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Heather Abercrombie
Heather C. Abercrombie
Scientific Director, Center for Healthy Minds

As Scientific Director of the Center for Healthy Minds (CHM), Heather plays a role in the collaborative leadership of scientific endeavors at CHM. Heather joined CHM after a 16-year career as a psychotherapist and principal investigator of a program of research on stress and depression. Her research is ongoing and helps debunk popular notions of the stress-related hormone cortisol as unequivocally harmful. The research contributes to a reconceptualization of the role of stress hormones in depression. Her studies suggest that brief elevation of cortisol is psychologically beneficial in depression, particularly for individuals who exhibit systemic cortisol insensitivity (akin to insulin insensitivity in type 2 diabetes). Findings from Heather’s research are consistent with the beneficial effects of exercise, behavioral activation and other forms of “eustress” that can increase cortisol and other stress neuromodulators while also improving mood. While “stress reduction” practices certainly can support well-being, the biological aspects of emotional well-being and stress reduction are much more complex (and interesting) than a simple-minded dampening of stress physiology. Heather is very interested in elucidating the physiological processes that support well-being and contribute to health. 

Education

PhD, Clinical Psychology, UW-Madison 

What does well-being mean to me?

"A sense of oneness with everybody and everything." But nothing is constant, and sometimes good old fantastical escapism fits the bill. 

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