Horticultural Therapy Visible Worldwide
By Cecilia Viteri
Let me to introduce you to Cecilia Viteri, a clinical psychologist from Ecuador whom I met in 2019. Cecilia works at the Institute of Neurosciences in the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador. She works with patients who have mental illness and who actively participate in the vegetable garden as part of their integral treatment. The positive results obtained in the patients who participated in the garden led Cecilia to train as a horticultural therapist at the Horticultural Therapy Institute (HTI) in Denver, Colorado, United States. In 2021 she obtained her certificate in horticultural therapy. During the pandemic, she developed a program for children, Mi Semilla Educa, which she hopes to offer soon to children between 1 and 6 years of age.
Daniela Silva-Rodríguez Bonazzi
Horticulture is a science which refers to “growing plants in the garden or hortus.” Despite being a practice which exists since the beginning of civilizations, at present, we feel it distant, complicated and we relate it with professionals in the field or those who live in a farm.
Increased Quality of Life
Thanks to the pandemic, horticulture has gained visibility worldwide. It has reminded us of the importance of being self-sufficient and to value what is really necessary. The benefits of this activity are not limited to food production, it also generates a positive impact on health, quality of life and society. What is it about horticulture that can change lives? Leila Alcalde, a colleague, a horticultural therapist, founder of the Spanish Association of Social and Therapeutic Horticulture and Gardening (AEHJST), explains it very well in an article published in the digital magazine “Urban Nature in Society“. In the article she explains the therapeutic benefits of horticulture or gardening, and how distancing from nature, added to a lifestyle dominated by technology, can cause emotional problems such as stress, anxiety, depression, disconnection, isolation, among other problems. In children, this disconnection with nature is known as “Nature Deficit Syndrome“, a term coined by journalist and researcher Richard Louv in his book “The Last Child in the Woods”, published in 2005. Despite not being A disorder recognized by the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) the term explains the problems that arise from little or no contact with nature, mentioned above. However, as Alcalde indicates, “It is up to us to make the decision to opt for another paradigm where nature is integrated into our lives…”.
Therapeutic Effects of Working with Plants
Active work with plants can have therapeutic effects if it is offered by a trained professional, knowledgeable in horticultural therapy techniques, being able to help mitigate different health problems, both physical, cognitive or emotional. Horticultural Therapy is “a complementary, non-pharmacological therapy modality, with a holistic and person-centered approach, conducted by a trained professional, who uses horticulture, gardening or related activities to achieve previously established therapeutic goals.” (Daniela Silva-Rodríguez, horticultural therapist, founder of the Peruvian Social and Therapeutic Horticulture Association – APHTS) .
“The general goals of this therapy modality are focused on developing social skills, reinforcing cognitive, physical and / or psychological functions in addition to generating a state of integral well-being.” ( Rebecca Haller, HTM). Rebecca Haller is the principal professor at the Horticultural Therapy Institute (HTI) based in Denver, Colorado, United States, where professionals from various careers such as medicine, psychology, horticulture, education, biology, agronomy, from around the world, attend the Certificate Program in Horticultural Therapy, adding value to their career.
My Seed-Mi Semilla
A few months ago, I completed the Certificate Program at the HTI. The knowledge that I acquired with this training program allowed me to develop, since 2019, a Horticultural Therapy Project called “My Seed – Mi Semilla” at the Institute of Neurosciences in Guayaquil, in which patients with mental disorders attend a 2153 sqft vegetable garden located within the institution. Unfortunately, after the pandemic, activities in the vegetable garden have not been able to resume, due to COVID19 restrictions with resident patients.
However, the “My Seed – Mi Semilla” project has not stopped. We have developed a methodology aimed at the physical, emotional and social development in children. This methodology – Mi Semilla Educa – Mi Semilla Educates , until now has only been applied in my children, a 1 year old boy and a 6 year old girl, hoping to be able to replicate it soon in early childhood stimulation centers and schools.
Mi Semilla Educa is a program that consists of a horticultural therapy guide for schools , promoting the use of school gardens for educational, social and therapeutic purposes. This guide consists of a standardized school garden design, a horticulture manual, a children’s educational story book, audiovisual material and a monitoring tool for child evaluation and measurement of results.
The program has three protocols. The first protocol is for babies up to 1 year of age, the second protocol for children from 2 to 3 years of age, and the third protocol for preschool children from 4 to 6 years of age.
Three Protocols Sharing the Same Goal
a) early stimulation, contributing to the proper psychomotor development of the child,
b) cognitive functioning,
c) development of social skills
d) development of emotional skills.
e) Establish and reinforce values.
Educational Story book
The methodology incorporates early stimulation, pedagogical and psychological techniques adapted for the different children age groups. Here are some details:
- The protocol for children ages 0 to 1, consists of sensory stimulation with nature elements, like herbs. This contact and exposure is progressive and unstructured.
- The protocol for children ages 2 to 3, proposes semi-structured activities. Observations are recorded in the following table:
- The protocol for children over 4 years of age offers structured activities, related to the school garden. Children in this age group must fulfill specific tasks in the garden, which are integrated into academic activities, improving concepts and learning from the curriculum.
I hope to be able to implement this pilot program in educational institutions soon, in order to measure its effectiveness. The pilot program will also allow for adjustments to be made to broaden the scope of the program.
In Ecuador, the following school year begins in April 2022. It is an excellent opportunity to continue spreading the benefits of Horticultural Therapy, contact with nature through gardening and horticulture.