Wayside House
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Horticulture Therapy

Horticulture Therapy

Written by: stodzy | Date: March 5, 2018

Since man first learned to farm, gardening has been an essential and therapeutic human activity. The positive effects it has on the mind, body, and spirit are scientifically proven to be the result of love, compassion, patience, and relaxation.

There is a whole lot that can be said about the simple and heady joys of planting seeds, tending the soil, and enjoying the fruits of one’s labor.

What is Horticulture Therapy?

Horticulture therapy consists of various gardening and gardening activities under the care and supervision of a therapist who has been trained and specialized in this treatment modality. At Wayside House, Horticulture therapy is combined with individual and group counseling, as well as cognitive behavioral health therapy, and many more holistic approaches.

Originally researched with combat veterans, suffering from severe PTSD and depression, horticulture therapy was shown to reduce stress, and increase overall well-being of the patients.

This vein of holistic therapy stems from the fact that, as addiction becomes more and more present in our society, psychiatric and substance abuse professionals have become aware to the fact that the multifaceted disease often needs a multifaceted approach.

For many people, simply trying to “white knuckle” sobriety and even by just going on medications and trying to resume normal lives again, often just won’t cut it. What people really need, is to learn how to live again, by finding joy, peace, quality of life, and gratitude. This is where horticultural therapy comes in.

Simply put, there is great joy in planting something and watching it grow, and the beautiful lessons of patience, compassion, and appreciation of nature are powerful tools for women in recovery.

Benefits of Grounding and Gardening

When you see something you have planted yourself, nurtured and care for, blossom into a living thing, there is often a huge sense of pride and accomplishment. This helps build feelings of success, ability, and self-sufficiency among many women, while also building a sense of community, cooperation, and trust.

There is also extensive research that shows the benefits of gardening, such as:

  • Lowering stress and anxiety
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve Mood
  • Learning new skills
  • Increased quality of life
  • Appreciation for nutrition and environment

Along that same tone, there has been a lot of discussion in the therapeutic world about Grounding, or, Earthing. This is the process of putting the skin into direct contact with the earth, whether it be grass, dirt, sand, stones, or water.

According to Dr. John Briffa, a prize-winning graduate of University College London School of Medicine and Nutritionist,

During the normal processes of metabolism, the body generates what are called ‘reactive oxygen species’ which are commonly referred to as ‘free radicals’… they have the ability to attack and destroy unwanted things within the body including bacteria and viruses. However, too many free radicals are a bad thing… earthing allows electrons to flow into the body where, in theory, they can neutralize overblown free radical and inflammatory damage.”

In other words, by connecting to the earth through soil, sand, water, etc., which has been reported to have a negative charge, we are reducing the positive charge in our bodies to a neutral state. Think of it like static electricity.

Thermogenic studies have been performed on people with chronic pain, where heat images were taken before grounding and afterwards, and the inflammation, swelling, and nerves were visibly reduced.

Grounding has also been reported to help with:

  • Improving sleep
  • Lowering stress hormone levels
  • Normalizing blood pressure
  • Improving female and menstrual hormone systems
  • Supporting adrenal health
  • Reduced chronic pain, arthritis, and hypertension
  • Increasing serotonin

Horticulture Therapy and Addiction

More often than not, many women who walk through the doors of Wayside House come in feeling detached from the world. Addiction is a disease that often eats away at self-esteem and joy and can bring about anxiety, depression, anger, and often trauma.

Residents of the program will have ongoing opportunities to learn new skills and build self-esteem through gardening activities. What may initially seem like chores (watering, pruning, weeding, and planting) often quickly becomes a much anticipated time of relaxation and self-reflection for many women.

Patience is another benefit of horticulture therapy. Gardening is not a process that can be rushed, similar to much of everyday life. You can’t force or hurry it, or at least without some discomfort. Growing flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruits is a process that requires attention, nurturing, and careful observation. This creates a level of awareness, patience, and impulse control, which are immensely useful tools for women in recovery.

The benefits and joy of horticulture therapy are often unable to simply be captured in words. Women who engage in gardening activities are learning a new skill that they can take with them when they leave. Learning how to grow and prepare fresh vegetables and beautify the environment through their own hard work is an activity that not only benefits in the garden.

Horticulture Therapy and Wayside House

The horticulture program at Wayside House is lead by Paula Broughton, a former wayside resident with over 20 years of sobriety. She has created and continued to be involved in this holistic therapy option as a way to give back to the program that gave her so much.

At the Wayside House grounds, one will find an extensive garden, bursting with tropical plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables, and herbs, all planted with love and harvested for house meals. This cooperation helps fuel that sense of accomplishment, community, and fulfillment that gardening and horticulture therapy creates.

The horticulture therapy program at Wayside house adds to the whole-body, multifaceted treatment approach. Along with yoga, equine therapy, art therapy, individual therapy, and EMDR, each woman who walks through the doors will leave with a new understanding of who they are, the power within them and how they can bring that power into the world.