Halfway through last night’s viewing of “The New Medicine”, I wondered if the producers at PBS had chosen the best title for this documentary about mind-body health. Introduced by the heroic (and now angelic) Dana Reeve, “New Medicine” covers the growing field of integrative medicine, focusing specifically on ways that the mind can influence the body’s ability to heal. Although modern medicine tends to treat patients’ bodies without addressing what’s on their minds, the doc shows how people have had an intuitive sense of the connection between emotions and health for centuries–it’s why we get “sick with worry” and our “hearts” get “broken.”

One particularly striking example of this connection is the role stress can play in the healing process. In one study, two different groups–caregivers, a profession known for its high stress levels, and a relatively stress-free group–were given the same pencil eraser-sized wounds on their arms. The non-caregiver’s wounds healed 20 percent faster.

But what I really liked was how the show highlighted the concept of hope. There needs to be more talk of hope. As Reeve elegantly puts it in the introduction: “For years, my husband and I lived on, and because of, hope. Hope continues to give me the mental strength to carry on, but also, I am convinced, hope very directly influences my physical health.”

Though her words have an eerie resonance since her death, the hope they’re talking about here is not a panacea, it’s not false hope or even optimism, but rather a trust in a larger sense of safety. Here’s hoping this indeed helped Reeve in her final days.

Many of the medical experts called upon to document the existence of a new medicine referenced hope. Take Jerome Groopman, M.D., of Harvard Medical School: “Hope is central in the experience of illness and the path to healing,” he explained.

How have stress or other emotional challenges have affected your health?

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