Therapy can come in many forms – it’s not always formal, and it’s not always conventional. Sometimes, types of therapy venture outside the box, creating inventive ways to help people, especially specific populations.
Gardening therapy is one such form of therapy, which can help a variety of people including aging adults. We want to share with you more about the beneficial nature of gardening therapy and ways you could incorporate it with your patients and clients.
What Is Gardening Therapy and How Can It Help?
Gardening therapy could encompass a range of gardening activities. There is formal horticultural therapy, which involves sessions along with a professional horticultural therapist who can guide patients and clients in gardening therapy. True horticultural therapy includes specially designed gardens and specific objectives to work on during the gardening session. Nonetheless, clients and patients could also benefit from simply gardening on their own, with general staff members, with volunteers or as a group with other older adults.
Gardening can be therapeutic in a variety of ways. “Plants provide us an escape. Whether through passive viewing or active gardening, our minds let go of current worries and become absorbed in positive thoughts of beauty, renewal, and wonder,” says a Chicago Botanic Garden horticultural therapist. Gardeners can achieve a sense of accomplishment when they see the results of their labor and watch the seeds or small plants turn into colorful blooms or vegetables to enjoy. This sense of accomplishment could particularly benefit older adults who are struggling with the transition from work and independence.
Sue Stuart-Smith — psychiatrist, psychotherapist and gardener — explains that gardening can clear and relax the mind, encourage self-esteem and provide an escape from the pressures of the social world. Gardening creates a restful and meditative experience. And Stuart-Smith notes that this activity can help people tap into an understanding of life and assist them in working through their problems.
Many older adults are dealing with mental health concerns. This is another area where therapeutic gardens can help because they tend to be beneficial for helping people manage anxiety, depression and other mental disorders. Gardening is associated with lower stress levels, calmed nerves and reduced amounts of the stress hormone cortisol. The American Horticultural Therapy Association says that horticultural therapy’s benefits include better mental abilities, improved language, a boosted memory and social improvements.
Gardening also provides a form of physical activity that is gentle with a low impact, helping it fit the varied physical needs of this population. The American Horticultural Therapy Association notes that this kind of therapy can help a person work on balance and coordination, gain muscle strength and see other physical improvements.