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What does a Horticultural Therapist do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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A horticulture therapist is a therapeutic professional who treats patients by engaging in horticultural tasks with them, varying from preparing a site for gardening to selling produce in farmers' markets. Horticultural therapy is used in rehabilitation programs for people with physical, mental, or psychological disabilities, and it can also be integrated into care for prisoners and the elderly. In order to become a horticultural therapist, someone needs to have an interest in gardening and helping people, and typically attendance at a program which trains rehabilitation professionals is required, followed by working experience in a therapy garden.

As many gardeners already know, working in a garden can be very therapeutic. Gardening can be emotionally restful and calming, encouraging a connection with the earth and creating a point of focus, and it can also be physically beneficial, allowing people to gently push their bodies to perform a variety of physical tasks. A horticultural therapist provides guidance and support tailored to the case of the patient, ranging from a troubled teen who is invited to garden to work out psychological issues to an elderly man in a wheelchair who feels like he can't garden until a horticultural therapist works with him to create a space in which to garden safely.

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As early as the 1700s, people were recommending work in gardens for people with mental illness. Horticultural therapy can be beneficial for people with permanent disabilities, along with people recovering from physical or emotional trauma, and people who need more socialization skills. A horticultural therapist may opt to specialize in a particular issue, like rehabilitating people with disabilities to provide them with adaptive techniques or assisting people with mental illness, or the therapist may work more generally as a therapist with all kinds of people.

In addition to using the garden as a space for therapy and rehabilitation, a horticultural therapist can also use therapy sessions to provide people with useful skills. People with mental disabilities, for example, can be taught gardening skills so that they have a greater level of independence, and the possibility of a job. Likewise, prisoners may benefit from a program which creates vocational skills which can be used on the outside to prevent recidivism. Horticulture therapists may also give back to their communities by establishing community gardens and supporting beautification efforts with the assistance of their patients.

Someone who is interested in a career as a horticultural therapist should think about areas of particular interest, such as working with children, the mentally ill, veterans, people with disabilities, surgical patients, the elderly, prisoners, and so forth. Knowing what area of interest appeals, the prospective therapist can find a training program tailored to people who plan to work in this area.

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