Many of us garden just for sheer joy of it. But did you know that all over country healing aspects of gardening are being used as therapy or as an adjunct to therapy?
Although this might sound like a new concept, garden therapy has been around for decades. For example, Garden Therapy Program at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, and in regional hospitals in Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Rome, Thomasville and Savannah, has been helping people for over 40 years through gardening activities known as social and therapeutic horticulture.
So what exactly is social and therapeutic horticulture (or garden therapy)?
According to article “Your future starts here: practitioners determine way ahead” from Growth Point (1999) volume 79, pages 4-5, horticultural therapy is use of plants by a trained professional as a medium through which certain clinically defined goals may be met. “…Therapeutic horticulture is process by which individuals may develop well-being using plans and horticulture. This is achieved by active or passive involvement.”
Although physical benefits of garden therapy have not yet been fully realized through research, overall benefits are almost overwhelming. For starters, gardening therapy programs result in increased elf-esteem and self-confidence for all participants.
Social and therapeutic horticulture also develops social and work skills, literacy and numeric skills, an increased sense of general well-being and opportunity for social interaction and development of independence. In some instances it can also lead to employment or further training or education. Obviously different groups will achieve different results.
Groups recovering from major illness or injury, those with physical disabilities, learning disabilities and mental health problems, older people, offenders and those who misuse drugs or alcohol, can all benefit from therapeutic aspects of gardening as presented through specific therapy related programs. In most cases, those that experience biggest impact are vulnerable or socially excluded individuals or groups, including ill, elderly, and those kept in secure locations, such as hospitals or prisons.
One important benefit to using social and therapeutic horticulture is that traditional forms of communication aren’t always required. This is particularly important for stroke patients, car accident victims, those with cerebral palsy, aphasia or other illnesses or accidents that hinder verbal communication. Gardening activities lend themselves easily to communicative disabled individuals. This in turn builds teamwork, self-esteem and self-confidence, while encouraging social interaction.
Another group that clearly benefits from social and therapeutic horticulture are those that misuse alcohol or substances and those in prison. Teaching horticulture not only becomes a life skill for these individuals, but also develops a wide range of additional benefits.