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Horticultural Therapists

The Job

During an average workday, horticultural therapists spend much of their time working directly with clients. Horticultural therapists who hold management positions also need to spend time managing staff, arranging schedules, and perhaps overseeing the work of volunteers. One of horticultural therapists' most important responsibilities is to assign the right task to each client so that their skills are enhanced and their confidence is boosted. Clients who are already depressed, for example, won't feel much better when the hard-to-grow plants that they were assigned to watch over suddenly die. In order to determine what projects will suit their clients, horticultural therapists begin by assessing each client's mental and physical state. This assessment may involve talking to the clients, reviewing medical records, and consulting with a physician or other health care professional about a treatment plan.

With the results from the assessment, therapists determine what kind of work will benefit the client. Therapists then assign the client a job. Therapists and clients may work in greenhouses, in outdoor garden areas on hospital grounds, in classroom-type settings to which the therapists have brought all the necessary supplies, or at community botanical gardens, to name a few locations. Depending on the work area, a client may be asked to put soil in cups to plant seeds, water a garden, or be part of a group activity in which something will be made from the garden's products, such as tea or dried flower arrangements. In some cases, the gardens' produce and plants are sold to help pay for expenses, such as the purchase of new seeds and plants. In this way, clients may be involved in business goals and continue to develop their sense of accomplishment.

Establishing a place where clients can feel safe and useful is an important part of horticultural therapists' work. This may mean allowing clients to work at their own pace to complete a task, giving praise for accomplishments (no matter how small), encouraging clients to talk to each other to decrease feelings of loneliness, and ensuring that the atmosphere of the therapy session stays positive. 

In addition to working with clients, horticultural therapists who are part of a health care team will likely need to spend some of their time attending meetings with other team members to report on a client's progress and discuss a continuing treatment plan. Horticultural therapists must also do some paperwork, keeping their own records about clients, projects that have been completed, and even expenses. A successful horticultural therapist must be creative in order to think of new projects for clients to work on as well as figure out how to tailor projects and tasks to meet the needs of each client.

Because horticultural therapists often work with clients who have profound or complex health problems, such as people with Alzheimer's disease, they may be faced with situations in which the client doesn't improve or doesn't feel the therapy has been helpful. This can be frustrating and even discouraging for the therapist, but it is also an aspect of the job that each therapist needs to deal with.

Some horticultural therapists also provide consulting services, usually to architects, designers, and administrators of health care or human services facilities. For example, they may offer their professional advice during the building or redesigning of hospitals, schools, and assisted-living communities. They may help with landscaping, selecting plants that are suitable for the region and offer a variety of colors, shapes, and smells. They may advise on the creation of "barrier free" gardens that are accessible to those with disabilities. And, they may work on the design of interior spaces, such as greenhouses and solariums.