Working Together to Advance Horticultural Therapy & Human Well-Being In Ibero-American Countries

Guest Author: Leila Alcade in collaboration with Daniela Silva-Rodríguez Bonazzi

We are about to finish the year and I have thought that I should transmit a positive message, despite the situation that is being experienced worldwide. I guess you have probably faced so many challenges over the past months, especially when planning how you were going to offer your horticultural therapy sessions, meeting COVID-19 protocols in order to offer the safest service to your clients. Fortunately, the skills that we have as professionals, like flexibility and resilience, can help us to cope with these challenges. One of the perks of horticultural therapy programs is that we spend most of the time outdoors. Like us, many other people have experienced this benefit, as this survey shows. We have been able to enjoy the restorative attention “power” that nature offers to us, feeling like being away, escaping for a while from reality. This disconnection allows us to recharge energies to continue facing the reality, helping our mental health well-being. The need of a nature connection either outdoors in the forest or in the garden, as well as with indoor plants, has made people reflect about their lifestyle as many articles have shown during the last months. In line with this trend, I am sure that the interest in horticultural therapy will slowly increase.

Leila Alcalde
Leila Alcalde

Let me introduce myself briefly. My name is Leila and I am a horticultural therapist living in London (have a look here to my previous article). Although I live in the United Kingdom, I come from Spain, where few years ago I cofounded the Spanish Association of Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (AEJHST). Through the Association we can see how the interest in Nature Based Therapies is slowly increasing. Almost every week we receive an email requesting advice, training or information.

In April, due to the pandemic situation, my life “stopped” for a while like  many others. At that point, I decided to start looking for other Spanish-speaking professionals in other countries.

10 Pieces of Information Gathered:

  • Where they work
  • How they work with people on green space/outdoor programs
  • What green programs deliver
  • What client groups they work with
  • What they consider to be the main desired outcomes/results on green space programs for people’s well-being
  • How they measure outcomes/track progress on their programs
  • Where they have been trained
  • What is the feedback received from participants
  • In what ways green space environment/nature affects participants
  • How important is the rapport between the horticultural therapist and the client for the outcomes
  • What the main challenges of their programs are

In just two weeks I managed to organize our first professional meeting, bringing people together from Peru, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Guatemala and, of course, Spain. The connection was great from the very beginning. We talked about our main challenge: raising awareness on the benefits that this therapy offers, mainly because social and therapeutic horticulture are not well known in our countries.

Webinars to advance horticulture applications

Daniella’s horticultural therapy program

Our first joint decision was to organize a series of webinars through Instagram called #SaviasConexiones (link here), for the advancement of the application of horticulture to human well-being. This initiative was very well received and as a result of these meetings, three online congresses on this topic have happened since. These events have been promoted by three different Universities (Argentina, Puerto Rico and Colombia) showing their interest in this career path, as well as supporting us as professionals.

In Spain, the University of Zaragoza has shown interest in offering an introductory course in Horticultural Therapy in the Occupational Therapy degree. An introductory course will also be open for the general public, which I think is a great starting point for our country. We have been cooperating with the Litoral University in Argentina, Areandina University in Colombia and Ana G. Mendez in Puerto Rico. In Peru, the Instituto de Horticultura Terapéutica (directed by Daniela Silva-Rodriguez Bonazzi) has developed a complete Certificate Program in Horticultural Therapy in Spanish, which is being offered to Latin American professionals since 2017. The Peruvian Institute is also working on alliances with national and international Universities based in Costa Rica and Colombia to offer their Certificate Program at the university level.

Together, Daniela and I are working on several strategies for raising awareness among Ibero-American Countries.

Five Strategies for Ibero-American Countries

  • Video explaining the benefits of gardening as a tool for human well being
  • Workshops for professionals working with population groups with special needs
  • Guide of Horticultural Therapy Program Protocols for a variety of population groups
  • Blog for the Spanish speaking community to share experiences
  • Annual Network Meeting

In Spain, the use of the garden for people’s well-being is becoming more popular. There are more Healing Garden projects in process in Hospitals and Care Homes than just a few years ago. Also some Councils/Municipalities have shown interest in creating Healing Gardens for public spaces. In Central and South America gardening as a hobby is not as common as in the northern hemisphere countries, although this pandemic has been an opportunity to bring together people and plants and value nature. This issue is one of the challenges the southern hemisphere has to face when raising awareness about horticultural therapy. Challenges from which we are learning and advancing together.

I see in the present worldwide situation a similarity with what happened with horticultural therapy after World Wars I & II (find here about the history of Horticultural Therapy). Studies were carried out then and are being carried out now. Then, the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) was created and the first courses emerged; the same is happening now in Spain and the Latin American region. For these reasons, and I think I am speaking on behalf of my colleagues in the Ibero-American region, we are sure that after this article is published, new alliances and advances in our profession will come.

We have sown the seeds that are now starting to germinate. Therefore, we want to transmit positivity for the near future and wish you a happy 2021.

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