Working with plants, good therapy for some

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Capital News Service
LANSING – An increasing number of people in the state are exploring horticultural therapy, which uses no medicines, to treat childhood obesity, mental illnesses and brain injuries, according to the Michigan Horticultural Therapy Association.
Instead, horticultural therapy uses plants and horticultural activities to improve a patient’s social, psychological and physical abilities, said Cathy Flinton, a horticultural therapist in East Lansing.
Richard Mattson, a professor of horticultural therapy at Kansas State University, said, “By associating with plants and nature, we are working with living and responsive media with universal acceptance.”
Its benefits include stress reduction, economic savings, more nutritious food and improved community human interaction, he said.
As an example, Mattson talked about a middle-aged woman in a psychiatric hospital suffering from depression who described her life as a dark tunnel. But while working in a greenhouse, she said, everything she touched did not die.
“In fact, the marigold seeds do germinate and in a short period of time they produce flowers,” Mattson said. “She expresses her hope and responsibility about the growing plants, and ultimately how her self-esteem had grown when the flowers bloomed.”
Flinton said people with traumatic brain injury benefit from horticultural therapy because of the greenhouse environment with sunlight, fresh air, high oxygen content, high humidity and the option of music.
Flinton also gave the example of one of her brain-injured patients.
The man told her when walking into the greenhouse, “I love flowers. I love the greenhouse. My mother needs some plants. I want to pot some plants. I love the greenhouse.”
Over a period of two years, the patient learned the names of plants, wrote identification labels and successfully potted plants. A local greenhouse then hired him, she said.
Mattson said experts are designing and installing interior and exterior “healing gardens” in hospital settings. Also, horticultural therapy has become a component of community gardens and rehabilitation programs for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Primary users include military families, and ‘wounded warriors’ suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and physically challenging conditions,” Mattson said.
More than 25 percent of children in the state are obese, according to Healthy Kids, Healthy Michigan, a coalition dedicated to reducing childhood obesity.
“School gardening programs are being developed to counter child obesity, limitations in exercise, stress, lack of educational awareness of nature and gardening, and negative social interaction,” Mattson said.
The president of the Michigan Horticultural Therapy Association, Betsy Brown of East Grand Rapids, said horticultural therapy in gardens is a way for families to exercise together and introduce children to healthy eating.
Children are more likely to eat and enjoy the vegetables they help grow, Brown said.
“Parents should set a good example and help change eating and behavior patterns for the whole family, instead of focusing on the child with a problem. A big benefit would be the increased self-esteem and self-confidence which obese children often lack,” she said.
And Flinton said there is increasing interest in the environment and gardening, while awareness of the positive effects of interacting with plants and nature, in turn, create more interest in horticultural therapy among Michigan residents.
She said, “For example, someone that gardens and realizes all the positive effects they are experiencing often want to share that with others. This can happen in a volunteer capacity or through their work.”
The Michigan Horticultural Therapy Association annual conference is an opportunity for those interested in learning about horticulture as therapy to gain understanding and skills.
Jen Molnar, horticultural therapist of Kentucky, will present “Horticultural Healing Paths” on March 9th in Plant and Soil Sciences Building Auditorium of MSU.
© 2012, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.

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