University of Florida starts horticultural therapy course

The fully online course will be offered for the first time this fall.

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Article by: Dana Edwards, University of Florida

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – As a junior psychology major at the University of Florida, Emily Fradet looked for ways to gain more hands-on experience in clinical psychology, counseling and therapy treatment of patients. She stumbled upon a new fall 2019 introductory course in horticultural therapy while searching for intriguing electives.

“I’m interested in alternative forms of therapy, so I thought this course would be a perfect mix for me,” Fradet said. “In psychology, we learn about the process of mental illness, but not the treatment; this course is more about therapy and treatment.”

As a hobbyist gardener herself, Fradet said she is looking forward to involving that area of her life into her career. She said she finds gardening to be therapeutic and knows it can help a lot of other people as well – especially in areas of managing stress and anxiety.

The ORH 4932 Introduction to Horticultural Therapy course has been in the works for several years, said Leah Diehl, a lecturer in the UF/IFAS environmental horticulture department. The fully online course will be offered for the first time this fall.

Horticultural therapy uses plants and gardening as a vehicle for people to work toward goals or improve skills. For example, patients with Parkinson’s disease utilize this therapy method for maintaining fine and large motor skills while also managing depression, which can be a symptom of the disease.

The introductory course will be the first in a series of four classes offered as part of a new horticultural therapy undergraduate certificate to be offered through the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Topics of the subsequent classes will include techniques in horticultural therapy, program management and an internship or independent study component.

The certificate program is aligned with the requirements for professional registration with the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA). The program has applied for certificate accreditation with AHTA.

Fradet plans to pursue the undergraduate certificate in horticultural therapy. The certificate is open to all UF students as well as non-degree seeking students who wish to add a credential to their experiences in the workforce.

“I have been contacted by more than 100 people from near and far interested in taking these courses,” Diehl said. “There are no other fully online options for a program like the horticultural therapy certificate, which is particularly of interest to students in China and Singapore where I’ve received most inquiries.”

Diehl said she looks forward to bringing personal experiences of horticultural therapy to the students through virtual field trips. At least three virtual Gainesville garden visits will be included in the fall introductory course with virtual trips to other places in Florida and beyond coming in the second and third courses.

“What’s also really exciting about our horticultural therapy certificate program at UF that makes us different is that we are associated with both the UF College of Medicine and the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences,” Diehl said. “We have a clinical therapeutic program in place, and we’re already doing research.”

In her role as the director of therapeutic horticulture at Wilmot Gardens in the UF College of Medicine, Diehl is in the process of finding funding to work with the UF campus community as a population that can benefit from horticultural therapy.                                                                                                              

“It’s very concerning what’s happening now across the country where many university students are experiencing increasing levels of anxiety and depression,” Diehl said. “I think a lot of our students will be interested in taking the courses for their own personal health benefits, but also for helping others. We need to be serving our own students.”