Horticultural therapy is becoming increasingly popular as a complementary therapy in the treatment of addiction, but it doesn’t need to be part of a structured programme to be beneficial. Numerous studies have shown that gardening can have a positive impact on mental health and well-being, as well as improving physical health. Taking up a new hobby can also help recovering addicts channel their energy into more positive directions, providing a welcome distraction from cravings and negative thoughts. Even casual gardening can help in the ongoing journey of addiction recovery.
What is horticulture therapy?
Horticulture therapy, also known as horticultural therapy, gardening therapy and social and therapeutic horticulture (STR) is simply the practice of using horticulture – the art of cultivating plants in gardens – for therapeutic purposes. This does not have to be in relation to addiction recovery but can also be used to help people suffering from mental ill-health, conditions such as PTSD and anxiety, and even dementia. Horticultural therapy can be used in schools, nursing homes, healthcare settings and as part of the rehabilitation process in prisons.
Horticultural therapy is now practised in several countries around the world. It is particularly popular in Asian countries including Japan and South Korea but is also on the rise in the UK, USA, Sweden, Italy and elsewhere. While gardening, in general, can have many positive benefits, the American Horticultural Therapy Association says that horticultural therapy should be “facilitated by a trained therapist to achieve specific and documented treatment goals”.
It adds that horticultural therapy is “an active process which occurs in the context of an established treatment plan where the process itself is considered the therapeutic activity rather than the end product”.1
What are the physical and mental health benefits of gardening?
Therapy by exposure to plants and gardening, sometimes also known as green care, has been the subject of numerous studies, surveys and randomised trials. Some studies suggested that there was a benefit to just viewing plants and nature – or even images of natural scenes. One Japanese study found that viewing plants altered EEG recordings and reduced feelings of stress, fear, anger and sadness. It also had related physical effects, reducing blood pressure, pulse rate and muscle tension.2
Getting your hands dirty in a garden, and working with plants, is even more beneficial for several reasons. You will tend to get more sunshine and fresh air and, while gardening can be a solitary activity, it can also be done with others. This can help you to improve social skills and expand your social horizons, especially if you get involved with community gardening.
While it might not be high-impact exercise, gardening can also give you a thorough workout. When you are recovering from an addiction that may have taken its toll on your body, slow and steady exercise can be better than immediately throwing yourself into something like an all-action team sport. Nurturing plants and watching your garden progress and grow can give you a real sense of satisfaction and achievement, improving your self-confidence. Some gardeners even find that working or just being in their garden can be akin to meditation.
What if you don’t have a garden?
Not everyone is lucky enough to have their own garden, but you can still benefit from working with plants. If you are participating in a horticultural therapy programme, whether via rehab or some other route, everything you need will generally be provided. Outside of a structured therapy programme, there may be allotments, community gardens or special gardening projects in your area. You could grow plants in window boxes, hanging baskets or indoors. Some communities plant and tend the areas around trees on their streets, with many councils actively encouraging it.
Whatever your situation, it’s possible to benefit from gardening and green care and this may be especially valuable if you are recovering from an addiction.
The benefits of finding a hobby after rehab treatment
When you are in the grip of an addiction, drugs and alcohol can play a central role in your life. Your social circle may revolve around drinking or taking drugs and when they are suddenly removed, there is a large gap to fill.
For many recovering addicts, boredom and apathy can be dangerous as they could be the trigger for a relapse. Filling the time with new hobbies and interests – whether gardening or something quite different – can help you to fill that gap and can serve as a vital distraction and bring other benefits. You could improve your creativity, learn new skills, boost your confidence, expand your social circle and improve your physical and mental health. The exact benefits will depend on what your new interests are of course.
Drug and alcohol rehab might seem like an extreme step, but if you’re struggling with addiction, it could be the best decision you ever make. Rehab here with us can provide the necessary tools and resources to overcome addiction and build a sober life. Don’t try to fight addiction on your own — get help from professionals here at Ocean Recovery. Contact us on 0800 880 7596.
John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.