Gardening has proved effective in helping heal the trauma and loss of direction in life suffered by victims of Typhoon Morakot, a horticultural therapist said yesterday when presenting the results of a recently concluded project in the east of the country.
Speaking at the Fifth International Horticultural Therapy Conference in Taipei, Lin Yeh-jen (林一真) touted the tangible benefits of a one-year government-funded project she headed to help residents of a village traumatized by the typhoon in August 2009.
Lin said the 350 villagers of Lidao (利稻), Taitung County, had no hope or prospects when the project began in January last year.
“They did not know what they were capable of and when asked what their dreams were, they said they had none,” she said.
The therapy program sought to change that.
At least once a month, a team of therapists and specialists would arrive to teach the villagers how to grow plants, to listen to their needs and at times give advice on the challenges they faced.
By January this year, when the project concluded, the villagers had developed better social skills, were in better health and showed signs of healing emotionally because of the therapy, Lin said.
“They ended up converting deserted land into vanilla and cabbage gardens. They are also running a development center that organizes sightseeing activities to promote community tourism, “ she said.
The case study confirmed what most people at the two-day conference believe — that horticultural therapy is effective in helping victims of natural disasters.
Chen Chun-lin, an attending psychiatrist at Far Eastern Memorial Hospital, said that horticultural therapy is effective because it gives patients a sense of satisfaction, usefulness and a sense of belonging.
“An unemployed patient with emotional stress, for example, will feel better if a seedling under his or her care sprouts. The process translates into a sense of achievement,” he said.
“If the flowers and plants can grow, so can I,” was how one patient put it, Chen said.
Discussion at the conference also focused on establishing standards, which up to now has relied on widely divergent methods.
Chen said horticultural therapy has relied more on “gardening” than on actual “therapy” and setting standards for the medical side of the treatment would help it gain wider acceptance, making it more effective, as may have been the case in Lidao with the participation of trained therapists.
He anticipated that more hospitals will embrace the concept in the near future because plants are easy to take care of and affordable.
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