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How do I Become a Horticultural Therapist?

By Carol Francois
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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There are three items necessary to become a horticultural therapist: post-secondary training, horticulture experience, and interpersonal skills. A horticultural therapist uses gardening as a tool for improving emotional well being. The work of a horticultural therapist is often part of a self-directed treatment plan for people struggling with mental or emotional issues.

The path to become a horticultural therapist is quite varied. Some professional psychologists, recreational therapists, and counselors offer this type of therapy for clients who are having trouble connecting. Gardening can be a very satisfying hobby, allowing people to see a personal goal achieved in a relatively short period of time. There are no regulations surrounding the use of the term horticultural therapist in the United States, although it is a recognized and certified profession in Canada and several European countries.

The first step to become a horticultural therapist is to complete a horticulturist certificate. These programs are typically eight months in length and combine theoretical classwork with a clinical practice term. The courses assume a background in horticulture, and focus on the needs of seniors, children with disabilities, and people struggling with dementia and other serious mental illnesses.

Horticultural experience is very important in this role. Recommending the appropriate type of plant, providing guidance on supporting the plant, and encouraging discussion about plants are all part of a horticultural therapist's responsibilities. Training in horticulture can be either through formal education programs offered at community or career colleges, or a result of personal interest and independent study.

Interpersonal skills necessary to become a horticultural therapist include empathy, patience, listening, and conflict resolution. People who report the greatest satisfaction once they become a horticultural therapist enjoy helping others and are naturally compassionate and outgoing. It may take a long time to see any clear benefits from this type of therapy, so long-term goal setting is important.

Horticultural therapists often start their own private practice, offering their services to rehabilitation hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities. Professional referrals from recreational therapists, home care nurses, and social workers are other methods of locating clients in need of this type of service. A growing number of schools for the physically or emotionally challenged are using horticultural therapy as one of the treatment options for their clients. Many people who want to become a horticultural therapist have a love of gardening and a strong desire to help others. By investing in training programs in this field, many people have been able to transition from other health service related professions into horticultural therapy.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon243234 — On Jan 26, 2012

The Horticultural Therapy Society of NSW has discussed the issue of recognition with the Industry Skills Council of Australia for Community and Health Services. The Society, along with the Victorian Association, delivers short courses to provide appropriate skills sets for people interested in this valuable area of work. As some of the comments indicate, gardening can often work when other forms of therapy do not. It's the power of living things!

By seag47 — On Jan 15, 2012

I am currently studying to become a counselor, but after reading this article, I think I might shift my focus to horticultural therapy. I love plants and working with the earth as well as with those in need of therapy.

I will still finish school and get my degree in counseling. However, I will also take some horticulture classes while I'm here. I'm glad I found this article now, because I can sign up for classes before I graduate so that I don't have to go back to school later.

I think that working with nature is incredibly beneficial to a patient's state of mind. I know that whenever I garden, I escape my problems and am transported to another world.

By lighth0se33 — On Jan 15, 2012

@shell4life – My boyfriend did just the opposite. He already had a degree in horticulture and experience as a gardener, so he took some counseling courses to combine the two.

He had a career as a landscape artist. He consulted with clients about which plants would look good and fare well in their yards, and then he and a crew planted them there.

While he enjoyed his job, he had this inner need to help people. He loved introducing people to the world of gardening, and he knew that what he really wanted to be was a horticultural therapist.

Now, he is truly happy at his job. He loves the look on people's faces when they see that their plant has grown or bloomed, and he is glad to get to show them how to make this happen.

By StarJo — On Jan 14, 2012

Horticultural therapy helped my little brother when all else had failed. He had seen our stepfather murdered when he was five, and he had not spoken since it happened.

Our mother tried traditional counseling and art therapy, but nothing could bring him out of his shell. She had observed him taking care of plants in the yard, and she thought perhaps he had an interest in gardening.

She took him to a horticultural therapist and found that she had been right. He glowed with happiness once he discovered that he would be growing and caring for a plant.

At one point during his therapy, he got so elated that he actually spoke. That was a breakthrough for him, and little by little, he began to recover.

This inspired me to become a horticultural therapist. I am currently taking courses in both horticulture and social work, and I hope to have my degree in a couple of years.

By shell4life — On Jan 14, 2012

My best friend worked as an occupational therapist for many years. Her true love was gardening, though she did not see a way she could make a career out of it.

She was thrilled to learn about horticultural therapy. Since she already had experience in working with the disabled and elderly, all she had to do was pursue a degree in horticulture.

She participated in an online education program, and she received her certificate in less than a year. She started spreading the word among her colleagues and patients that her services were now available, and before long, she had built up a solid client base.

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