By Susan Morgan
Chin Yung Wung has had the opportunity to practice horticultural therapy in two countries – her native Taiwan and the United States. Horticultural therapy (HT) is an emerging field in Taiwan, and few are aware of it, she says. However, knowledge about the field is spreading. There are degree programs at universities and three associations dedicated to the professional advancement of HT across the country. “While knowledge about the philosophy of HT and how it benefits people is there, hands-on training and the practical application of HT is limited, unlike in the U.S.,” she says.
Studying HT and Working in Taiwan
Chin Yung first became interested in the field when researching treatment options for a close family member living with bipolar disorder and, through her research, discovered the field of HT – which intrigued her because HT combines personal interests in cultivating plants and helping people. She liked the idea that HT as an intervention could be helpful in redirecting certain behaviors into productive activity as well as providing a therapeutic outlet for reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. After earning her bachelor’s degree in horticulture and landscape design, she pursued her master’s degree in horticultural therapy at National Chung-Hsing University in Taichung, Taiwan.
Upon graduation, Chin Yung took a teaching position working with young adults with developmental disorders in a non-profit social welfare foundation. “There are pretty much no full time jobs available in HT in Taiwan,” says Chin Yung. Since her role was officially as a full time teacher, she delivered HT activities in the garden and greenhouse in the mornings and taught prevocational skills in the afternoons as part of the curriculum. After working there for two years, she decided to pursue additional training in the United States, in hopes of earning her HTR credentials through the American Horticultural Therapy Association.
HT Training and Takeaway Experiences from the United States
While studying English on a student visa at the Colorado School of English, Chin Yung also took HT courses at the Horticultural Therapy Institute. She appreciated the discussion and collaborative nature of class activities and liked learning about the hands-on application of HT techniques with clients, specifically learning about how metaphors about plants can be used during an activity to inspire participants.
In late 2016, Chin Yung completed a three month HT internship at Adult Care Services, The Margaret T. Morris Center and The Susan J. Rheem Adult Day Centers in Prescott, Arizona, under the supervision of Pam Catlin, HTR. She credits Catlin with modeling the critical role of the horticultural therapist in running an HT activity. “When we love what we are doing – which is connecting nature and people, – participants will feel our enthusiasm,” she says. “If we didn’t enjoy it, participants wouldn’t enjoy it! We can make a difference.”
Chin Yung describes other takeaways from her internship:
- “Having a good opening and ending is very important. For example, use sensory stimulation to induce participants’ interest, or bring out some blooming or interesting plants to capture participants’ attention. Having a good ending helps people to feel that their experience is complete.
- Never give up on participants. Never miss any possibility because we never know when they will benefit from HT.
- When we plan our HT activity, think of how participants can engage the most. For instance, we have to understand their abilities and plan the activity so they can do it with minimum assistance, trying not to help if they can do it. Sometimes they just need time to do it or respond.”
When she returns home, Chin Yung hopes to develop a therapeutic garden and site for clients to receive horticultural therapy services. She is eager to apply what she has learned in her studies and internship experience in the U.S. to her work in Taiwan.