The Science of Hope
Date: July 1, 2013
When people experience tragedy, sometimes the last thing they want to hear is advice about “keeping their chin up.” How, after all, does a person keep a positive attitude in the face of, say, a debilitating brain injury?
It turns out, however, that the phrase “stay positive” is more than just a cheerful colloquialism. There’s science behind those words—evidence that hopefulness can promote a quicker, fuller recovery.
“One of the things I look at is how the attributes that patients bring to the table—resiliency, spirituality, hope—facilitate recovery,” says Kate Kortte, a neuropsychologist in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. “What we’ve found is that maintaining a positive attitude really does help with outcomes and life satisfaction.”
In her research, Kortte has examined patients across the spectrum—traumatic brain injury, stroke, brain tumor—and consistently found that those patients who succeeded in keeping a good attitude did better in their recovery. “We take a broad approach by tracking everything that goes on with these folks throughout the rehab and recovery process,” Kortte says. “Some of my studies have examined their level of engagement in rehabilitation interventions. Then we look three months after discharge at how satisfied they are with life and how much assistance they needed to function. Folks who were more hopeful throughout their recovery and had a more positive attitude needed less assistance later on.”
Of course, it’s one thing to advise someone to remain hopeful. Facilitating that kind of positive attitude, however, is a different proposition. In the Outpatient Neurorehabilitation Program at Hopkins, “Our psychologists aim to help patients adapt and adjust to the illnesses and injuries that prevent them from doing what they want in daily life,” Kortte says. “These patients need interventions focused on bolstering positive attitudes so they can achieve these goals. We want them to maintain the hopeful view that life is worth living because, if they keep at it, they’re going to be able to re-engage in the things that once gave them hope and satisfaction.”
Hope and positivity, Kortte says, help patients make better decisions and keep sight of far-reaching goals. It also helps them follow the recommendations of physicians and therapists. “Our psychologists are focused on helping patients realize that there is something better to come,” Kortte says. “Our team is there to help them learn to adapt and adjust, and to recover to the fullest extent possible.”