2572-4037.1510023
  • 2018, Hirshfield, L.M., Bergen-Cico, D., Costa, M. Jacob, R.J.K., Hincks, S, & Russell M. , Measuring the neural correlates of mindfulness with functional near-infrared spectroscopy. p. 117-145 In Empirical Studies of Contemplative Practices. Editors D. Grimes, Wang, Q., New York; Nova Science Publishers.
  • 2018, Bergen-Cico, D., & Proulx, J., Mindfulness and contemplative practices for diverse cultures. p. 145-164 In Empirical Studies of Contemplative Practices. Editors D. Grimes, Wang, Q., New York; Nova Science Publishers
  • 2018, Costa MR, Bergen-Cico, D., Herrero, R., Navarro, Razza, R. & Wang, Q., xR-based systems for mindfulness based training in clinical settings. p.31-39 In Chen J., G Gragomeni, G. (eds.) Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality: Applications in Health, Cultural Heritage, and Industry. Volume 1. Switzerland, Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-91584-5_3
  • 2018, Proulx, J, Croff, R., Oken, B., Aldwin, C.M., Fleming, C., Bergen-Cico, D., Le, T., & Norrani, M., Considerations for research and development of culturally relevant mindfulness interventions in American minority communities. Mindfulness. 9(2), 361-370. doi: 10.1007/s12671-017-0785-z
  • 2017, Bergen-Cico, D., Otiashvili, D., Kirtadze, I., Zebransky, T. & Tsertsvadze V., Cost analysis of the country of Georgia’s street level drug testing policy. Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. 10(2), 1-22 doi: 10.1515/jdpa-2017-0003
  • 2017, Lane, S., Rubinstein, R., Bergen-Cico, D., Jennings-Bey, T, Stone Fish, L., Larsen, D., Fullilove, M., Reichert Shimpff, T., Animashaun Ducre, K., Robinson, J.A., (2017). Neighborhood trauma due to violence: a multilevel analysis. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved. 28, 446-462.
  • 2017, Otiashvili, D., Kirtadze, I., & Bergen-Cico, D., Exploring the new phenomena of home-made extraction and injection of Ephedra plant product in Georgia. Substance Use and Misuse. 52(6), 826-829. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2016.1263664
  • 2017, Bergen-Cico, D, Sikharulidze, K., Ivanashvili, N., Ivanishvili, M., & Keshelava, T. Hepatitis C risk and protective factors associated with drug policies in the Republic of Georgia. World Medical and Health Policy, 9(1), 45-64.
  • 2017, Bergen-Cico, D & Cico Rizzo, R. Age as a predictor of cannabis use. p 43-53 In Victor Preedy (Ed.) The Handbook of Cannabis and Related Pathologies: Biology, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Pharmacology. London, Academic Press.
  • 2017, Bergen-Cico, D & Krishna Kumar, A., Examining the processes of change associated with Mindfulness-based meditation and reductions in trait anxiety. Journal of Depression and Anxiety Disorders. 1 (1): 1-11.
  • 2016, Possemato, K., Bergen-Cico, D., Treatman, S., Allen, C., Wade, M., & Pigeon, W., A randomized clinical trial of primary care brief mindfulness training for Veterans with PTSD. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 72(3), 179-193. doi: 10.1002/jclp.22241.
  • 2016, Bergen-Cico, D, Scholl, S. Invanshvili, N., & Cico, R., Opioid prescription drug abuse and its relation to heroin trends. p 878-890 In Victor Preedy (Ed.) The Neuropathology of Drug Addictions and Substance Misuse. Volume 1. London, Academic Press.
  • 2016, Bergen-Cico, D, Wolf-Stanton, S., Filipovic, R. & Weisberg, J., Trauma and neurological risks of addiction. p 61-70. In Victor Preedy (Ed.) The Neuropathology of Drug Addictions and Substance Misuse. Volume 1. London, Academic Press.
  • 2016, Bergen-Cico, D & McClurg, K. Kratom use, abuse and addiction. p 903-911 In Victor Preedy (Ed.) The Neuropathology of Drug Addictions and Substance Misuse. Volume 3. London, Academic Press.