Horticultural therapy has developed in a variety of directions at different places.
Two primary approaches, from which this discipline has grown, may be pointed to: one is the profession of Occupational Therapy and the other is the field of Art Therapy.
The definitions of horticultural therapy change accordingly, and perception of the discipline is sometimes indistinct, combining the two approaches.
In England, for example, the popular definition attempts to reflect the broad range of activities involved in human-plant relations: “horticultural therapy is a process through which the individual promotes his or her well-being through use of plants and gardening. This is achieved through both active and passive involvement.”
The United States has also adopted a broad perspective with regards to horticultural therapy, and this concept refers to the regenerative influence and therapeutic aspects of work in the garden, as well as the promotion of different patients’ well-being.
In the Netherlands and in Germany, the popular approach associates horticultural therapy with a group of art and expression therapeutic disciplines (music, drama, art, dance and motion). The main goal of the therapy, according to this approach, focuses on mental therapy and on patients learning to conduct their lives in a satisfactory manner. The use of art and expression therapies is especially important in cases where therapy involving discussion has not led to the desired change.
By this approach, sensory experiences in gardening appeals to the patient’s inner world. With the assistance of the therapist, patients can reflect their behaviour or the results of their deeds. In this manner, they can achieve insight on the problem and, at the same time, learn to cope with the burden and find ways of accepting the unavoidable.
Working Characteristics of Horticultural Therapy
Working with live matter presents unique characteristics.
For example, constant change, appearance and disappearance:
Sprouting, growth, ripening of fruit, effoliation, withering, seed dispersal, etc. “Live” matter simultaneously acts as both a supporting and an opposing agent, and thus serves as a successful therapeutic tool for identification and emotional transferral. The therapist’s role is to provide the tools required by the patient, to suggest an appropriate therapeutic structure. While presenting patients with a sheltered environment, or a “playground” of sorts where they may act freely and safely, the therapist unquestionably influences the sequence of events
Outlining the boundaries of the therapeutic space touches upon the very essence of gardening: a setting of more limits surprisingly offers the patient more options and opportunities for coping with his or her difficulties and problems (whether internal or external). For example: pruning, which represents the setting of boundaries for the plant – actually leads to blossoming.
On the other hand, non-intervention also plays a significant role in the therapeutic garden - for dissolving boundaries. Leaving nature untouched releases you of the need to rule the world for a certain amount of time, offering patients some degree of relief.
Destruction and cultivation, planting and harvesting, effort and rest – there is always a world of opportunities for researching conflicts in the therapeutic garden. By analysing the extremes and what lies between them, patients are granted an opportunity to take a new look at themselves in relation to their environment.
Who is Horticultural Therapy Intended for?
To begin with, horticultural therapy requires non verbal communication and is therefore suitable for treatment of a variety of difficulties and problems, as well as a broad range of patients (even those who cannot communicate verbally). These problems of a psychological nature often pertain to a certain stage in one’s life, and involve disruptions in relationships and in social connections, physical complaints, addictions, and disturbances in day-to-day, education and learning routines. Therefore, the therapist’s field of operation encompasses psychiatric institutions, general hospitals, mental health institutions, schools for children with mental disabilities, kindergartens and schools for special education and learning disabilities, addiction clinics, rehabilitative institutions, elderly citizens’ homes and geriatric institutions, assistance for criminals and their victims, work with immigrants and refugees.
Activities may be held either individually or in groups.