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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Trying to Find the Tomatoes

Published August 18, 2014 9:01 AM by Debra Karplus
The other day I was out my garden trying to locate the ripe tomatoes so that I could pick them. Admittedly, this year, for no particular reason, I had planted the little tomato plants way to close to each other. So now, at harvesting time, I have had to perform "acrobatics" in the garden to get to the red ones. It has been a challenge, but a rather fun one. It's a good thing that my eye-hand coordination is so intact.

It occurred to me, that gardening has a role in occupational therapy. Of course, there is a discipline dedicated to exactly that. Horticulture therapy took root (yes, pun intended) in the 1940s and 1950s and sometime around then, the American Horticulture Therapy Association, the AHTA started and grew.

I remember attending a professional workshop near our state capitol in the early 1990s, about using gardening therapeutically  It was fun, and I vaguely recall returning home at the end of the day with a small plant in a cute pot that I had designed. I am embarrassed to report that I never actually utilized the ideas from the workshop, though I was intrigued at the use of raised beds gardens for people with disabilities, a practice that is quite common in these couple of decades since I first heard about them.

Physical therapy, speech therapy,recreation therapy, and music therapy are all specialties that have some overlap with occupational therapy, as does horticulture therapy. And there is no reason, in my opinion, why OT practitioners cannot utilize some of the principles of therapeutic gardening in various clinical settings, without stepping on anyone's professional toes.

Think about how great you feel when you see the "crops" in your backyard or rented garden spot. Certainly, our patients in mental health settings could benefit from this same joyful feeling. Measurable goals could be established related to whatever part of the gardening they were involved with.

Patients in skilled care facilities and rehabilitation settings, hospital or other, have a myriad of physical skills that could be developed via some component of gardening.  f you have ever planted tiny seeds in your garden, you already know how much precision and fine motor skill and dexterity to open those little paper packets and sprinkle the right amount of seeds at a proper distance and depth in the soil.

Children also have much to gain from using gardening as part of our therapy sessions. Often measuring is involved in planting seeds or small plants. And sequencing and following directions are essential to have a successful garden. Our adult clients with developmental disabilities, living in group homes and other settings, residential or other, would benefit from gardening in much the same way.

I'd be curious to hear from occupational therapy practitioners who, unlike me, have actually utilized gardening therapeutically in one or some of their clinical settings. I hope you will take a few minutes at share your experience in the comments section of this blog.


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Thank you  for taking the time to read my article and post a comment, Susan.

Debbie Karplus, author (and gardener)

Debra Karplus August 27, 2014 1:33 PM

Thank you Debra for this article!   Gardening is so helpful!  There are a lot of us OTs who have enjoyed using gardening with a variety of populations.  Our non-profit from Japan has been using therapeutic gardening since the 1930s because it has been so helpful on so many skill levels.  In my own practice I use it currently with formerly homeless veterans at a shelter but have also used it with other adult mental health and physical disability populations.  Any contact with nature and beauty and daylight and hummingbirds and butterflies and flowers and the earth and water and green leaves makes such a difference.

Susan Brislin, Occupational Therapy - OTR/L, Pan-American MOA Foundation, Mokichi Okada Associa August 25, 2014 12:56 PM
Los Angeles CA

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