Toni SalterGardening therapy for post traumatic stress disorder

There was always something a little peculiar with my Grandfather. But I’ve also noticed some of these strange habits in a few of my close friends. These traits are not the only bond these men have in common, they all served as soldiers in the Australian Defence Force.

ptsd-soldierRecognising the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I could see that this syndrome had manifested in my nearest and dearest. I could see their withdrawal from everyday activities and sometimes a distinct lack of emotion or tenderness. A lack of motivation was also observable towards certain things that they previously considered important. There was frequent frustration and rage over the smallest of inconveniences.

A research paper by Howard Z Lorber documents the use of gardening therapy in the treatment of PTSD. Where clinical psychotherapy is used to treat those diagnosed with the disorder, gardening can provide a therapeutic outlet for cognitive behavioural processing in a relaxed and safe environment.

PTSD is different for every soldier, but the experience and scars of battle are ever present for those who return home to family life and try to ‘fit in’ with society. Some will experience flashbacks and relive the trauma, some have panic attacks and phobias, while others have difficulty holding concentration for any length of time resulting in employment problems. A lack of confidence, poor sleep and being constantly edgy are also associated symptoms of PTSD.

Our military statistics show that only 3% of soldiers are diagnosed with PTSD after assessments are made immediately before returning to home life as well as follow up assessments after 6 months. It is widely acknowledged that the incidence of PTSD is actually much higher than these figures would suggest since symptoms can be displayed a considerable amount of time after the events.

soldier-cutting-grassGarden therapy taps into the benefits of being “nearby nature” to create positive feelings and experiences with hands-on activities to help the person “stay in the moment” allowing “talk therapy” to reshape the individual’s narrative. It has been long known that nature can provide a environment of safety by soothing and tempering the emotions, producing feelings of calm and trusting responses. This allows a positive backdrop for treatment.

Gardening activities give the individual a sense of control and can help with the cognitive reframing that explores the difference between “the here and now” with the memory of trauma. Recollection of the positive associations made with the gardening activities can then be imagined when symptoms arise for the individual, the process of deconstructing the past experience followed by reconstructive self talk that establishes new responses can become effective in the on-going treatment of PTSD.

Anna Baker Cresswell organises garden therapy sessions for the military in the UK through HighGround, a charity that she founded several years ago. Anna will be discussing the work at HighGround at the Therapeutic Landscapes Conference NSW on Friday 14th October 2016 at Padstow TAFE in Sydney. General public, horticulturists and health professionals and volunteers are all welcome to attend. Registrations are available here.

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Toni Salter

About Toni Salter

Toni Salter, Horticulturist and Diversional Therapist is also The Veggie Lady, with a passion to see organic gardening principles adopted by everyone so they can grow great tasting, healthy food in their own backyards. Toni teaches community education classes, is a member of the Australian Institute of Horticulture and has been a talk-back guest on ABC Radio. Toni also runs horticultural therapy programs, developing sensory gardens through a number of organisations including AFFORD (Australian Foundation For Disability). She is the current President of CultivateNSW.

5 thoughts on “Gardening therapy for post traumatic stress disorder

  1. Harihara on said:

    Excellent read Toni. Its amazing to see that in this day and age we spend so much time+effort+money on PTSD in the form of drugs but hardly in the form of horticultural therapy. I hope there are more events to highlight this easy and most gratifying way of self recovery. Best wishes and please keep us updated on any related information. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for your kind words. It would indeed save money, time and effort for people and the public health purse if we adopted a wider view of therapy. You can subscribe to events and more news on this and related topics at our website http://www.cultivatensw.org.au

  3. Bernard Chapman on said:

    Dear Toni, An interesting read indeed! This is a terrible disorder and therapy for our returned soldiers who suffer from it is very important. You might like to know that through the garden writer Sophie Thomson I have learnt about a microbe in the soil that makes you happy when you come in contact with it, as it causes endorphines to be released. It was discovered, I believe, when researchers were trying to find positive activities for cancer patients. The link if it works is http://sophiespatch.com.au/garden-for-life-at-the-royal-adelaide-show-2015/soil/ Cheers, Bernard Chapman

    • Yes Bernard you are completely right. It was a fascinating and almost accidental discovery. There is a growing body of evidence to support our wellbeing through gardens and gardening activities and some more will be presented at the Therapeutic Landscapes Conference. Hope to see you there. http://cultivatensw.org.au/news.asp?pid=29&id=4

      • Bernard Chapman on said:

        Sadly, Toni, the Conference is on Friday and I am already booked up. It sounds great though. I hope it goes well.

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