There are three items necessary to become a horticultural therapist: post-secondary training, horticulture experience, and interpersonal skills. A horticultural therapist uses gardening as a tool for improving emotional well being. The work of a horticultural therapist is often part of a self-directed treatment plan for people struggling with mental or emotional issues.
The path to become a horticultural therapist is quite varied. Some professional psychologists, recreational therapists, and counselors offer this type of therapy for clients who are having trouble connecting. Gardening can be a very satisfying hobby, allowing people to see a personal goal achieved in a relatively short period of time. There are no regulations surrounding the use of the term horticultural therapist in the United States, although it is a recognized and certified profession in Canada and several European countries.
The first step to become a horticultural therapist is to complete a horticulturist certificate. These programs are typically eight months in length and combine theoretical classwork with a clinical practice term. The courses assume a background in horticulture, and focus on the needs of seniors, children with disabilities, and people struggling with dementia and other serious mental illnesses.
Horticultural experience is very important in this role. Recommending the appropriate type of plant, providing guidance on supporting the plant, and encouraging discussion about plants are all part of a horticultural therapist's responsibilities. Training in horticulture can be either through formal education programs offered at community or career colleges, or a result of personal interest and independent study.
Interpersonal skills necessary to become a horticultural therapist include empathy, patience, listening, and conflict resolution. People who report the greatest satisfaction once they become a horticultural therapist enjoy helping others and are naturally compassionate and outgoing. It may take a long time to see any clear benefits from this type of therapy, so long-term goal setting is important.
Horticultural therapists often start their own private practice, offering their services to rehabilitation hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities. Professional referrals from recreational therapists, home care nurses, and social workers are other methods of locating clients in need of this type of service. A growing number of schools for the physically or emotionally challenged are using horticultural therapy as one of the treatment options for their clients. Many people who want to become a horticultural therapist have a love of gardening and a strong desire to help others. By investing in training programs in this field, many people have been able to transition from other health service related professions into horticultural therapy.