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January 31, 2017

“What I find in horticultural therapy that I couldn’t find when I worked in wilderness therapy, adventure therapy and even ropes courses, was the sense of purpose: A sense of purpose and adventure in creating a more sustainable life.” -Travis Slagle, Horticulture Therapy Director

What is Horticulture Therapy

Horticulture has been used as a therapeutic discipline since ancient times. As far back as 2000 BC in Mesopotamia horticulture was used to calm the senses and around 500 BC, the Persians began creating gardens to “please all of the senses.”

“Horticultural Therapy” is based on an ancient practice and has a relatively new title that combines horticulture and rehabilitation disciplines. It employs plants and gardening activities in therapeutic and rehabilitation activities to improve human wellness, showing tremendous positive results for troubled teens and young adults. However, despite its long use in the fields of physical therapy, psychiatric occupational and recreational rehabilitation, awareness about the efficacy of horticulture therapy is still limited.

Since human beings actually evolved from and in a natural environment, an intrinsic physiologic and psychological positive reaction to nature has developed that is involved in maintaining our homeostasis. As Travis says in his video, “One of the most challenging things in our world today is how to live a more sustainable life,” which is why Pacific Quest is proud to be one of the early pioneers of utilizing the power of horticulture therapy.

Travis Slagle on Horticulture Therapy at Pacific Quest

“From the beginning I’ve operated under the belief that nature is our greatest teacher…I want to be able to take a reference point into the future and to utilize gardening as an understanding of healing…with any outdoor therapy it’s just profound that we have this very fundamental shift, we can create a therapeutic relationship with the natural world…nature becomes our co-therapist.”

Many students arrive at Pacific Quest in very fragile and vulnerable states. Although “gardening” is considered “soft” by some who question its approach, for most of our students a soft, nurturing, caring and supportive environment is exactly where they need to be. “Horticultural therapy at Pacific Quest doesn’t break students down in order to build them back up. We meet them developmentally wherever they are,” says Travis.

Students arrive in this new environment and sometimes all they are capable of tolerating is making a simple cup of herbal tea. Others are up to a bigger challenge, like digging a farm road that’s 50 feet long. What’s important is that while involved with horticulture therapy they are neurologically increasing the focus on growth, change and adaptation.

A stand out success story about horticulture therapy says it all:

“At a national conference, one of our alumni who just finished her young adult experience did a transplanting lesson with this audience from all over the country, talked about transition and change and related it to her life and her relationship with her family. When I first met her, there was a sense of hopelessness and despair that was deep and profound—a real question about ‘Is life worth living?’… and she said to me two years later, ‘I can’t believe I’m here today, I can’t believe that I’m teaching a lesson about transplanting that means so and it means so much to me and I just want to make sure people understand.’”

Considering Pacific Quest’s Wilderness Therapy

It’s important for parents considering our wilderness therapy program to understand that at Pacific Quest we have so many levels of support and resources available to them, and so many people with all of their different specialties. It’s really a very unique a collaborative space.

For somebody making this decision to join our program it’s important to be patient and trust your intuition. “I would also encourage you to recognize that the discomfort, the fear, the self doubt—are part of the journey. Those fears and anxieties are there to go through and experience not run away from.”

That’s what the young people are doing here with horticultural therapy at Pacific Quest: they are going through their fears and their discomfort and becoming more resilient. Recognizing value in vulnerability versus seeing it as a threat. Seizing uncomfortable moments as learning opportunities…it’s very exciting! Both parents and students need to recognize that this is a healing process, and it takes time. “I would encourage parents to be excited for the learning opportunities their child is going to have…utilize the support and resources that they have because there’s a lot of that here.”

“Aloha Aina,” means to love the land. Consider the horticultural experience for your young person to help promote change and healing within the therapeutic gardens at Pacific Quest. Continue the journey and learn more about the Pacific Quest Wellness Program, Horticultural Therapy approach, Academic Curriculum and so much more by emailing us or calling: 808-937-5806

Travis Slagle // Pacific Quest Horticultural Therapy Director from Pacific Quest on Vimeo.

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