Academic journal article British Journal of Occupational Therapy

The Effects of Social and Therapeutic Horticulture on Aspects of Social Behaviour

Academic journal article British Journal of Occupational Therapy

The Effects of Social and Therapeutic Horticulture on Aspects of Social Behaviour

Article excerpt


As part of its practice of social and therapeutic horticulture (STH) for disabled and vulnerable people, the United Kingdom (UK) charity, Thrive (Thrive 2013), introduced a system of assessment and recording of participants' progress. The aim of this was to assist therapists in both setting goals for their clients and measuring progress and change. The assessments were intended to be recorded at every session attended by participants, and thus over time a large dataset has built up, which charts the change of over 100 participants with a range of difficulties and disabilities. The two largest groups attending are those with a mental health problem or a learning disability. The aim of this work was to conduct a secondary data analysis on the accumulated assessment data in order to explore the benefits of STH, particularly for those with a learning disability. These individuals represent a large proportion of STH participants in general, but there is less evidence of effectiveness for this group than for other disability groups.


STH is the use of plants and gardening in a structured and formalized way to promote health and wellbeing. It is often referred to as 'therapeutic horticulture' or 'horticultural therapy' (Sempik et al 2003, p3). Increasingly, however, the distinction between these terms is becoming blurred (Sempik and Adevi 2013); 'STH' is currently the favoured term in the UK.

STH is administered and supervised by trained therapists who are experienced in both horticulture and aspects of health and social care. Among STH therapists, there is a diversity of experience and qualifications, including some who are qualified in occupational therapy (Sempik et al 2005, p30).

Gardening activities are frequently used in occupational therapy because they provide opportunities for meaningful occupation for people with a range of disabilities, and enable participants to overcome difficulties in their interaction with their physical and psychosocial environments. In their critical review of gardening as an occupation, York and Wiseman (2012) reported that they 'identified processes within the occupation of gardening in a natural environment, which offer satisfying and meaningful methods of recovery for people who are marginalised within society (p76).' This specific area of practice and study has been of interest in the field of occupational therapy, as evidenced by a small but regular flow of articles written by occupational therapists for their specialist journals: for example, Parkinson et al (2011).

Additionally, STH has been viewed within the context of other nature-based approaches for health--known collectively as 'green care'--and this has led to shared conceptual frameworks, as in the use of Christiansen's Person-Environment-Occupation-Performance model (PEOP, Christiansen et al 2005) within green care (Sempik et al 2010, p53-55), and greater integration of STH within occupational therapy (Fieldhouse and Sempik 2014).

The practice and pedagogy for STH has developed since the 1950s, alongside a growing body of research evidence. In recent years, STH has been the subject of greater research effort and the application of a wider range of research methods, including randomization and comparative studies (for example, Jarrott and Gigliotti 2010), and the use of physiological markers of stress (for example, Song et al 2010). However, there has been a lack of quantitative research in this area (Sempik et al 2005, p3).

STH participants include most, if not all, vulnerable groups (Sempik et al 2005, p17-18). The two largest groups are people with a mental health problem and those with a learning disability. In the UK, these each comprise around 40% of the client base (Sempik et al 2005). Research into effectiveness has shown that STH can reduce the symptoms of depression (Gonzalez et al 2009) and lead to greater group cohesiveness in depressed participants who consider social aspects to be particularly important (Gonzalez et al 2011). …

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