Dessa Bergen-Cico

Graduate Director
Professor of Public Health
Coordinator of Addiction Studies Programs Syracuse University
Research Affiliate, Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion, Maxwell School
Affiliated Investigator, Syracuse Veterans Administration Medical Center, Center for Integrative Healthcare

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 for Integrative Healthcare and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders. Professor 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 twice as a Fulbright Scholar (Republic Georgia and Thailand) 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

M.S. Health and Exercise Science, Syracuse University

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


Professor Bergen-Cico’s work focuses on substance use, and addictive behaviors, traumatic stress, mindfulness-based practices for prevention and recovery, and complementary and integrative health practices. She is the author of more than 50 scholarly publications, including the book “War and Drugs: The Role of Military Conflict in the Development of Substance Abuse.”

Research Projects

Type I Hybrid Effectiveness-Implementation Trial of Primary Care Brief Mindfulness Training (PCBMT) for Veterans

This is collaborative research with Dr. Kyle Possemato and VHA colleagues.
This study further tests the effectiveness of primary care brief mindfulness training (PCBMT) in three geographically distinct VHA primary care settings that serve diverse Veteran populations; and aims to understand important implementation factors with a hybrid type I randomized controlled trial in 300 primary care patients with psychological distress such as anxiety, depression, and/or PTSD.

Psychophysiological Sensing to Enhance Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Self-Regulation of Opioid Cravings

This is collaborative research with Dr. Asif Salekin of SU’s Engineering and Computer Science Department and is funded by the National Science Foundation. Our research focuses on opioid use disorders (OUD), related cognition, and behaviors associated with a) self-regulation, b) stress reactivity, c) opioid craving, d) physical opioid withdrawal symptoms known to be impacted by OUD and post-acute withdrawal from opioids, and e) the use of and Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) to reduce stress, craving and return to opioid use. We aim to develop effective multi-modal sensing technologies to identify psychological craving cues (e.g., stress, arousal) and develop wearable physiological sensors. The wearable sensors will then be combined with MBI training to test the effectiveness of integrating passive sensing, adaptive artificial intelligence (AI), and mindfulness interventions on regulating drug craving.

Examining Changes in the 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 research aims to identify neural networks associated with traumatic stress and to measure neural responsiveness to change following participation in MBSR practice. 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.

Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Women with Trauma and Stress

This research has aimed to examine the mechanisms of change associated with mindfulness-based interventions (MBI) among women with high rates of trauma and stress. We use functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure MBI-responsive changes to neuro-cognitive functions impaired by stress and trauma notably: attentional control (AC), emotional regulation (ER), and working memory (WM). Our first phase of research found statistically significant changes among the women in the MBI group for AC tasks in the frontopolar area (FP), orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), and premotor cortex (PMC); and these changes were also accompanied by significant improvements in attentional control task performances. Among the MBI group, there were also significant changes in FP and OFC activation during ER tasks and significant changes in OFC and PMC activation during WM tasks.

Mindfulness-Based Interventions 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 to reduce traumatic stress symptoms, suicidality and depression. Current phases of this research focus on the effectiveness mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs by trained veteran peers and VA clinicians. This study builds on Professor Bergen-Cico’s previous research with the VA CIH to examine the psychological and physiological benefits of integrating (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 and suicidality among veterans.

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 Professor Dessa Bergen-Cico.

Mindfulness-Based Programs in Schools

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.

Recent Publications

  • Xiao, Y, Sharma, H., Zhang, Z., Bergen-Cico, D., Rahman, T. & Salekin, A, (2024) Reading between the heat: co-teaching body thermal signatures for non-intrusive stress detection. Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies. 7(4) 189; 1-30
  • Kalanadhabhatta, M., Roy, S., Grant, T. Salekin, A, Rahman, T., & Bergen-Cico, D., (2024) Detecting PTSD using neural and physiological signals: recommendations from a pilot study. 11th International Conference on Affective Computing and Intelligent Interaction IEEE. Cambridge, MA
  • Helander M., Formica, M., Bergen-Cico, D. (2023) The daily patterns of emergency medical events. Journal of Biological Rhythms. 39(1), 79-99.
  • Possemato, K., Bergen-Cico, D., Buckheit, K., Ramon, A, McKenzie, S., Smith, A. R., Wade, M., Beehler, G. P., Pigeon, W. R. (2023). Randomized clinical trial of brief primary care-based mindfulness training versus a psychoeducational group for Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 84(1), 44829. 10.4088/JCP.22m14510
  • Cary, E. L Bergen-Cico, D. Sinegar, S., Schutt, M. K., Helminen, E. C., & Felver. J. C. (2023 ) Self-regulation mediates effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on anxiety among college students. Journal of American College Health
  • Willard, R., Possemato, K., Ramon, A., Bergen-Cico, D., (2022) Self-compassion and self judgement: potential mediators of a mindfulness intervention on depression. Journal of Integrative and Complementary Medicine. 28(7) 607-609,
  • Zhang, Y., Razza, R., Wang, Q., Bergen-Cico, D., Liu Q. (2022) Mechanisms of change underlying mindfulness-based practice among adolescents. Mindfulness. (13) 1445-1457,
  • Bergen-Cico, D., Otiashvili, D., Kirtadze, I., & Park, J.H. (2022) Social and geo-political factors influencing trends in substance use. In S.C. Scrimshaw, S. D. Lane, R. A. Rubinstein & J. Fischer (Eds.) The Sage Handbook of Social Studies in Health and Medicine. (pp. 341-356) Sage Publishing.
  • Proulx, J. & Bergen-Cico, D., (2022) Exploring the Adaptation of Mindfulness Interventions to Address Stress and Health in Native American Communities. In V. Womack, Proulx, J. & C. Flemming (Eds.) Beyond White Mindfulness: Critical Perspectives on Racism, Well-being and Liberation. (pp. 110-124) Routledge.
  • Ramon, A., Bergen-Cico D., Possemato, K., (2022) Relationship of rumination and self-compassion to posttraumatic stress symptoms among Veterans. Military Psychology. 34(1) 121-128 DOI: 10.1080/08995605.2021.1976040
  • Bergen-Cico, D., Grant, T., Hirshfield, L., Costa, M., Razza, R. & Kilaru, P. (2021) Using fNIRS to examine mechanisms of neural change associated with mindfulness-based interventions for stress and trauma: Results of a pilot study for female participants. Mindfulness. 12: 2295-22310.
  • Razza, R., Bergen-Cico, D., Reid, S., & Uveges, R. L. (2021). The benefits of mindfulness for promoting resilience among at-risk adolescents: results from the Inner Strength Teen Program. ECNU Review of Education. 1-23
  • Surguladze, S., & Bergen-Cico, D., (2020) Empathy in a broader context: development, mechanisms, remediation. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 11:529 1-3.
  • Surguladze, S., & Bergen-Cico, D., Eds. (2020). Empathy in a broader context: development, mechanisms, remediation. Frontiers in Psychiatry.
  • Costa M.R., Bergen-Cico, D., Razza R., Hirshfield L., Wang Q. (2020) Perceived Restorativeness and Meditation Depth for Virtual Reality Supported Mindfulness Interventions. Pg. 176-189. In: Stephanidis C. et al. (eds) HCI International 2020 : Cognition, Learning and Games. HCII 2020. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 12425. Springer, Cham.
  • Razza, R., Lisner, R., Bergen-Cico, D, Carlson, E., & Reid, S., (2020) The feasibility and effectiveness of mindful yoga for preschoolers exposed to high levels of trauma. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 29(1), 82–93
  • Bergen-Cico, D., Kilaru, P., Rizzo, R. & Buore, P., (2020) Stress and wellbeing of first responders. In Ronald Burke & Silvia Pignata (Eds.) Stress and Wellbeing in the Public Sector. (pp. 58 – 73) Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Costa, M., Bergen-Cico, D., Grant, T., Herrero, R., Navarro, J., Razza, R. & Wang, Q., (2019) Nature inspired scenes for guided mindfulness training: presence, perceived restorativeness and meditation depth. Self-regulatory Strategies to Augment Cognition. Vol (11580) 517-532.
  • Bergen-Cico, D., Smith, Y., Gooley, C., Hannon, K., Spicer, M., Woodruff, R., Wolford, K., & Gump, B., (2018) Dog ownership and training reduces posttraumatic stress and increases self-compassion among veterans: results of a longitudinal control study. Journal of Integrative and Complementary Medicine. 24(12), 1166-1175, doi10.1089/acm.2018.0179
  • Bergen-Cico, D., Lane, S., Keefe, R., Larsen, D., Salaam Jennings-Bey, N, Panasci, A., Jennings-Bey, T, & Rubinstein, R., (2018) Community gun violence as a social determinant of elementary school achievement. Journal of Social Work in Public Health. 33(7-8), 439-448.
  • Owora, A., Salom-Bey, N., Lane, S., Rubinstein, R. Jennings-Bey, T, & Bergen-Cico, D., (2018) Culturally congruent mentorship can reduce disruptive behavior among elementary school students. Pilot and Feasibility Studies, 4 (147)
  • Surguladze, S., Chikovani, G., Revazishvili, T., Dzadzamia, N., Razmadze, T., Iashvili, N., & Bergen-Cico, D., (2018) 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
  • Hirshfield, L.M., Bergen-Cico, D., Costa, M. Jacob, R.J.K., Hincks, S, & Russell M. , (2018) 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.
  • Bergen-Cico, D., & Proulx, J., (2018) 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
  • Costa, M.R., Bergen-Cico, D., Herrero, R., Navarro, Razza, R. & Wang, Q., (2018) 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
  • Proulx, J, Croff, R., Oken, B., Aldwin, C.M., Fleming, C., Bergen-Cico, D., Le, T., & Norrani, M., (2018) Considerations for research and development of culturally relevant mindfulness interventions in American minority communities. Mindfulness. 9(2), 361-370.
  • Bergen-Cico, D., Otiashvili, D., Kirtadze, I., Zebransky, T. & Tsertsvadze V., (2017) Cost analysis of the country of Georgia’s street level drug testing policy. Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. 10(2), 1-22.
  • 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.
  • Otiashvili, D., Kirtadze, I., & Bergen-Cico, D., (2017) Exploring the new phenomena of home-made extraction and injection of Ephedra plant product in Georgia. Substance Use and Misuse. 52(6), 826-829.
  • Bergen-Cico, D, Sikharulidze, K., Ivanashvili, N., Ivanishvili, M., & Keshelava, T. (2017) Hepatitis C risk and protective factors associated with drug policies in the Republic of Georgia. World Medical and Health Policy, 9(1), 45-64
  • Bergen-Cico, D & Cico, R. (2017) 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.
  • Bergen-Cico, D & Krishna Kumar, A., (2017) 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. doi:10.36959/362/467.
  • Possemato, K., Bergen-Cico, D., Treatman, S., Allen, C., Wade, M., & Pigeon, W., (2016) A randomized clinical trial of primary care brief mindfulness training for Veterans with PTSD. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 72(3), 179-193.
  • Bergen-Cico, D, Scholl, S. Ivanashvili, N., & Cico, R., (2016) 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.
  • Bergen-Cico, D, Wolf-Stanton, S., Filipovic, R. & Weisberg, J., (2016) 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.
  • Bergen-Cico, D & McClurg, K. (2016) 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.
  • Jennings-Bey, T, Lane, S., Rubinstein, R., Bergen-Cico, D., Haygood-El, A., Hudson, H., Sanchez, S., & Fowler, F., (2015) The trauma response team: a community intervention for gang violence. Journal of Urban Health. 92(5), 947-954. .
  • Bergen-Cico, D.K, Lane, S., Thompson, M. Wozny, S., Zajdel, M., Barduhn, M & Noce, N., (2015) The impact of posttraumatic stress on first responders: analysis of cortisol, anxiety, sleep impairment and pain. Journal of Paramedic Practice, 5(3), 42-52.
  • Pigeon WR, Allen C, Possemato K, Bergen-Cico D., & Treatman S., (2015) Feasibility and acceptability of a brief mindfulness program for veterans in primary care with posttraumatic stress disorder. Mindfulness, 6(5), 986-995. doi 10.1007/s12671-014-0340-0.
  • Bergen-Cico, D., Razza, R., & Timmins, A., (2015) Fostering mindfulness and self-regulation through curriculum infusion of mindful yoga: a pilot study of efficacy and feasibility. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 24(11), 3448-3461.
  • Razza, R. Bergen-Cico, D.K. & Raymond, K., (2015) Enhancing preschoolers' self-regulation via mindful yoga. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(2), 372-385.
  • Bergen-Cico, D. & L’Apple, A., (2015) Examination of safe crack use kit distribution from a public health perspective. World Medical and Health Policy, 7(4), 349-367.
  • Bergen-Cico, D., Possemato, K., & Pigeon, W. (2014). Reductions in cortisol associated with primary care brief mindfulness program for Veterans with PTSD. Medical Care, 52(12), S25–S31.
  • Bergen-Cico, D, Haygood-El, A., Jennings-Bey, T. & Lane, S.D., (2014) Street addiction: a proposed theoretical model for understanding the draw of street life and gang activity. Journal of Addiction Research and Theory. 22(1) 15-26. doi: 10.3109/16066359.2012.759942
  • Bergen-Cico, D, & Cheon, S. (2014) The mediating effects of mindfulness and self-compassion on trait anxiety. Mindfulness. 5(5), 505-519.
  • Bergen-Cico, D, (2013) Perspectives of US drug policy: observations and advice from drug policy administrators in emerging democracies in Central and Eastern Europe. World Medical & Health Policy, 5(4), 362-389.
  • Bergen-Cico, D, Possemato, K. & Cheon, S., (2013) Examining the efficacy of a brief mindfulness based stress reduction (Brief MBSR) program on psychological health. Journal of American College Health. 61(6), 348-360.
  • Bergen-Cico, D. & Viscomi, J. (2013) Exploring the association between campus co-curricular involvement and academic achievement. College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice. 14(3), 329-343.
  • Bergen-Cico, D & Lape, M. (2012) Age of first use as a predictor of current alcohol and marijuana use among college-bound adolescents. Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse. 22: 235–253.