The therapeutic benefits that plants give to humans are well-known, but they’re not always associated with medical rehabilitation. However, healthcare professionals are tapping into plant benefits to promote health and wellness in their patients in interesting ways.
I am an Occupational Therapist (OT). OTs provide services to people whose lives have been disrupted by physical injury or illness, psychological difficulties, developmental issues or the aging process. OT’s promote a return to health by maximizing people’s potential and function. We address the specific needs of an individual to set goals and attain them through many activities, including gardening.
In my practice, I have seen firsthand how effective plants and gardening can be in helping patients improve.
The most obvious benefit of gardening is that it gets people moving. One has to plant seeds, maintain them through watering and weeding, and finally harvest the plant. This inherently promotes an active lifestyle, especially if someone has had a setback in health.
Imagine if someone has had a stroke or brain injury: the therapist may want to enhance that person’s sensory motor functioning, increase that person’s endurance to sit without support, and/or improve that individual’s bimanual control or hand strength. Gardening can help in all these areas. At the same time, the patient has fun and can improve their concentration.
A person might be suffering from their recent health trauma, and there may be limited activities they find motivating. Gardening might be one thing the patient finds enjoyable because they get to be outside with plants while the therapist assesses and promotes physical rehabilitation.
Leadership through Gardening
What if someone is clinically depressed or has a substance abuse problem?
Permaculture and gardening can help patients re-cultivate a sense of meaning. Connecting with plants and soil can be healing, reconnecting them with the earth and the natural world. By being allowed to select the vegetables or flowers they wish to plant, they experience a sense of agency, and learn about nutrition.
Patients would also be given responsibility to care for the plants while in a treatment center, which can provide a sense of purpose. Someone can participate socially and communicate in the calming atmosphere of a garden.
Imagine the feeling of being entrusted to teach a new person safety techniques with a gardening tool. This may be the first time in a while that a person has experienced leadership and meaningfulness with another person. Being able to sell produce at a farmer’s market, or cook a meal for other people can legitimize a person’s view of their recovery progress and be empowering.
The therapeutic effect is the process itself, but one is able to enjoy the benefits of hard work.
Socialization Through Permaculture
For people who are socially disenfranchised through a disability or health issue, creating a community garden is an outlet for a healthier community. It provides a shared understanding of the relationship between people and plants.
It can integrate people that may not know many ways to interact with others. People can work together to make decisions and feel accomplishment. People also have the shared understanding to the physical exercise of digging, planting, bending, and lifting to complete greening activities.
Our Profound Relationship to the Earth
People and plants have been interconnected since the dawn of history. So it seems clear that healing and healthcare rehabilitation would include the Plant Kingdom.