In the 19th century, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and recognized as the “Father of American Psychiatry,” was first to document the positive effect working in the garden had on individuals with mental illness. In the 1940s and 1950s, rehabilitative care of hospitalized war veterans significantly expanded acceptance of the practice. No longer limited to treating mental illness, horticultural therapy practice gained in credibility and was embraced for a much wider range of diagnoses and therapeutic options. Today we define horticulturaltherapyas the engagement of a person/client/patient in gardening and plant-based activities, facilitated by a trained horticultural therapist, to achieve specific therapeutic treatment goals and to restore one’s feelings of well-being.
Of particular note, horticultural therapy is widely used with aging adults in their senior care residential communities and it is frequently a program in the life enrichment or activities program. Horticultural therapy techniques are employed to assist participants to learn new skills or regain those that are lost. Horticultural therapy helps improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills, and socialization. In physical rehabilitation, horticultural therapy can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance, and endurance.
Horticultural therapistsare professionals with specific education, training, and credentials in the use of horticultural for therapy and rehabilitation. They are uniquely trained individuals who must fulfill academic coursework in both human development and horticulture science and they must hold a Bachelor’s degree. In addition, they are required to complete a supervised 480-hour internship. In order to earn the professional designation, HTR, (horticultural therapist registered – the highest level of recognition), each person must submit an application that is peer reviewed in order to achieve this professional recognition.
The American Horticultural Therapy Association(AHTA) is the only US organization committed to promoting and developing the practice of horticultural therapy as a unique and dynamic human service modality. It advocates on behalf of the professional interests of horticultural therapy practitioners and strives to increase beneficial outcomes for participants, host facilities, researchers, and educators. Please visit AHTA.org for a full review of the profession and association.
AHTA sponsors an annual conference every year for the purpose of horticultural therapy promotion, collegial connections, and professional development.
This fall the conference will take place in Denver, Colorado, October 5-6. The conference theme is “Planting with a Purpose: Engaging in Horticultural Therapy.” Professionals from the US and around the world attend the conference and they come from many-allied professions, such as activity directors, to meet for meaningful connections, professional development opportunities, and engaging and interactive sessions. AHTA looks forward to forging new ties with NAAP and extends a warm welcome to members to join us in Denver!
The hotel and conference site is the Sheraton Denver West Hotel, in Lakewood, Colorado. Please visit the AHTA, website, AHTA.org, for registration details and more information about horticulture therapy.