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High-tech greenhouse and horticultural therapy get patients rooted in wellness

05/03/17 03:30:am

Irish2.jpgAs it turns out, getting your hands dirty in the garden can have a positive effect on your mind, body and soul—not just your green thumb! With the help of trained staff, our patients use horticultural therapy to refresh and create new understanding by actively planting in the environment, or just peacefully taking it all in.

According to Jonathan Irish, MA, LPC, HTR, horticultural therapy coordinator for Rogers–Oconomowoc, horticultural therapy provides patients with a purposeful connection. “I see it as an innovative approach that echoes of antiquity,” says Irish. “Gardening has been done since the beginning of humanity, and while difficult, the rewards are amazing.”

In 2016, the Oconomowoc location completed the construction of a state-of-the-art greenhouse, allowing patients and staff to grow plants year-round and have ample space to work on horticultural projects. “The greenhouse is self-regulated with an advanced heating and ventilation system,” says Irish. “It often promotes a discussion about balance, the need for emotional regulation, and the impact of having a closed, protected space during the ‘winters of life.’”

Horticultural therapy can also have positive social benefits that may not otherwise be possible through traditional therapy. “It allows our patients to experience therapy in a unique, non-threatening way,” says Irish. He recalls a patient receiving inpatient treatment for an eating disorder who enjoyed planting and even enjoyed gardening at home, but didn’t feel comfortable discussing her connection to nature.

“Another staff member and I advocated for her continued use of the greenhouse as she transitioned to residential treatment,” says Irish. “Toward the end of her stay, the way she entered the greenhouse and interacted during group was noticeably different. She changed from someone who would barely talk or move with expressed approval to someone who boldly entered the greenhouse and even offered gardening advice to others.”

In the future, Irish has confidence that horticultural therapy will blossom and play a key role in even more patient care plans. “My hope for horticultural therapy is that it will become a vital part of helping our clients progress more fully and quickly,” he says.

Getting to know Jonathan

Jonathan is married with three children and loves being part of an active family that loves to spend time outdoors exploring nature in every season. Inside they enjoy baking and reading by a cozy fire. His wife homeschools their children.

Fun fact: Jonathan was born three months early weighing less than three pounds at a hospital while his family was on vacation in another state. Two years ago he attended the American Horticultural Association national conference and had the chance to tour Legacy Emmanuel Medical Center that boasts one of the premier horticulture programs in the country. Turns out that’s the hospital that saved his life as a newborn! He considers the whole thing divine intervention.

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