Horticultural therapy relieves anxiety- one of the underlying causes of alcoholism and addiction. At Sea Change Recovery we use therapeutic gardens to facilitate interaction with the healing elements of nature. Gardening reduces stress and calms the nerves. It reduces cortisol which is the hormone related to the stress response. After years of lying, cheating, stealing and other criminal activity that goes along with drug and alcohol abuse, cortisol levels are elevated and never go down. When a client participates in horticultural therapy, the act of touching soil “literally makes the cortisol go down,” explains Gabrielle Samuels, MFTA and certified Horticultural Therapist.
Horticultural therapy is a time-proven practice and something that is utilized for experiential therapy in our treatment program for alcohol and drug addiction treatment at Sea Change Recovery. The therapeutic benefits of experiential therapy, specifically garden environments have been documented in several research studies. The reason why it works, Samuels explains, is this type of therapy is an “interactive healing modality where we can take the concepts of substance abuse treatment and put them into action.”
Horticultural therapy techniques are employed to assist participants to learn new skills or regain those that are lost. Horticultural therapy helps improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills, and socialization. In physical rehabilitation, horticultural therapy can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance, and endurance. In vocational horticultural therapy settings, people learn to work independently, problem solve, and follow directions.
When a client tills the soil and removes weeds, the first step in beginning to plant a new garden it is a “physical manifestation of turning things over,” says Samuels. By employing the concepts of 12-step a struggling alcoholic or addicted person can take an active role in their recovery. The physical activity along with emotional and psychological issues that are being brought up is the experiential modality. The movement of the body along with rebuilding the neural pathways in the brain work to restructure the mind-body connection.
“When we turned over the soil, helping to clear the vegetable bed, it allows clients to move forward and do more scary emotional work,” Samuels recounts one of her sessions. In the same way 12 – step programs encourage clearing the wreckage of one’s past to recover and heal, clients must clear out the vegetable beds before planting a new crop.
In sobriety it’s important to remember: you can’t reach for anything new if your hands are full from yesterday’s junk.